Compassion - the long haul

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Compassion - the long haul

Post by cooran » Mon Aug 17, 2009 6:15 am

Karuna ~ Compassion.

II've been thinking about Compassion (Karuna) a lot lately.
But what I have been noticing in myself is that it is easier to talk about compassion, and perhaps even feel "something" - probably the near enemy pity - than actually experience the real thing.

Hearing about some tragedy on the other side of the world, can evoke deep feelings, as can seeing a disabled child or old person.

But the type of compassion I observe in my older brother (who cares for our elderly frail mother), is a continuous 24 hour, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, expression of this Brahma Vihara ~ which, if I am to be honest, I don't think I could emulate.

And he is not a buddhist, not a christian, not any religion.

I can do it in short stints - I assist her in the shower, and help her to get dressed.

But he is there all the rest of the time, never reacts to her increasing depression and short temper, doesn't have an ounce of "Oh aren't I wonderful" attitude in him.

I don't know that the fleeting feeling I have could really compare with "in for the long haul, never a moment's relief" type of compassion.

TheDhamma has a graph showing the feelings which masquerade as, or are the opposite of, the Brahma Vihara which is Compassion (karuna), on his site at" onclick=";return false;

Karuna (Compassion has a Near enemy which is Pity and a Far enemy which is cruelty.

I wouldn't say I feel pity - but certainly, on occasion, I feel aversion towards myself for not feeling 'inside' a stronger sense of kindness.
On the surface, I do the kindly things - but how to 'educate and change' the inside?

Any thoughts from the Classical pov?

---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

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Re: Compassion - the long haul

Post by retrofuturist » Mon Aug 17, 2009 6:39 am

Greetings Chris,

Here's some thoughts from pages 190-192 of the Vimuttimagga


Q. What is compassion? What is the practising of it? What are its
salient characteristic, function and manifestation? What are its benefits?
What is the procedure?
A. As parents who on seeing the suffering of their dear and only child,
compassionate it, saying, "O, how it suffers!", so one compassionates all
beings. This is compassion. One dwells undisturbed in compassion — this
is called the practising of it. The non-manifestation of non-advantage is its
salient characteristic. Happiness is its function. Harmlessness is its manifestation.
Its benefits are equal to those of loving-kindness.
What is the procedure ? The new yogin enters into a place of solitude
and sits down with mind collected and undisturbed. If he sees or hears of a
person stricken with disease, or a person affected by decay, or a person
who is full of greed, he considers thus: "That person is stricken with
suffering. How will he escape suffering?". And again, if he sees or hears
of a person of perverted mind and bound with the defilements, or a person
entering into ignorance, or one, who, having done merit in the past does not
now train himself, he considers thus: "That person is stricken with suffering;
he will fare ill. How will he escape suffering?". And again, if he sees or
hears of a person who follows demeritorious doctrines and does not follow
meritorious doctrines, or of a person who follows undesirable doctrines and
does not follow desirable doctrines, he considers thus: "That person is
stricken with suffering; he will fare ill. How will he escape suffering?".
That yogin by these means and through these activities develops the
thought of compassion for these persons and repeats it. Having by these means
and through these activities developed the thought of compassion and repeated
it, he makes his mind pliant, and capable of bearing the object. Thereafter
he gradually develops (compassion) for an indifferent person and an enemy.
The rest is as was fully taught above. Thus he fills the four directions.
Q. What is the fulfilment of compassion and what, non-fulfilment?
A. When a man fulfils compassion, he separates from harming and from
killing. He is not afflicted. He separates from impure affection. Through
two causes compassion is not fulfilled: through resentment produced within
himself and through affliction.
Q. All do not suffer. Suffering does not prevail always. Then how is
it possible to compassionate all beings ? A. As all beings have at some previous
time experienced suffering, they can grasp the sign well and practise compassion
in all places. Again, sorrow of birth and death is the common property of all
beings. Therefore all beings can in all places practise compassion.

Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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Re: Compassion - the long haul

Post by Ngawang Drolma. » Mon Aug 17, 2009 1:47 pm

Hi Chris,

Practicing patience (khanti) as much as you're working on karuna comes to mind when I read your post.
I share this with you from personal experience.



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Re: Compassion - the long haul

Post by Thaibebop » Mon Aug 17, 2009 4:00 pm

I have this same problem and I find that taking a moment to try to think and be like the other person helps me to understand how they might be suffering at that moment they are being nasty, let's say, this helps me calm down or change my negative thoughts. However, I think this develops more pity than compassion, which are completely different and thus I am not where I want to be either, but maybe pity isn't such a bad start?

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Re: Compassion - the long haul

Post by Vardali » Mon Aug 17, 2009 8:12 pm

I can relate to what you are describing because compassion is one of my weaker spots too.

Not sure if that is helpful but I try to split my view on compassion - or the lack of it - in any given situation into two parts:
a) do I really feel compassion (vs. pity or condescension) and
b) if I feel differently, can I at least be honest with it and forgive myself for not being yet able to feel "proper" compassion.

With these two things in mind, it's just a constant "trial and error" for me. I am aware that I am still falling short on the "compassion" part, but I am trying to exercise loving-kindness to myself for falling short, with the intention of maybe "next time" getting a bit better on this matter.

It might be a lame rationalization but it seems to me a more constructive approach rather than pretending I am compassionate when I am simply not.

So, agreed - it is a long haul for me too :)

PS: I find it sometimes easier to be compassionate towards animals than some humans, so I am trying to build on this too ;)

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Re: Compassion - the long haul

Post by shjohnk » Mon Aug 17, 2009 10:38 pm

Count me as a member of this club, too. I have had a lack of empathy towards people for my whole life, but animals i can be compassionate about. But I have noticed some small steps in the right direction recently, so hopefully that will continue. I think it's important to recognise that one is lacking in a certain area before one can make progress!

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