Today's topic of compassion can lend a lot to that exploration of how we show up in our own skin and how we move in the world. So, if you ask the question, “what is compassion?” we would say compassion is looking both inwardly to oneself and outwardly to others in the world with love, kindness and understanding.
Compassion is not the same as pity. It's far removed from pity. Pity is based on an assumption of loss or lack or failing, and we feel sorry for people in those circumstances. So we could say that pity comes from a place of forgetting when it's based on that assumption.
Compassion has a different flavour. It has a different feeling. It has a different energetic pattern. And when we act with compassion, there's a recognition that none of us has the Universal picture as existence does. None of us has that true omniscient perception. And therefore, we're not in a position to judge anyone else. Compassion automatically assumes some kind of humility. It doesn't place us above somebody or give us the right to judge. It places us on the same level with everyone else, so there's some kind of filial feeling within compassion, where we reach out in solidarity.
And also we recognise that our thoughts, our words, our actions, can provide tremendous assistance to others in need. Holding compassion is a choice. It's given of our own free will. Nobody makes us do it. And in this way, it's very close to the quality of trust. You know that we choose to trust. It doesn't automatically spring within us, it's something that we have to consciously decide. Compassion is like that because we don't have to hold those thoughts and qualities. And even though our being is certainly a compatible foundation for compassion, we still have to consciously move towards it. If compassion was automatic, then everybody would feel it. And we choose it because we recognise that when someone's in a tight spot, they don't need the extra burden of our judgement and criticism and blame.
So, compassion can help to ease the load, without doing the work for them. And whereas, with pity one might be motivated to just alleviate the burden. But with compassion we can see that what people are going through might be the exact experience or lesson they need. So we don't want to remove it from them but at the same time, we want to join them in a feeling of understanding, love and empathy. Because we ourselves at some time have suffered too. And we know how uncomfortable it can be. Of course, human beings are encoded with the nature of their source energy. And that source energy has woven into it the quality of love. It's there to be utilised, especially when we feel compassion for somebody.
We often use that phrase, “I'm moved to compassion”, don't we? It's the energy of our source surfacing within us. It's this energy reaching out to comfort to support and to show an affiliation with our fellow human beings. And of course, also our fellow creatures. And I wonder if you would say that you would have compassion for plants? We feel moved when we see environmental destruction, so I guess you could use the phrase in that sense too.
What causes compassion to arise in us?
Generally, it’s when we see or experience suffering. And even though it's equally possible to have compassion for oneself and others, actually, we're much more likely to hold compassion for other than for ourselves. We tend to leave ourselves off the list of people requiring compassion. We can be much harder on ourselves than we are of others…. less kind, less loving, less supportive. I think all of us have experienced that at some stage.
Of course, suffering is a pretty strong word, and certainly in the English language, it's associated with extremes - that someone suffers when they're experiencing something extreme. Those of you who've come across Buddha’s teachings will know that the Four Noble Truths are the foundational recognitions Buddha during his enlightenment. They mention the ‘existence of suffering’ as the first Noble Truth, The fourth Noble Truth is the ‘existence that there is a path to the end of suffering’. It means that there's things that we need to do in order to end suffering. It's not just sitting it out and waiting for it to pass. In the Indian vedantic system, given to the world by the Rishis, they also mention suffering, and the recognition that suffering is caused by the illusion of Maya (which is the dance or the play of untruth or illusion.
Certainly, when we suffer, we're caught in the experience and the story of it. We believe we are in pain. We suffer because we believe we are in pain, we believe we are lacking something, and we experience that pain (loss / lack) as truth. That is why we suffer. So that's what Buddha was pointing out that - yes, there is suffering but he also recognised the cause of suffering.
Suffering doesn't just occur of its own accord. It's existentially impossible. For suffering to occur, there has to be a cause. And of course, we suffer when we don't see the cause! We think that we are the victim of some wrongdoing or some injustice. And we fail to see that we are the scriptwriter and the actor of the whole play. We even designed the set, the stage, the scenery. And, you know, we enshrine the play as our inner narrative.
Now you might think then when Buddha speaks of ‘the existence of suffering’ (original translation is: the truth of suffering), that he is agreeing with our version of events when we’re in pain. I just want to point out that Buddha is not suggesting that our story or our pain (stemming from the conclusion that somehow we missed out) is real. He's pointing out that human beings are bound to suffer if they do not see the real cause (ie: their own minds).
So one might imagine then that compassion would automatically arise. But as we've said, it's something that we have to choose to move towards. We are prompted to feel that.
But why is it that that doesn't? Or that isn't our response? In every case, we know that there is great suffering on this planet for all of the different kingdoms, not just the human family, that the treatment of animals is way behind the provision that we make for human beings. And even that is not adequate. And of course, we know that nature has been given short shrift by the activities of man.
So why isn't there an equal amount of compassion to the amount of suffering? So we need to ask, what would cause us to lose compassion or for it not to arise in the first place? And of course, the answer is that the ego identity sees its own pain, its own story, as being of paramount importance, that even though others suffer, our pain is worse, our predicament is worse. And we can weave a story, that even when we live in a part of the world that experiences relative peace and prosperity, we can still be in a daze of our own suffering, and fail to see that there are not just millions but billions of others worse off, that's just in the human family, let alone our animal friends and the planet.
So, when we come across suffering and others, it's interesting to see how we respond. It shows us what's really going on inside us in how we respond to others. If we are still in illusion ourselves, there is a temptation to feel that compassion is about joining others in their misery buying into their story and believing in their pain, because we want to strengthen the idea that there is some kind of inherent loss or lack or wrongdoing. Sometimes when we notice others suffering, we make it about us.
We can see that when we're in that scarcity mindset, we can lack compassion, because our own pain seems of a higher priority. Another common response when people lack compassion is they refuse to interact with the pain of others. And this stems from not being able to process our own suppressed suffering. And of course, if we can't process our own, we don't want to interact with anybody else's - we don't want to be reminded. And yet, this response doesn't really get us out of witnessing or feeling pain because it leads us to being hard hearted, turning away from those in need. Because we can't even face our own pain and discomfort.
Sometimes when we lack compassion, it's because we fail to feel for another, we fail to have feelings for another because their life path of their choices differ from our own. You can see that sometimes in the media or in the way you hear different conversations being expressed. It also shows up in religious intolerance, and you can find that within countries as well as between countries. And this can be extreme to the point where one religious group can be persecuted because of their different beliefs. And we've seen this through the centuries and it still goes on today.
A lack of compassion can lead to a very dangerous situation it certainly when that is born out of an arrogance towards one's own way of doing things, you know feeling others don't deserve sympathy because we don't recognize their values and choices. And of course the extreme version of this is de-humanisation. So a lack of compassion when it becomes extreme can result in dehumanisation, the antithesis of compassion. And we see that this has happened recently with the Uyghurs of China or the Rohingya of Burma. You know, the ethnic cleansing that went on in Rwanda or in the Yugoslavian genocides, and of course, you know, the Jews in the last century.
We find it almost incomprehensible that human beings can act this way, we are so traumatised by brutality. And yet when you look at how it's possible, it's this failure to recognise the other as being like our self. So, it's not just a lack of empathy. It's a lack of recognition, that we are the same, in essence, you know, underneath all of our different cultures and beliefs, and approach to life are different values or different choices, that we are the same species.
And of course, we can see that at the root of that is always the selfishness of the ego state. That selfishness gives rise or produces a lack of compassion. This selfishness automatically wants to take care of our own needs and somehow has to weave a story or create a story that the needs of others are of lesser importance. Now, I'm well aware that nobody on this call feels that way. But I think we have to understand what is happening in the world in which we live. So that we can start to hold compassion for those people who lack it. And at every point in our incarnational cycles, you know, since our soul was created, we have received help. We have been helped by others. There's not one of us who's got this far on our own efforts alone.
We've all learned new ways of doing something from those who have gone a little further down the track and are willing to share what they've discovered. And so, we in turn, have a responsibility to hand on what we've learned. and compassion can be one way that we can do that one way. If we can maintain our steadiness, maintain a lens of love and kindness and understanding, then we have a duty to share that with those around us, to set an example.
Okay, let's move on. let's talk about the benefits of compassion. Let's look at the other side. When we do hold compassion, there are many, many benefits. It promotes a feeling of greater equality, between human beings in our life that we know and also for those that we've never met. We can actually have just as much feeling for those we've never met as we can for our own loved ones.
It also promotes greater tolerance. When we see people acting up, causing suffering, as well as suffering themselves, we can remember that we've been in that position ourselves once, maybe not in this life, but certainly in previous lives. So that can help us to stand in a place of non judgement.
That must be a starting point for seeing ourselves and others clearly we cannot perceive ourselves or others clearly if we are in a place of judgement. So, equality, tolerance and non judgement go hand in hand with being able to hold compassion. The other thing that compassion does, it develops patience. Compassion is actually related to time and space. I'll come on to that later. When we're short of time and space, we often lack compassion. Timelessness gives us more patience.
It also develops kindness. So that's a no brainer really, isn't it? That we feel kinder when we're compassionate and we feel more compassionate when we're calm. And also it develops forgiveness. We cannot receive any of these things if we're not prepared to give them. It can be very humbling when we ourselves have behaved badly and somebody behaves well towards us.
Compassion also creates a favourable environment for growth. It relieves us of the natural selfishness and individual focus of the ego. And it shows us that no matter how much we give, there's always more to go around. You can't exhaust the positive qualities of existence. They're truly inexhaustible. The core source energy can give and give and give, when the qualities are positive, and this is how people like Jesus could be so forgiving in the most extreme of circumstances. In Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda asked, God how often should we forgive, especially those people who are causing suffering intentionally. And he says God responded to him by saying, “How many times do I forgive mankind on a daily basis?” So, you know, compassion and forgiveness go hand in hand.
How can we be more compassionate to self and others and lend support and not get tangled in the story of our own pain or the pain of others, and stay in that remembering? And of course, this is different to feeling sorry for others. It isn't nearly as generative and uplifting for others if you feel sorry for them. To have compassion is to join with them. Remember in love, kindness and understanding and to recognise we're all in this together. You know, it doesn't take away from our own being if we give to another. There's no downside to any of these qualities. Let's practice it and see that there are so many circumstances in which we can generate that and hold it right now, as we see so many people are experiencing increased challenge. And many people around the world right now are processing that challenge as a form of suffering.
Q & A
Q: Do animals suffer because they also buy into illusion?
A: No, they don't suffer because they buy into illusion. They experience discomfort because they have an emotional body. And so the emotional body is able to feel pain, is able to feel the contraction, which makes it very uncomfortable for them. But they don't have a mind that comments on the experience. Humans have a mental commentary on the primary discomfort which creates a secondary discomfort. Animals just have that primary sensation and are able to ‘be’ with it better than we are.
Q: While I understand we humans forget our divinity and feel a lot of guilt and unworthiness for being human, it makes it hard to have compassion for oneself and other humans for all the damage we caused each other and everything else.
A: Well, you know, guilt and unworthiness don't serve anybody. They certainly don't alleviate the damage. So, we have to pull ourselves out of that kind of response. Just as we saw in our own practice, that when we heap blame, criticism, judgement on top of already existing discomfort, we just exacerbate it. Compassion doesn't look for a reason to be kind. It's kind just because we know how uncomfortable it is to be in pain. And we offer that. So we have to be careful that our response to suffering, as we said earlier, is not that we buy into the story of it, or that we come out with judgement and blame. If we're going to respond at all, respond with something that can be effective and alleviate the situation.
Q: I just feel so much with the earth and with the nature and the animals and I just really commune in a very deep way and it just breaks my heart what is happening, I'm not sure how to be with that pain and it kind of overwhelms me all the time. I don't know how to shield myself from the pain. I feel more allegiance to nature and the animals than I do to the human species.
A: Mm hm. Well, we're all wired slightly differently. Some of us are here to show that allegiance to the planet or to the animals. Some of us, like Gandhi, come to demonstrate that among people and that's a hard path. HeartMath say that when care becomes over-care. It puts too much significance on the circumstance, which limits our capacity to respond. And it is heartbreaking [to see state of the world]. The heart is supposed to break when it sees it, and release a flood of compassion and love and kindness. But when we move into over-care, instead of opening the heart, it turns off the heart because we start to feel angry, we start to feel upset, we start to want to blame, we start to say I cannot cope with this pain. And then that actually limits rather than facilitates the heart.
When we feel true compassion, we are not looking for the mind to be at peace. Oftentimes, when our mind is disturbed, we want to find a solution where the mind can be at peace. But the very nature of the ego identity is that it will never be satisfied. So, compassion is not looking to agree with what we see. It's looking to love it. It's just simply willing to reach out with love, kindness, recognition connection, and say, “I will be with you in this moment”.
So it's a little bit like imagine when we are deep sadness or grief, maybe somebody has died, maybe we call on the angels and say, “please just come I just need the comfort of your love right now”. And there have been times where we've all felt that something has moved in to love us. They haven't changed the situation, but just moved in that moment to comfort us. That's what we're doing with compassion. It is a reaching out to say, I will be with you in this moment.
But if we are overwhelmed with pain, we can't reach out, we say, I can't reach out because it's too painful to come to you in this moment that I am in too much pain at your suffering. Compassion doesn't quantify it. It says “if you're suffering, I'll be with you”. And through that action, through that decision, that choice, we realise, oh, I can be with you in your suffering. I don't have to suffer because you're suffering. I can step into love. You don't need me to suffer because you're suffering. You need me to reach towards you with love and tenderness and kindness.
And so compassion is not based on some kind of rationale or some kind of weighing up of who is deserving of this or who's to blame for this. It just reaches. I use Jesus as an example, he was an exemplar at this. If you think about, you know, the ridicule, the physical pain that he went through the hands of the Sadducees and the Pharisees and not once was there a flicker of resentment or blame or judgement. There was just love,
So, we are part of that agency of forgiveness. We have that capacity and it's not until we seek to extend that capacity that we realise, oh, I can move in love and kindness without being overwhelmed, without it causing my pain.
I have such feeling for for children to children. I feel moved to tears on a daily basis. And yet I know that what they really need from me is to remember to be steady, and to extend that love and that solidarity in that moment because even though we may never register the good that we've put into the world, we may never see the tangible demonstration of it, we know that to send it is as much as we can do in that moment. And if you can go further joining movements and supporting charities, then all the better.
Spiritually and developmentally compassion is a very important quality. I think right now it's, with everything the world is going through, those of us who can generate compassion and hold it, we must try, even if we find it difficult.
Q: Does compassion help in the process of evolution? Because it strengthens connection to all?
A: Yes, it does. That's true. And for all the other reasons that I've mentioned, because we don't want to compound the pain and suffering by our own reaction to it.
Q: I feel so much compassion for the earth, animals and the environment. It makes my heart ache. What is the best way we can help the planet and its animals?
A: You know, whenever we feel pain, it is some aspect of forgetting. So we have to ask ourselves, do I want to go further into the pain which will only take me further into forgetting? When we are in forgetting, we cannot simultaneously be in remembering! Even if we wanted to help, if we are into buying into the story, we are not able in that moment to access the mechanism of assisting. So if you're asking what is the single best thing you can do to help the planet and its animals, it is remembering and from that place of remembering, extend compassion. Send forth the Angels of your heart. And forgiveness and kindness and understanding. Pity is buying into the story of the problem. Compassion is the action, which alleviates it. So we have to realise what we are doing with the choices that we make and where that's going to take us.
And the thing about compassion is, we are not saying that if you have compassion for others, you will change the outcome of others behaviour. No. Because that would be an expectation. What we're saying is that we are bound to suffer when we forget. Let's not compound the suffering with our reaction to it. Let's just have empathy for what it is like to suffer. And again, I must say, compassion does not look for a rationale. “Oh, that person is deserving of compassion. I will move into compassion”. No, it says, it is painful to suffer, period. I know what that feels like. And I don't intend to suffer. But I do. So maybe that other person that looks like they're being a real jerk right now or they're trashing the planet with their choices. Maybe they are not intending that either. Maybe they are also acting out of forgetting or deep forgetting. None of us we're all made out of the same energy, which is so beautiful. How is it possible that we can turn into greedy, ugly, rapacious, hateful, warring beings, only through the action of forgetting, and we are all subject to that. It's just a strong practice.
This topic of compassion is not like “Oh, I just love everybody”. It really pulls out of us, where we are in our own being, where we stand and we start to see that we have this interior grade scale within us as to who's deserving who's not. We just have to extend it. We will find huge reservoirs of capacity within our heart. And we will also find that our mind will switch off and start to analyse and assess less.
I know what it feels like to be in pain. And when I'm in pain, I wouldn't want somebody to judge me and just say, “well, it's your own silly fault. You know, you're in forgetting what you expect?” I would love for them to have compassion and empathy towards me. Even though it is my own fault, it is my forgetting. But when I'm in pain, I'm not remembering in that moment. Somebody else's compassion coming towards me, helps me remember. So wouldn't we all want to gift that to somebody else when they're in pain? And we can remember. So compassion is the secret superpower, that that can change the dynamics of how we perceive and relate. So I think it's something that we can all benefit from exploring.