The Practice of Compassion

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Compassion, you will remember from Lesson 6, is the wish that others be free of suffering. For the Dalai Lama compassion is both the source and the realization of those qualities that constitute happiness, such as love, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness.

Compassion is realizing that the other person is also just like me.

Hatred, jealousy and excessive attachment cause suffering and agitation. I feel that, again, it is compassion that can help you overcome these to move into a calm state of mind. Compassion is . . . realizing that the other person is also just like me. That recognition is the basis on which you can develop compassion not only towards those around you but also towards your enemy. Normally, when we think about our enemy, we think about harming him. Instead, try to remember that the enemy is also a human being. He or she has the right to be happy, just as you do.

Compassion provides both the ground and the impetus for both restraint and the cultivation of skillful qualities, the topics of the previous two lessons.

Compassion is the foundation of an ethical life:

When we begin to develop a genuine appreciation of the value of compassion, our outlook on others begins automatically to change. . . Where love of one's neighbor, affection, kindness, and compassion live, we find that ethical conduct is automatic. Ethically wholesome actions arise naturally in the context of compassion.

In this lesson you begin to investigate compassion, the goal of "great compassion" and the barriers to compassion that we encounter.


The most important factor for mental peace is human compassion, affection, a sense of caring. Usually, the concept of compassion or love is something like closeness or a feeling toward your friend. Sometimes compassion is thought to mean a feeling of pity. That is wrong. Compassion or love in which someone looks down on another is not genuine compassion. Genuine compassion must be acting on the basis of respect and the recognition that others also, just like myself, have the right to be happy or free from suffering. And yet suffering is there. We should therefore develop some kind of genuine concern, a real sense of concern.

How do you experience compassion?

Think of a few instances of compassionate action that you have experienced or at least know about. What was it about these that allowed you to think of them as "compassionate"?

Can you recall an instance in which you experienced a strong sense of compassion? What was it that moved you to feel this?

Compassion is very gentle, very peaceful, and soft in nature, not harsh. You cannot destroy it easily as it is very powerful.

In its essence compassion is our ability to enter into and, at least to some extent, share others' suffering. This feeling of closeness and affection toward all beings is likened to the love a mother has for her only child.