I have spoken before about the difference between compassion and empathy. But I think a refresher for myself is a good idea.
Old habits die-hard, and I spent most of my life thinking that it was a wonderful thing to be empathetic. To truly feel the other persons pain and suffering.
But my practice has clearly shown me that empathy is a completely unwholesome act that serves no good for either party. For when I suffer with you, your suffering is not reduced or eliminated in any way. But now I suffer for no good reason and for no benefit to anyone.
So then, we may wonder what is compassion really.
Compassion, in Buddhist terms, is a sympathetic consciousness of another’s distress with wholesome intentions to reduce their suffering so long as it causes no harm or distress to the self or other beings.
So basically, we should help if we can and if it is wise, prudent, and without ego. And equally so, we should be fully mindful (sati-sampajañña) of situations that we may only offer loving kindness and acceptance. And in doing so, we should see that we are selflessly offering our unconditional love. No strings attached, just our love, acceptance, and sincerest wish for peace and happiness. And while it may be easy to dismiss that as less than valuable, I see it as an extremely powerful act with Noble intentions.
I cannot save the World, or fix every difficulty. But I can love the whole World. And this is the cultivation of positive karma (kusala).
This truth of compassion is one that I strive to observe and practice every day. Some days being harder than others. But I have learned to observe feelings of sadness and found that most often they are caused by the unskilful act of empathy. And when sadness is not due to empathy, it is always due to ego. That sense of self-importance and wanting to have things in this life be the way we want.
And words that often help bring me back to reality are those of Bhante Sanyatha when he says “Life is not fair – shut up and get over it!”.
And like it or not, that is the plain and simple reality. Candy coat it if you wish, but it does not change the truth.
May you and I both remain determined in our practice and continue to learn how to accept and cultivate good and kind words, thoughts and actions.
And may you be well, happy and peaceful.