Compassion is a central tenet of Buddhist teachings. While the terms “God” and “love” are generally not used, the Buddha referred to compassion quite a bit. Compassion is sometimes described as love in action.
The Two Wings of Enlightenment
The Buddha taught that in order to become Enlightened, two essential qualities were required: wisdom and compassion. These are sometimes referred to as the two wings required for ascension to higher awareness.
The Western mind sees wisdom as within the realm of the intellectual, and compassion as emotional. Some even see compassion as sappy, optional or as a weakness; however, without compassion, wisdom is detached from humanity and devoid of true power.
The Sanskrit word for wisdom is prajna, which is also synonymous with consciousness, insight, and discernment. In Buddhism, prajna refers to the awareness and discernment of the significance of anatta, or “No Self.” The word for compassion is Karuna, and this refers to a dynamic form of compassion with a willingness to bear the pain of others on the road to Enlightenment. In effect, prajna and Karuna give rise to one another.
The Buddhist ideal of compassion is to act selflessly to help ease suffering whenever possible. However, this extends beyond just being a kind and decent person. At a deeper level, we are expressing the truth that we are all One consciousness. Just as hurting another is to hurt ourselves, uplifting another uplifts the whole. All of humanity benefits from acts of compassion.
In addition to bringing more warmth, kindness and positive energy to the world, compassion underscores the truth of No Self. There is ultimately no separation between the giver, the receiver and the act of compassion itself. As compassion becomes a natural practice, awareness of deeper realities becomes integrated and actualized. A more elevated existence is possible.
Cultivating a more compassionate nature begins with awareness of the value of compassion as described above. However, there are also specific things anyone can do to help make compassion a habit:
Meditation is a central practice of Buddhism and one of the most effective roads to higher consciousness. Getting quiet and connecting with our True Self (soul) beyond thoughts, emotions and mind chatter allows us to become more rooted in Buddha Nature. From this connected and aware space, compassion arises more naturally.
2. Self-Compassion (Tonglen)
Taking the time to have compassion for yourself is far from a selfish act of self-pity; it in fact allows you to see yourself more clearly as part of the human family. We are all on the same path, facing the limitations of our finite human existence while striving to connect more fully with our transcendent, infinite Higher Selves.
The Buddhist practice of tonglen involves reflecting upon the ways you’ve struggled and suffered in life, and sending yourself care and compassion. In doing so, you naturally strengthen your connection to Buddha Nature. This in turn allows you to express more compassion to others.
3. The Metta Prayer
The Buddhist Metta prayer emphasizes sending lovingkindness to all beings. Taking the time to recite this prayer daily is an excellent way to make compassion a practice and add positive energy to the world.
4. Dissolving the Illusion of Separateness
The phrase “We are All One” is more than just a spiritual platitude. The science of quantum physics has verified its reality at the deepest, most elemental levels. Take time to reflect upon this truth regularly, and acts of compassion will arise naturally and spontaneously from your True Nature.
5. Customized Compassion
Choose daily, weekly or monthly practices of compassion that align with your personality, interests and lifestyle. Donate to charities close to your heart, or volunteer your time. Resolve to always give a couple dollars and a genuine smile to homeless persons you encounter. Remember that the energy behind any action is at least as important as the act itself.
6. The Golden Rule
While The Golden Rule has its origins in Christianity, it is relevant to a Buddhist practice as well: do unto others as you would have done unto you. Treat others as you wish to be treated. With the awareness that we all share the same consciousness, this ethos can become as natural as breathing.
True wisdom and Enlightenment are not possible without compassion. Compassion also makes the world a more benevolent and enjoyable place to be. Use these insights and ideas to cultivate more compassion within yourself, and you’ll contribute to creating a better world for all.