Ask Bhante

Bhante, you talk about compassion as a virtue that we should cultivate in our daily life. You also said that compasion brings you happiness. Yet, often I find the oposit to be true. When people are suffering I feel compassion and it is so painful. Are you saying that it is possible to be compassionate without suffering the pain of others?

The first thing to remember is that compassion can cause no pain. The compassion that Buddha taught does not cause hurt and has no power to cause pain. If it hurts or causes painful feelings we would not call it compassion.

True compassion is the positive energy that flows from your heart. When you feel that positive energy you experience comfort, not discomfort. As you express and share that positive energy you bring comfort and healing to the others.

Say for example your friend or family member gets sick or is seriously wounded in an accident, what would be the normal first reaction? It would be to get sad, upset and angry because you don’t want them to suffer. Because you now feel their pain, you might say, “I feel compassion for them and it hurts me a great deal.”

What you are calling compassion in this situation is actually only the negative reaction to the suffering of another. Negative reaction is usually blind and mechanical and it radiates negative energy. You get sad, unhappy and disturbed by the pain of others and your mechanical emotional impulses discharge a negative energy. The pain you experience is the result of this. Not the result of compassion.

Many people mistakenly call such negative emotions compassion and then believe that compassion causes our pain.

Please be clear, I am not saying there is something wrong if you react negatively to someone’s suffering find it painful. But I am saying that in Buddhism we simply don’t call such negative emotions compassion.

For example, the negative energy that you transmit from your pain is a result of the sadness, grief, and confusion. It can

carry no healing potential. But compassion is about sharing healing. It is about sending harmonious energy to the person who is in distress. Sadness carries no healing power. Fear, grief and anger carry no healing power. But your true compassion does.

Consider another example. You get sick and I come to visit you. I want to share with you positive energy to comfort you and assist your healing. To do that it is essential that I remain positive and peaceful. I know that as soon as I allow your pain to touch and distract me, I cannot radiate the positive healing energy which will bring you comfort. There won’t be space for harmonious peaceful energy of genuine compassion.

I can share with you my sadness, sympathy and let you know that I feel your pain. There is nothing wrong with that. You may even expect it. But the compassion that Buddha taught goes far beyond this. It alone can bring you to a harmonious positive state of mind. Only apart from, or even better, in the absence of sadness and grief, does genuine compassion flourish.

If true compassion caused us pain, the great spiritual masters would not have put so much emphasis on cultivating compassion in our hearts. Compassion is always presented as a means of relieving pain and suffering. It would be of questionable value if it also caused, enhanced or nurtured the very thing it proposes to alleviate.

In summary true compassion might be defined as that positive response in us that is inspired by the awareness and thoughtful understanding of the suffering of others. Nowhere in this act of becoming aware of suffering is it necessary that one begin to feel pain. True compassion is not the cause of your pain.