“The true aim of the cultivation of compassion is to develop the courage to think of others and to do something for them.”
— Dalai Lama
All the major religions place great importance on compassion. Whether it’s the parable of the good samaritan in Christianity, Judaism’s “13 Attributes of Mercy” or the Buddhist teachings of metta and karuna, empathy for the suffering of others is seen as a special virtue that has the power to change the world. This idea is often articulated by the Dalai Lama, who argues that individual experiences of compassion radiate outward and increase harmony for all.
Compassion is how we can heal our tinctured planet. When we mindfully attend to the person we’re with, or the tree in our front yard, or a squirrel perched on a branch, this living energy becomes an intimate part of who we are.
Compassion is often seen as a distant, altruistic ideal cultivated by saints or as an unrealistic response of the naively kind-hearted. But if we view compassion this way, we lose out on experiencing the transformative potential of one of our most precious but neglected inner resources.
The great interfaith scholar Karen Armstrong argues that compassion is hardwired into our brains yet is constantly pushed back by our more primitive instincts for selfishness and survival. “Compassion, according to Susan Sontag, is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers.”
It is true that it is becoming increasingly challenging to preach and practice compassion. When bestselling books and movies all seem to focus on self-indulgence and encourage whining over the petty problems of life, how can we grow into compassionate, selfless human beings? The answer has as many petals as an unfolding lotus flower, and within each petal is a simple truth: Compassion has to be practiced with a spirit of altruism; we should expect nothing in return.
Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every human being, treating everybody with absolute justice, equity, and respect.
By making compassion a part of our daily life, we can make it become such a voluntary and spontaneous response that we don’t have to strain to summon it forth from the dregs of our soul.
Selfless love needs to be a key component in our compassionate actions — a love for the distraught, a passion for envisioning a new future fashioned from love, an unceasing resolve to assuage the pain of fellow beings, a radical love that exists at the crux of human change.
Our faith in God and human beings too is shown precisely in the small acts of kindness, brotherhood or sisterhood, and familiarity in our day-to-day lives. Faith in God and human beings does not require us to display heroic acts of courage and fidelity. On the contrary, it is the day-to-day commitments to our near and dear that make up the fabric of our life. These acts do not just nourish our spiritual and moral texture; they teach others the power of compassion and keep sparking rainbows of celestial joy within us.
It’s much easier to be selfish. What the world needs the most right now is love. There is so much strife and struggle; love alone can provide a light of sanity and weave order out of chaos.