Rule of compassion

 It struck me as a contradiction in terms. How is it possible to have compassion for oneself – read self-pity – and then be able to extend it others? A person who is focused on himself will think only of himself. Any suffering he undergoes will lead him to think no one else has suffered as much. The agony of others will cause him no anguish. He will attribute it to their own failings or to the machinations of Fate. His energies will be spent on keeping his own life hassle-free. He will have no room in it for others.

However, it needs only a bit of reflection to realise that this argument is flawed and represents only half a truth. Just as suffering can make one bitter, so it can make one turn outwards, engaged in helping others. When and how does this happen? It takes place when instead merely reacting to pain we confront it.

When we react to pain, what we are doing is rejecting and avoiding it, putting it out of sight. On the other hand, by facing and acknowledging it, we recognise its true nature and experience the power it holds over us. Opening the heart and letting the pain seize us brings home to us its commonality. This enables us to feel the pain of others. It is the beginning of a compassion that looks both inwards as well as outwards. We begin to be empathetic, capable of seeing another’s point of view, especially his emotional point of view.

True and deep compassion, it may be pointed out, is much more than the formal exercise of writing letters, making phone calls or even giving monetary assistance. It goes beyond physical presence too. It is the ability of a person to feel fully the grief and suffering of another. So powerful is it that it initiates the process of healing, paving the way to recovery.

The giver too feels this healing power. He breaks out of isolation and often enough undergoes a transformation. It can be as complete as the one that turned the warrior-king Asoka into a messenger of peace. His words and messages have become part of our national ethos because, in the wise words of the Dalai Lama, ‘If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.’ 

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