There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what constitutes compassion. It’s understandable; mention the word compassion, and it evokes the image of Jesus being tortured to death, still imploring on behalf of the jeering crowd: “Forgive them, they know not what they do.”
One man I spoke to was disgusted with how the liberating energy of compassion has been corrupted.
“Tara who wields swords and sits upon the corpse of a dead man his ripped out heart in her hand, a symbol of both suffering and liberation, destroyer and creator. Her later incarnation into Buddhism [Kuan Yim, the goddess of compassion] took something from her that was not returned.”
I told him that I didn’t think he had to worry; compassion was terrible and beautiful and not for the faint of heart.
I don’t think compassion embodied is a kind of simpering virtue. Compassion is holy fire.
A lot of people grapple with the idea that life really ought to be kind and just, even when inundated with evidence to the contrary. Then they further struggle with the question of “What kind of Power arranges things this way?”
My own thought is — a compassionate one.
Let me ask you a question. How do you learn best? How to you get things, in a visceral way?
Do you read about it? Do your research? Take good advice?
Of course not. You do it. You struggle, you fail, you fall down, you get hurt. You survive. And then you really know. Whatever your question was, you got answers. Not all the answers, of course. That’s for the next time. But for right now, you learned something, and you learned it good.
Try taking that away. All your past hurts, all your suffering and pain. What remains? If you’re like me, not very much. A lump of iron, never forged. Good for nothing.
Compassion is not the art of relieving suffering, succoring the helpless, or protecting the weak. Compassion is the art and the discipline of allowing things to be as they are without being motivated to “save” people from their suffering. Compassion is staying centred in the knowledge that everything unfolds as it should. It’s allowing pain to pain to exist alongside pleasure, both in your own life, and the lives of those you love. That’s what’s terrible about it.
What motivates your acts of compassion? Do you agree or disagree that compassion is terrible as well as kind?