I’ve been through a lot. Doubtless, so have you. Its a miracle I am here at all, and I know I live on borrowed time. We have all had hard times, and some of us have suffered more than we would ever imagine. We have been hurt. Often hurt badly. And the temptation is always to hit back. To hurt back. To meet force with force. But our greatest weapon is not force. Its love. And not love in its ordinary sense. Our greatest weapon is compassion.
Thats all it is. So simple. We need to replace fear, hurt, anger, and the need to hit back, with compassion. And while fear is a false emotion, a sensation and perception and a conceptual model, rather than anything more concrete, compassion is a very fundamental presence in our lives. But somehow, we have forgotten it, and pushed it aside. After all, what use is compassion, when there is so much evil in the world ? Shouldn’t we meet evil with more evil ? A war on terror ?
How can we define compassion, in a workable and understandable way, as a starting point to understanding the greatest weapon you and I will ever have ? Lets look to the internet, and Wikipedia, the first choice for the computer generation. Wikipedia describes compassion as:
“Compassion is the virtue of empathy for the suffering of others. It is regarded as a fundamental part of human love and a cornerstone of greater social interconnection and humanism – foundational to the highest principles in philosophy, society, and personhood
Compassion is often regarded as emotional in nature, and there is an aspect of compassion which regards a quantitative dimension, such that individual’s compassion is often given a property of ‘depth,’ ‘vigour,’ or ‘passion’. The etymology of ‘compassion’ is Latin, meaning ‘co-suffering.’ More virtuous than simple empathy, compassion commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another’s suffering. It is often, though not inevitably, the key component in what manifests in the social context as altruism In ethical terms, the various expressions down the ages of the so-called Golden Rule embody by implication the principle of compassion: Do to others what you would have them do to you”
At this point, please don’t turn away. The simplest solutions are often the most radical. And when faced with overwhelming odds, compassion is extremely radical. Compassion is also enormously empowering. It may seem too simple to be a solution, but I guarantee it’s a force to be reckoned with, and an unstoppable force at that. Real power comes from surrendering to the universe and developing compassion. Then, your power will be endless. I believe compassion is the most powerful force in the universe. You’ll have read that love is the most powerful force, and in many ways it is, but compassion manifests in a different way. Compassion is so much more than love. Compassion is less abstract and more a tool for achieving a better world. More a way of life. Compassion is a way of being that will change everything you know. Many great minds have followed the path of compassion, and against overwhelming odds, and often against overwhelming violence, have changed the world.
You can spend your life reflecting violence with more violence. You can return hate with hate, you can mirror anger with anger. You can reflect everything people throw at you with more of the same, and all you will do is escalate and embed the original issues, until an argument develops into a war. You can bang your head against a wall for a week, a month, or a year, but you will still have a sore head at the end. If you meet any incoming force with the same force, you will only get the same result.
What we must do is meet that force, the fear, the anger, the hate, with the opposite force. And that force is compassion. The unstoppable, immovable and all powerful compassion.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama
Compassion must be the bedrock of our lives. We have the standard, Wikipedia definition. But what is it, in our terms ? We know what love is. We know when love comes into our lives and we know when it leaves our lives. To an extent, its hard to control love. It comes when we least expect it, it goes when often we want it to stay. And in its full bloom, its like being punched in the head. It can be all or nothing.
Additionally, love seems to come in different forms. The love we feel for our parents can be very different to the love we would feel for our child. And very different again to the love we feel for our partner. Even the love we feel for our cat or dog is different. And some of us even love our car. Love can actually be about attachment, often about ego, and sometimes connected with fear. We talk about unconditional love, but unconditional love is a hard thing to find, and even harder to experience. The love we read about in poetry, in medieval romances, or in the love we hear in songs is not always what we experience in our own lives. Love can be very elusive.
Compassion is different. I believe it is the process by which we subjectively interact and work with the universe, using the ‘energy’ of love, to create change. Love itself is an ‘abstract’ concept, while compassion is love in action. Love is largely unconscious. Compassion is entirely a conscious act. Compassion is the way love changes, when we observe it, become aware of it, and then take it out into the world. Love gives birth to compassion, but compassion is love when it has grown up. With compassion, we can change our world.
Compassion is about taking ownership of love, and making it work for its living.
Compassion, I believe, is inexorably linked with love, respect, empathy and understanding and the link is so strong that it would be virtually impossible to practice one without the other. Yes, compassion is a practice, and like any practice, the more we work at it, the more easy it becomes. Eventually, compassion becomes almost effortless. It really does flow like running water.
When we respond to someone with compassion, we listen to their suffering. We listen to their hurt, their fears, their unfulfilled desires. We seek to understand their words and actions in the light of their suffering. Everything changes when we use compassion as a light onto the world. Make no mistake, they are suffering too. They are frightened and scared. That is why they choose to act as they do.
So compassion is about having empathy for others. Its about feeling the pain and suffering of another living being. And more than just empathy, compassion is about having the desire to do something about it. And it cannot be limited to just humans either. Genuine compassion is directed to all sentient beings, anything which is capable of feeling and recognising suffering and pain. So animals too, must be recipients of our compassion. And if we are compassionate, we will not argue, and split hairs about which animals can feel pain, and which ones are worth being compassionate towards. Compassion is not just for the cute, cuddly animals. Compassion compels us to actually act, and alleviate the suffering we see in which ever way we are able. Compassion without action is not worthy of the name. It is the wish to end suffering, from a position of humanity and love.
So perhaps a more simple definition of compassion is the one I use and the one that will be the weapon we choose against those who hurt us, or do us wrong.
Compassion is love in action
I can hear your ego arguing now. Your mind is telling you that this is religious nonsense, and compassion cannot work in the real world. What does the ego know ? It needs conflict to exist. It needs duality. It needs two sides so it can argue. It can’t exist unless it is setting itself up against something else, a person, an idea, an opinion. I am not a religious man. All my experiences of organised religion have been negative. But I do believe in humanity, and I believe in the essential and natural goodness of all living beings. We were all born perfect, and its only life, and fear, that changes us, and creates apparently evil actions.
Compassion is a courageous act. If in doubt, we can look to Gandhi, a truly courageous and brave man, who fought for Indian independence against great violence and intimidation, using only non violence and compassion. Writing about compassion, he said;
“It does not mean meek submission to the will of the evildoer, but it means the pitting of one’s whole soul against the will of the tyrant. Working under this law of our being, it is possible for a single individual to defy the whole might of an unjust empire to save honour, religion, soul and lay the foundation for that empire’s fall or regeneration.”
Gandhi could not hope to take on the might of the British empire, with its soldiers, its guns, its navy, its air force, and its political power, by confronting it head-on. If he had tried to do so, he would have lost, and many thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands would have died, while the grip of power would have been tightened. Violence can never win when it is pitted against greater violence. Gandhi used a weapon the british empire didn’t expect. An army cannot kill compassion. It cannot be shot, it cannot be imprisoned. It will always win, and the greater the odds stacked against it, the more certain the victory.
Excited yet ?
Compassion is incredibly powerful. It will make you totally indestructible. Responding to violence with more violence is not courageous. Responding to hate with more hate is not brave. Returning anger with even more anger is not a solution. But using compassion is the greatest martial art of all. There is no defence against a well aimed blast of compassion. Your enemies and abusers will have no answer to it. And that is the key.
If we use compassion, it will liberate us from the awful merry-go-round of fear, anger and hurt we have been forced into, and forced to experience by people who were themselves in pain. Compassion is liberation. Compassion is freedom.
Why is compassion so powerful ? I believe it changes us, and our understanding of the world. Compassion reflects the non dualistic nature. We are all in this together. And nobody gets out alive. We feel compassion because, when we see suffering, we should realise that another person’s suffering is also our own suffering. And our suffering is their suffering. We are all one, so all our suffering is one too. Even the suffering of animals is also ours to share. We all exist on this planet together. As human beings, we should be working towards relieving the suffering of everyone we meet, no matter what the nature of their suffering may be, and no matter what our relationship with them.
Extract from Peach Blossom Warrior