What Is Compassion – Kelsang Gyatso
What exactly is compassion? Compassion is a mind that is motivated by cherishing other living beings and wishes to release them from their suffering. Sometimes out of selfish intention we can wish for another person to be free from their suffering; this is quite common in relationships that are based principally on attachment. If our friend is ill or depressed, for example, we may wish him to recover quickly so that we can enjoy his company again, but this wish is basically self-centred and is not true compassion.
True Compassion is necessarily based on cherishing others. Although we already have some degree of compassion, at present it is very biased and limited. When our family and friends are suffering we easily develop compassion for them, but we find it far more difficult to feel sympathy for people we find unpleasant or for strangers. Furthermore, we feel compassion for those who are experiencing manifest pain, but not for those who are enjoying good conditions and especially not for those engaging in harmful actions.
If we genuinely want to realize our potential by attaining full enlightenment we need to increase the scope of our compassion until it embraces all living beings without exception, just as a loving mother feels compassion for all her children irrespective of whether they are behaving well or badly. This universal compassion is the heart of Mahayana Buddhism. Unlike our present, limited compassion, which already arises naturally from time to time, universal compassion must first be cultivated through training over a long period of time.
HOW TO DEVELOP COMPASSION
There are two essential stages to cultivating universal compassion. First we need to love all living beings, and then we need to contemplate their suffering. If we do not love someone we cannot develop real compassion for him even if he is in pain, but if we contemplate the suffering of someone we love, compassion will arise spontaneously. This is why we feel compassion for our friends or relatives but not for people we do not like.
Cherishing others is the foundation for developing compassion. The way we develop and enhance our mind of cherishing love has already been explained. Now we must consider how each and every samaric being is experiencing suffering. To begin with we can think about those who are suffering intense manifest pain right now. There are so many people experiencing terrible mental and physical suffering from illnesses such as cancer, AIDS, and Parkinson’s disease. How many people have lost a beloved child or friend through the scourge of AIDS, watching him become weaker and weaker, knowing that there is no cure? Every day thousands of people experience the agony of dying from illness or in accidents. Without choice they are separated forever from everyone they love, and those they leave behind often experience inconsolable grief and loneliness. Imagine an old woman losing her husband and lifelong partner, sadly returning home after the funeral to an empty house to live out the rest of her days alone.
Throughout the world we can see how millions of people are suffering through the horrors of war and ethnic cleansing, from bombing, landmines, and massacres. Suppose it was your child who went to play in the fields and lost a limb, or even his very life, by stepping on a land mine? Hundreds of thousands of refugees throughout the world live in squalid camps, hoping someday to return to their ruined homes, many of them waiting to be reunited with their loved ones, every day not knowing if they are alive or dead.
Words By Kelsang Gyatso