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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

True compassion as a universal ideal

December 27, 2008

The Times of India
26 Dec 2008
FRANCIS GONSALVES
 
 
Compassion, from the Latin cum-patior, means 'suffering-with'. Although grammatically passive in construction, the word suggests an active
involvement in the sufferings of others. The Greek call it a "churning of the insides" that leads to effective response.
 
"Loving-kindness and compassion are the two cornerstones on which the whole edifice of Buddhism stands," says the Dalai Lama.
Compassion is among the core teachings of Mahayana Buddhism wherein you sacrifice yourself in order to attain salvation for the sake of others. The Buddha said that you must, however, never neglect your own welfare or attha, which you must understand to know what the other's welfare means. One must then progress from the limited love of family to the larger love of all creatures. In Buddhism, compassion or anukampa is a universal ideal without boundaries.
 
The words karuna and daya, in Sanskrit, are used as synonyms for compassion. The Brhaspati Smrti says: "Complete love belongs to one who always delights in behaving towards all beings as equal to the self, for their good and for their welfare." Other texts like the Raghuvamsa and the Hitopadesa remind us that true daya does not depend on the virtues of the being to which it is addressed: but is defined as the desire welling up in the heart to remove the hardships of others, even if it implies effort on one's part. Its semantic field is therefore not that of sentiment but of an active desire to help others.
 
Jainism stresses compassion for every living being, even microscopic life. It is the intention to harm, the absence of compassion, which makes an action violent, for without violent thought there can be no violent action. When violence enters your mind, you are exhorted to remember Mahavir's words: "You are that which you intend to hit, injure, insult, torment, persecute, torture, enslave or kill." If you step into the other's shoes, you will desist from harming others.
 
Moreover, you will positively strive to cultivate amity or maitri towards all forms of life.
 
Compassion in the Bible is personified as Yahweh, God, who is worshipped as a loving Father-Mother with special care for the poor, the weak and the suffering. Christianity considers Jesus the finest reflection of God's love and compassion. His compassion climaxes in a crucifixion that is the outcome of a life lived in solidarity with those who suffer. Christ is proclaimed not only as one who 'suffers with' but as the one who takes upon Himself the sufferings of others.
 
In Islam, Allah is The Compassionate One. Among the 99 names of Allah that are commonly invoked, the names Al-Rahman and Al-Rahim suggest tenderness, gentleness, forgiveness, mercifulness and benevolence. "He encompasses everything in compassion or rahma," says the Quran.
 
Ahimsa holds that the life of every creature is sacred and cannot be destroyed by violence. Nonetheless, in the struggle for truth, satyagraha, one must be ready to suffer oneself. The compassionate one readily "chooses to die himself rather than cause others to die," says Guru Nanak. Daya cognitively observes the other's pain; and gets touched by it. Daya then moves with affectionate responses for the sufferer; and cognitively it moves one to act mercifully. Compassion inevitably engenders fruitful action.
 
World religions teach that compassion connects one to all creatures and fructifies in The Absolute. Since compassion is not founded upon beliefs but upon the universal experience of suffering, we could, perhaps, connect with others and construct global community through the cords of compassion.
 
(The writer is faculty member, S J Vidyajyoti College, Delhi.)
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