A Buddhist perspective on compassion

Buddhism and Compassion

According to Buddhist philosophy, compassion is similar to a state of empathy where an individual perceives other people’s suffering as his own and wishes other human beings to be free from suffering.

Wisdom is the basis of compassion – wisdom to understand the causes of others’ sufferings and wisdom to acknowledge the potential for liberation from suffering. Buddhism even goes on to say that compassion and wisdom are the foundations for the emotional well-being of any society.

Compassion, practiced in its purest form, is not just about understanding and empathizing with the pain and anguish of others. It is also about empowering others so as to face their problems with courage and unyielding determination. An individual is said to be truly compassionate when he/she is selfless to the point of not expecting a reward or even a statement of gratitude from the beneficiary.

Compassion reduces the inclination towards committing cruel acts. A society is peaceful as a whole when its members are understanding of each other rather than being self-serving. This noble quality is essential to every human being. Even the world-renowned Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama believes that it is important to be compassionate even if one chooses to reject subjects such as religion, ideology and knowledge.

In order to develop compassion for others, one has to first develop compassion for oneself. While this might sound selfish and even seem at odds with the principle of caring for others, Buddhism believes in the principle of tonglen according to which one can empathize with others’ sufferings only if one is able to connect with one’s own suffering.  In addition to being self-empathetic, one has to curb malicious thoughts such as desire to control and manipulate other people’s lives, ego-centricism and selfish life goals in order to become a compassionate person.

While attaining a state of compassion is no easy task for any normal human being, one can take heart from the fact that even the great Gautama Buddha had to undergo a six-year long penance before becoming an enlightened being.

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