The Heart of Compassion

Typically I eschew today’s news. As far as I’m concerned, good journalism died a long time ago, and the opinionated drivel that clogs the arteries of society is not worth my time and attention. We do however subscribe to a daily paper, just in case there is something major of which we need to be aware. Other than that, it’s Bizarro and Annie’s Mailbox which pretty much take me through my morning papaya. I always find it intriguing to discover what others deem critical enough to share on a national forum, and today it concerned a gal so repelled by her obese father that she just had to ask for help in managing her irritation. Annie’s response was that “Dad already feels worthless, so instead of anger and disgust, try compassion.” That got me going.

The term compassion gets tossed around a lot these days, with less regard than the word sympathy. To my mind, any of us can feel empathy or sympathy for another going through a tough time. Compassion, however, is a horse of a different color. Compassion itself has come to the fore largely due to the life work of such noble beings as the spiritual leader Tenzin Gyatso, more commonly known as Tibet’s 14th Dalai Lama. Even the Tibetans don’t toss the concept around lightly – they encourage a lifetime practice of sitting with ourselves in mindful meditation so that we might touch, among other things, the heart of genuine compassion.

You can understand how something this demanding differs from a sentiment like sympathy. Even Webster’s definition is dilute in its effort to express the depth of this character trait as the sympathetic consciousness of another’s distress together with a desire to alleviate it. Yet it becomes clear even then that this is simply not something we learn overnight. Sympathy or empathy are feelings that naturally arise when we observe another’s pain and can identify with it. Compassion derives from a committed inner practice and awareness of the pervasive nature of suffering itself. It is not a quality that can be elicited or forced before its time, much like the aging of a fine wine.

In typical Western fashion, many strive to attain overnight what Tibetan monks and nuns have achieved over a lifetime of dedicated service, having entered the monastic life as very small children. There’s nothing wrong with a desire to better ourselves, only let’s be realistic about what it takes to plumb the depths of our true being: a moment to moment awareness of our thoughts and intentions. Forgiveness of ourselves and others develops over time, where we discover what lies beyond inner walls of self hatred and blame.

Forgiveness itself may well be key, as most have someone or something hanging in that balance, and absolving ourselves can prove the most humbling of all. As we strive to bear no malice toward others – and this is not something we can simply say and it becomes so – we discover in the process that, in being sentient, we suffer. Awareness of this noble truth arises in an open heart. We begin to understand the lonely twisting pain of those who have wronged us – those who are not yet able to forgive others who have crushed their spirit and have little hope of exculpating themselves. And so in their ignorance, they pass it on. It is with an equal yet opposing force of determination that we may choose to commit ourselves to a path of peace, diligently cultivating the tenderness required for a compassionate existence. As Sogyal Rinpoche offers, “Compassion is not true compassion unless it is active.”


Tenzin Gyatso, The 14th Dalai Lama

25 thoughts on “The Heart of Compassion

  1. I agree that forgiveness IS the key and it is a very very hard ask! but all we can do is continue to attempt to be how we want to be and that in itself is a wonderful thing> i mean just knowing that you need to improve and trying to do so must be a journey worth taking.. c

    1. Celia, I agree – we do what we must, and the best of us do what we love! Forgiveness has been a lifelong journey for me – not the everyday person’s slights, but the deeper wounds of my history. And yet. Time and deep self exploration have proven to be most helpful in my own life, for it’s shown me I am far from perfect, no matter my noble intentions. How difficult then must it be for those who are lost to themselves – for them to ever discover a seed of goodness within – not to mention enough of that goodness to spark humility and a genuine desire to right what has been wronged.

  2. I genuinely appreciated this post. So much so that it deserves more than a click of the “Like” button. This is going to give me much to think about. It makes a lot of sense. Thank you for this. Truly.

    1. Thanks Kate, for your gratitude. Makes the process rewarding. And that it gives you food for thought is all one could ask. Appreciate that you come by, from time to time, and take the time to read and remark.

  3. As usual another great post Bela. I love this post. The way you articulate your subject is just excellent. Meanwhile, I am looking forward to something great soon. !!!

  4. I need compassion. I must find it to help some loved ones to alleviate their pain. This must be what I needed to make a concerted effort towards at least letting them sense that there’s someone who understands, and has forgiven.

    Why are the most important things in life so difficult, Bela?

    1. Ahhh, Priya – the question of the ages. I guess for me things seem most difficult when I resist them, whatever they are, for one reason or another. Developing compassion requires the most open of hearts – and if I open my heart all the time, I risk what vulnerability can’t help but allow: rejection, dismissal, hurt, pain. Of course there are the positive effects that feeling deeply grants me, in return – passion, joy, and the thrill of knowing that another’s sentiments not only sound good but feel genuine! Also for me, remaining open and vulnerable is not an option – it’s just the way I’m made. Accepting this quality on the other hand has been rough at times. Listening to beautiful music and crying when others can plainly see is never going to be easy. Can I help it? No.

  5. Hi Bela, I have just nominated you the “Genuine Blogger Award.” The good news is there are no rules. Congratulations and Thank You for regularly posting such wonderful posts. Regards.

  6. “Compassion is not true compassion unless it is active.”
    I need to act on it. I need to remember. I need to be aware of it.
    Needless to say, this one is written beautifully.

    Do you follow Buddhism, Bela? Have you been to Tibet, or Dharamshala in India?

    1. Hi again 😉
      We all need more active compassion, I think. Don’t be too hard on yourself (just in case you are). It’s always a process of deepening our connection to other sentient beings.
      I am not a Buddhist, but the teachings of the Tibetans are very close to my heart. I cannot fault anything in their teachings, and continue learning so much from them. My daughter has been to Nepal to hike the Anapurna – stayed with a Buddhist monk friend of mine – someone I interviewed on radio years ago. Wonderful family. But I have never been! Maybe some day …
      Thanks so much for visiting, reading, commenting! And for your kind compliments.

  7. Wisdom so well expressed and served. Many thanks, Bela. I’m reminded, too, that I often have to forgive myself in order to live in true compassion for others. Thankfully, even a drop moves towards transformation.

    I’m amazed I have not found your site before now…thanks to Priya. Delighted to know you are here.

    1. Happy you found me through Priya! I love this WordPress community 😉
      Thanks for your comments, I appreciate them very much.
      And yes, even a drop. Most of the time that’s what I get – a drop at a time. I suspect that’s true for most of us. But eventually, drops turn into lakes and oceans!
      Come back anytime, and thanks so much for visiting.

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