What is Compassion?

Compassion

Caring for Yourself and Others 

Compassion is the fundamental quality that allows us to stretch ourselves and to grow in our awareness, care, and love of ourselves and others. 

Practicing compassion can lead to lasting happiness for oneself and others.  

Cultivating Compassion

Compassion is cultivated through loving-kindness, in which one begins by imagining how they feel toward a loved one, then turning it toward themselves, then family and friends, then strangers, then enemies, and finally toward all beings.

The feeling of compassion is not something that can be generated quickly or halfheartedly. Compassion is not a one-time thing – striving for compassion is an all-consuming, full-time undertaking.

Compassion & Suffering 

Though compassion is extolled, compassion in and of itself, is decidedly not a happy feeling – it is explicitly and unquestionably uncomfortable.

Inherent in compassion is the recognition of universal suffering. If you are genuinely able to have compassion toward all living/feeling beings without exception, then this means that you are also able to recognize the suffering of all beings all the time.

The intensity of compassion is like a trial by fire:

The extensive and vast mind possessed of compassion for all living beings, like love starting from the present mother and extending to the limits of space, must be cultivated to such a degree that it compares to that of a tearful person who sees or remembers that his or her only child has fallen into a pit of fire.

Gorampa Sonam Senge, Buddhist teacher, 15th-century

Motivation to Act

Imagine having this intense feeling all the time, about everyone. This is universal compassion – it is something that is uncomfortable, unsettling, and incredibly difficult to comprehend. But this is why genuine compassion is so important, and why it has the potential to be so powerful.

Operating from a place of discomfort is more likely to motivate us to act. By recognizing the suffering of others and having a sincere and urgent desire to alleviate that suffering, we can learn to act compassionately in the world.

We must try to really see and understand the suffering in the world, and to lean into our own discomfort in order to work toward alleviating the suffering of all.


For a more in-depth look, see The Discomfort of Compassion, by Constance Kassor.

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