Each man has inside him a basic decency and goodness. If he listens to it and acts on it, he is giving a great deal of what it is the world needs most. It is not complicated, but it takes courage for a man to listen to his own inner goodness and act on it. Do we dare to be ourselves? This is the question that counts.
"I am convinced that human nature is basically gentle, not aggressive. And every one of us has a responsibility to act as if all our thoughts, words, and deeds matter. For, really, they do. Our lives have both purpose and meaning."
"Compassion is what makes our lives meaningful. It is the source of all lasting happiness and joy. And it is the foundation of a good heart, the heart of one who acts out of a desire to help others. Through kindness, through affection, through honesty, through truth and justice toward all others we ensure our own benefit. This is not a matter for complicated theorizing. It is a matter of common sense.
There is no denying that consideration of others is worthwhile. There is no denying that our happiness is inextricably bound up with the happiness of others. There is no denying that if society suffers we ourselves suffer. Nor is there any denying that the more our hearts and minds are afflicted with ill-will, the more miserable we become. Thus we can reject everything else: religion, ideology, all received wisdom. But we cannot escape the necessity of love and compassion."
What is compassion?
It is not simply a sense of sympathy or caring for the person suffering, not simply a warmth of heart toward the person before you, or a sharp clarity of recognition of their needs and pain, it is also a sustained and practical determination to do whatever is possible and necessary to help alleviate their suffering.
The Greatest Enemy
You can have no greater ally in the war against your greatest enemy, your own self-grasping and self-cherishing, than the practice of compassion. It is compassion, dedicating ourselves to others, taking on their suffering instead of cherishing ourselves, that, hand in hand with the wisdom of ego-less-ness, destroys most effectively and most completely that ancient attachment to a false self that has been the cause of our endless wandering. That is why in our tradition we see compassion as the source and essence of enlightenment and the heart of enlightened activity.
One technique for arousing compassion for a person who is suffering is to imagine one of your dearest friends, or someone you really love, in that person's place. Imagine your brother or daughter or parent or best friend in the same kind of painful situation.
Quite naturally your heart will open, and compassion will awaken in you: What more would you want than to free your loved one from his or her torment? Now take this compassion released in your heart and transfer it to the person who needs your help: You will find that your help is inspired more naturally and that you can direct it more easily.
When someone is suffering and you find yourself at a loss to know how to help, put yourself unflinchingly in his or her place. Imagine as vividly as possible what you would be going through if you were suffering the same pain. Ask yourself: "How would I feel? How would I want my friends to treat me? What would I most want from them?"
When you exchange yourself for others in this way, you are directly transferring your cherishing from its usual object, yourself, to other beings. So exchanging yourself for others is a very powerful way of loosening the hold on you of the self-cherishing and the self-grasping of ego, and so of releasing the heart of your compassion.
One powerful way to evoke compassion is to think of others as exactly the same as you. "After all," the following statement is true, "all human beings are the same--made of human flesh, bones, and blood. We all want happiness and want to avoid suffering. Further, we have an equal right to be happy. In other words, it is important to realize our sameness as human beings."
Considering others to be just the same as yourself helps you to open up your relationships and give them a new and richer meaning. Imagine if societies and nations began to view one another in the same way; at last we would have the beginnings of a solid basis for peace on earth, and the happy coexistence of all peoples.
Imagine that you are having difficulties with a loved one, such as your mother or father, husband or wife, lover or friend. How helpful and revealing it can be to consider the other person not in his or her "role" of mother or father or husband, but simply as another "you," another human being, with the same feelings as you, the same desire for happiness, the same fear of suffering. Thinking of the other one as a real person, exactly the same as you will open your heart to him or her and give you more insight into how to help.
Visualize someone to whom you feel very close, particularly someone who is suffering and in pain. As you breathe in, imagine you take in all their suffering and pain with compassion, and as you breathe out, send your warmth, healing, love, joy, and happiness streaming out to them.
Now, gradually widen the circle of your compassion to embrace first other people to whom you also feel very close, then to those about whom you feel indifferent, and then to those whom you dislike or have difficulty with, then even to those whom you feel are actively monstrous and cruel. Allow your compassion to become universal, and to enfold in its embrace all sentient beings, and all beings, in fact, without any exception.
Compassion is not true compassion unless it is active.
We may say, and even half-believe, that compassion is marvelous, but in practice our actions are deeply uncompassionate and bring us and others mostly frustration and distress, and not the happiness we are all seeking.
Isn't it absurd that we all long for happiness, yet nearly all our actions and feelings lead us directly away from that happiness?
What do we imagine will make us happy? A canny, self-seeking, resourceful selfishness, the selfish protection of ego, which can as we all know, make us at moments extremely brutal. But in fact the complete reverse is true: Self-grasping and self-cherishing are seen, when you really look at them, to be the root of all harm to others, and also of all harm to ourselves.
Wisdom of Compassion
To realize what I call the wisdom of compassion is to see with complete clarity its benefits, as well as the damage that its opposite has done to us. We need to make a very clear distinction between what is in our ego's self-interest and what is in our ultimate interest; it is from mistaking one for the other that all our suffering comes.
Self-grasping creates self-cherishing, which in turn creates an ingrained aversion to harm and suffering. However, harm and suffering have no objective existence; what gives them their existence and their power is only our aversion to them. When you understand this, you understand then that it is our aversion that attracts to us every negativity and obstacle that can possibly happen to us, and fills our lives with nervous anxiety, expectation, and fear.
Wear down that aversion by wearing down the self-grasping mind and its attachment to a nonexistent self, and you will wear down any hold on you that any obstacle and negativity can have. For how can you attack someone or something that is just not there?
Compassion & Pity
Compassion is a far greater and nobler thing than pity. Pity has its roots in fear and carries a sense of arrogance and condescension, sometimes even a smug feeling of "I'm glad it's not me." As we know: "When your fear touches someone's pain it becomes pity; when your love touches someone's pain, it becomes compassion." To train in compassion is to know that all beings are the same and suffer in similar ways, to honor all those who suffer, and to know that you are neither separate from nor superior to anyone.
Your compassion can have perhaps three essential benefits for a dying person: First, because it is opening your heart, you will find it easier to show the dying person the unconditional love he or she needs so much. On a deeper, spiritual level, I have seen again and again how, if you can embody compassion and act out of the heart of compassion, you will create an atmosphere in which the other person can be inspired to imagine the spiritual dimension or even take up spiritual practice. On the deepest level of all, if you constantly practice compassion for the dying person, and in turn inspire him or her to do the same, you might heal the person not only spiritually but perhaps even physically. And you will discover for yourself, with wonder, what all the spiritual masters know: that the power of compassion has no bounds.
Compassion is the best protection; it is also, as the great masters of the past have always known the source of all healing. By taking on the sickness of those suffering like you, in addition to your own pain, with a mind full of compassion, you will--beyond any doubt--purify the past negative karma that is the cause, now and in the future, of the continuation of your suffering.
As you continue to meditate on compassion, when you see someone suffer, your first response becomes not mere pity but deep compassion. You feel for that person respect and even gratitude, because you now know that whoever prompts you to develop compassion by his or her suffering is in fact giving you one of the greatest gifts of all, as you are being helped to develop that very quality you need most in your progress toward enlightenment.