Often we see other sentient beings as hassles: "This mosquito is disturbing
me. Those politicians are corrupt. Why can't my colleagues do their work correctly?"
and so on. But when we see sentient beings as being more precious than a wish-fulfilling
jewel, our perspective completely changes. For example, when we look at a fly
buzzing around, we train ourselves to think, "My enlightenment depends
on that fly." This isn't fanciful thinking because, in fact, our enlightenment
does depend on that fly. If that fly isn't included in our bodhicitta, then
we don't have bodhicitta, and we won't receive the wonderful results of generating
bodhicitta--the tremendous purification and creation of positive potential.
Imagine training your mind so that when you look at every single living being,
you think, "My enlightenment depends on that being. The drunk who just
got on the bus--my enlightenment depends on him. The soldier in Iraq--my enlightenment
depends on him. My brothers and sisters, the teller at the bank, the janitor
at my workplace, the president of the United States, the suicide bombers in
the Middle East, the slug in my garden, my eighth-grade boyfriend, the babysitter
when I was a kid--my enlightenment depends on each of them." All sentient
beings are actually that precious to us.
Thubten Chodron from 'Cultivating a Compassionate Heart: The Yoga Method of Chenrezig'
The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that's wrong with the world.
We ordinary individuals share the characteristic
of having our attempts to gain happiness thwarted by our own destructive
self-centeredness. It is unsuitable to keep holding onto the self-centered
attitude while ignoring others.
If two friends find themselves floundering in a muddy swamp they
should not ridicule each other, but combine their energies to
get out. Both ourselves and others are in the same position of
wanting happiness and not wanting suffering, but we are entangled
in a web of ignorance that prevents us from achieving those goals.
Far from regarding it as an "every man for himself"
situation, we should meditate upon the equality of self and others
and the need to be helpful to other beings.
Bodhicitta: Cultivating the Compassionate Mind of Enlightenment by Ven. Lobsang Gyatso
To love our enemy is impossible. The moment we understand our enemy, we feel compassion towards him/her, and he/she is no longer our enemy.
Thich Nhat Hanh
The practice of compassion begins at home. We have our parents, our children,
and our brothers and sisters, who perhaps irritate us the most, and we begin
our practice of loving-kindness and compassion with them. Then gradually we
extend our compassion out into our greater community, our country, neighbouring
countries, the world, and finally to all sentient beings equally without exception.
Extending compassion in this way makes it evident that it is not very easy
to instantly have compassion for "all sentient beings." Theoretically
it may be comfortable to have compassion for "all sentient beings,"
but through our practice we realize that "all sentient beings" is
a collection of individuals. When we actually try to generate compassion for
each and every individual, it becomes much more challenging. But if we cannot
work with one individual, then how can we work with all sentient beings? Therefore
it is important for us to reflect more practically, to work with compassion
for individuals and then extend that compassion further.
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Trainings in Compassion
His Holiness the Dalai Lama
The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own
sense of well being.
Real compassion comes from seeing the suffering of others. You feel a
sense of responsibility, and you want to do something for them.
Sometimes your dear friend, though still the same person, feels more
like an enemy. Instead of love, you feel hostility. But with genuine love and
compassion, another person's appearance or behavior has no effect on your attitude.
Through universal altruism, you develop a feeling of responsibility for
others and the wish to help them actively overcome their problems.
Nirvana may be the final object of attainment,
but at the moment it is difficult to reach. Thus the practical
and realistic aim is compassion, a warm heart, serving other people,
helping others, respecting others, being less selfish. By practising
these, you can gain benefit and happiness that remain longer.
If you investigate the purpose of life and, with the motivation
that results from this inquiry, develop a good heart - compassion
and love. Using your whole life this way, each day will become
useful and meaningful.
With regard to compassion and altruism there is no limit, and thus we should not be content with the degree that we have. We are just the opposite; in the spiritual field we are content with slight amounts of practice and progress, but materially we always want more and more. It should be the other way around. Everyone needs to practice this, whether lay or monastic.
How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life
Every human being has the same potential for
compassion; the only question is whether we really take any care
of that potential, and develop and implement it in our daily life.
My hope is that more and more people will realise the value of
compassion, and so follow the path of altruism. As for myself,
ever since I became a Buddhist monk, that has been my real destiny
- for usually I think of myself as just one simple Buddhist monk,
no more and no less.
This is my own practice, and I frequently speak about it to others.
Imagine that in front of you on one side is your old, selfish
I and that on the other side is a group of poor, needy people.
And you yourself are in the middle as a neutral person, a third
party. Then, judge which is more important - whether you should
join this one selfish, self-centred, stupid person or these poor,
needy, helpless people. If you have a human heart, naturally you
will be drawn to the side of the needy beings.
One of the reasons there is a need to
adopt a strong countermeasure against someone who harms you is
that, if you let it pass, there is a danger of that person becoming
habituated to extremely negative actions, which in the long run
will cause that person's own downfall and is very destructive
for the individual himself or herself. Therefore a strong countermeasure,
taken out of compassion or a sense of concern for the other, is
necessary. When you are motivated by that realization, then there
is a sense of concern as part of your motive for taking that strong
...One of the reasons why there is some ground to feel compassionate
toward a perpetrator of crime or an aggressor is that the aggressor,
because he or she is perpetrating a crime, is at the causal stage,
accumulating the causes and conditions that later lead to undesirable
consequences. So, from that point of view, there is enough ground
to feel compassionate toward the aggressor.
Anger: The Power of Patience from a Buddhist Perspective
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.
If you want to
happy, practice compassion.
Sometimes we think that to develop an open
heart, to be truly loving and compassionate, means that we need
to be passive, to allow others to abuse us, to smile and let anyone
do what they want with us. Yet this is not what is meant by compassion.
Quite the contrary. Compassion is not at all weak. It is the strength
that arises out of seeing the true nature of suffering in the
world. Compassion allows us to bear witness to that suffering,
whether it is in ourselves or others, without fear; it allows
us to name injustice without hesitation, and to act strongly,
with all the skill at our disposal. To develop this mind state
of compassion...is to learn to live, as the Buddha put it, with
sympathy for all living beings, without exception.
Qouted by Sharon Salzberg in Compassion,
the Supreme Emotion
Love and compassion are necessities,
Without them, humanity cannot survive.
Compassion without attachment is possible.
Therefore, we need to clarify the distinctions between compassion
and attachment. True compassion is not just an emotional response
but a firm commitment founded on reason. Because of this firm
foundation, a truly compassionate attitude toward others does
not change even if they behave negatively. Genuine compassion
is based not on our own projections and expectations, but rather
on the needs of the other: irrespective of whether another person
is a close friend or an enemy, as long as that person wishes for
peace and happiness and wishes to overcome suffering, then on
that basis we develop genuine concern for their problem. This
is genuine compassion.
For a Buddhist practitioner, the goal is to develop this genuine
compassion, this genuine wish for the well-being of another, in
fact for every living being throughout the universe.
If we have been reborn time after time, it is evident that we have needed many
mothers to give birth to us.... the first cause bringing about bodhicitta is
the recognition that all beings have been our mother.
The love and kindness shown us by our mother in this life would be difficult
to repay. She endured many sleepless nights to care for us when we were helpless
infants. She fed us and would have willingly sacrificed everything, including
her own life, to spare ours. As we contemplate her example of devoted love,
we should consider that each and every being throughout existence has treated
us this way. Each dog, cat, fish, fly, and human being has at some point in
the beginningless past been our mother and shown us overwhelming love and kindness.
Such a thought should bring about our appreciation.
...if all other sentient beings who have been kind to us since beginningless
time are suffering, how can we devote ourselves to pursuing merely our own happiness?
To seek our own happiness in spite of the suffering others are experiencing
is tragically unfortunate. Therefore, it is clear that we must try to free all
sentient beings from suffering.
An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life
The Buddha Maitreya's name is derived from the Sanskrit 'maitri'. "The very name 'maitri' means 'loving-kindness'...now, in today's world,
we really need maitri, Maitreya, loving-kindness.
...Shakyamuni Buddha, even when he was a trainee on the path, was solely concerned in both thought and action with others' welfare. Whenever he found an opportunity to work for others, no matter what difficulties he faced, he was never discouraged. He never hated obstacles and hardships encountered on the way. Instead, the difficult situations facilitated his being more courageous and determined to accomplish others' welfare. Just because he was so determined to work for others in the past, even as a trainee on the path, it is needless to say how much more it is so with him now as a completely enlightened person.
...We say this prayer at the time of taking vows:
I shall relieve those who are distressed;
I shall establish beings in the bliss of enlightenment.
Therefore, after saying such a prayer and also pledging to fulfill it, we should not neglect our roommates and neighbors who are sick and old, etc. We must do our best to help others literally in whatever way we can, even with our words, as if Buddha had created such opportunities for us to help others; we must create virtues. In regard to situations in which we cannot help others literally, we can mentally dedicate our body, wealth and virtue to them. Otherwise, we are just helpless.
While you give, do not expect something in return. Do not give to fulfill selfish motives. Do not be discouraged in giving. Generate the altruistic mind of enlightenment as best you can, and then give out of sole concern for others. Having been reborn as human beings and having come into contact with Dharma, we know something about what to do and what not to do.
Generous Wisdom: Commentaries by H.H. the Dalai Lama XIV on the Jatakamala
Real compassion extends to each and every sentient being, not just to friends or family or those in terrible situations. To develop the practice of compassion to its fullest extent, one must practice patience. Shantideva tells us that if the practice of patience really moves your mind and brings about a change, you will begin to see your enemies as the best of friends, even as spiritual guides. Enemies provide us some of the best opportunities to practice patience, tolerance, and compassion.
How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life
It is not enough to be compassionate. You must act. There are two aspects to action. One is to overcome the distortions and afflictions of your own mind, that is, in terms of calming and eventually dispelling anger. This is action out of compassion. The other is more social, more public. When something needs to be done in the world to rectify the wrongs, if one is really concerned with benefiting others, one needs to be engaged, involved.
When we speak of the welfare of ourselves, we are speaking of only one individual, whereas the welfare of others encompass the welfare of an infinite number of beings. From that point of view, we can understand that others’ welfare is much more important than our own.
The World of Tibetan Buddhism
Compassion is the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things.
When the feeling of compassion arises, we meditate on our response for a moment,
and compassion begins to flow. Now that we've generated compassion, we can extend
it to our family and friends, little by little. This is how we make it bigger.
If we bring intelligence [or wiisdom] into our compassion, we can extend it
even to our enemy. People are always being pushed around by their own anger
and pride. When we're in an adversarial relationship with someone, if we can
see that his suffering arises from the negative emotion that is torturing him
- like a victim and his bully - we can feel compassion.
Compassion even has the power to overcome demons - invisible beings who are
trapped in nagative emotions and wrong views. Caught between lives, they harm
others out of ignorance. There are stories of Tibetan Buddhist lamas trying
to banish demons with exorcisms and spells, to no avail. But when the lamas
extended their compassion to them, the demons found peace and were liberated
from their painful state.
There are two kinds of compassion: compassion mixed with clinging, and compassion
mixed with prajna - best knowledge. The compassion we feel toward friends and
family is usually mixed with clinging. We want the best for them, but our wish
is colored by jealousy, attachment, or fear. Clinging makes it hard to be straightforward
in our compassion. We're still thinking of ourselves. We want someone's suffering
to go away because it is inconvenient for us, it scares us, or it causes us
personal pain. Through contemplative meditation, we filter out the dirt of nagative
emotions and hit the mother lode - unadulterded, openhearted compassion.
Sakyong Mipham, Ruling Your World: Ancient Strategies for Modern Life
Wisdom by itself is like an empty gold vessel, it needs to be filled with compassion. Wisdom and compassion are the two sides of the same coin, one representing personal and the other transpersonal consciousness and both equally indispensable for the attainment of enlightenment.
Madmilla Moacanin: ‘Jung’s Psychology & Tibetan Buddhism’, page 47
Compassion does not arise from ideals of perfection but from a recognition of and concern for our own fallibility. At the heart of our potential for health and wholeness is the need for a fundamental
quality of acceptance, an unconditional compassionate presence.
Without this capacity either for ourselves or for others, even our spirituality
can become harsh and uncompromising.
The Wisdom of Imperfection
As we deepen our sense of ease with ourselves, the fundamental wounding to our self-identity will soften. This softening leads to a
greater inner space that can more naturally respond to others. While we
are caught in our wounded self-preoccupations, we have no space for
others. An inner atmosphere of compassion and acceptance slowly
softens the rigidity of our wounding. As we become less selfpreoccupied
we begin to find a capacity to respond to others, and we
may discover that we are able to be present, compassionate, and caring
without judging. Our compassion grows as we allow others to be
who they are with their faults and struggles, their unique qualities and
The Wisdom of Imperfection
Sometimes we think that to develop an open heart,
to be truly loving and compassionate, means that we need to be passive, to allow
others to abuse us, to smile and let anyone do what they want with us. Yet this
is not what is meant by compassion. Quite the contrary. Compassion is not at all
weak. It is the strength that arises out of seeing the true nature of suffering
in the world. Compassion allows us to bear witness to that suffering, whether
it is in ourselves or others, without fear; it allows us to name injustice without
hesitation, and to act strongly, with all the skill at our disposal. To develop
this mind state of compassion...is to learn to live, as the Buddha put it, with
sympathy for all living beings, without exception.
Salzberg, from 'Loving-kindness'
For as long as space exists
And sentient beings endure,
May I too remain,
To dispel the misery of the world.
Whatever joy there is in this world
All comes from desiring others to be happy,
And whatever suffering there is in this world
All comes from desiring myself to be happy.
Compassion is a far greater and nobler thing than pity. Pity has its roots in fear and carries a sense of arrogance and condescension, sometimes even a smug feeling of “I’m glad it’s not me.” As Stephen Levine says: “When your fear touches someone’s pain it becomes pity; when your love touches someone’s pain, it becomes compassion.” To train in compassion is to know that all beings are the same and suffer in similar ways, to honor all those who suffer, and to know that you are neither separate from nor superior to anyone.
To realize what I call the wisdom of compassion is to see with complete clarity its benefits, as well as the damage that its opposite has done to us. We need to make a very clear distinction between what is in our ego’s self-interest and what is in our ultimate interest; it is from mistaking one for the other that all our suffering comes.
Self-grasping creates self-cherishing, which in turn creates an ingrained aversion to harm and suffering. However, harm and suffering have no objective existence; what gives them their existence and their power is only our aversion to them. When you understand this, you understand then that it is our aversion that attracts to us every negativity and obstacle that can possibly happen to us, and fills our lives with nervous anxiety, expectation, and fear.
Wear down that aversion by wearing down the self-grasping mind and its attachment to a nonexistent self, and you will wear down any hold on you that any obstacle and negativity can have. For how can you attack someone or something that is just not there?
Evoking the power of compassion in us is not always easy. I find myself that the simplest ways are the best and the most direct. Every day, life gives us innumerable chances to open our hearts, if we can only take them. An old woman passes you with a sad and lonely face and two heavy plastic bags full of shopping she can hardly carry. Switch on a television, and there on the news is a mother in Beirut kneeling above the body of her murdered son, or an old grandmother in Moscow pointing to the thin soup that is her only food....
Any one of these sights could open the eyes of your heart to the fact of vast suffering in the world. Let it. Don’t waste the love and grief it arouses. In the moment you feel compassion welling up in you, don’t brush it aside, don’t shrug it off and try quickly to return to “normal,” don’t be afraid of your feeling or be embarrassed by it, and don’t allow yourself to be distracted from it. Be vulnerable: Use that quick, bright uprush of compassion—focus on it, go deep into your heart and meditate on it, develop it, enhance and deepen it. By doing this you will realize how blind you have been to suffering.
All beings, everywhere, suffer; let your heart go out to them all in spontaneous and immeasurable compassion.
Compassion is not true compassion unless it is active. Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, is often represented in Tibetan iconography as having a thousand eyes that see the pain in all corners of the universe, and a thousand arms to reach out to all corners of the universe to extend his help.
One technique for arousing compassion for a person who is suffering is to imagine one of your dearest friends, or someone you really love, in that person’s place.
Imagine your brother or daughter or parent or best friend in the same kind of painful situation. Quite naturally your heart will open, and compassion will awaken in you: What more would you want than to free your loved one from his or her torment? Now take this compassion released in your heart and transfer it to the person who needs your help: You will find that your help is inspired more naturally and that you can direct it more easily.
You can have no greater ally in the war against your greatest enemy, your own self-grasping and self-cherishing, than the practice of compassion. It is compassion, dedicating ourselves to others, taking on their suffering instead of cherishing ourselves, that, hand in hand with the wisdom of egolessness, destroys most effectively and most completely that ancient attachment to a false self that has been the cause of our endless wandering in samsara. That is why in our tradition we see compassion as the source and essence of enlightenment and the heart of enlightened activity.
Imagine that you are having difficulties with a loved one, such as your mother or father, husband or wife, lover or friend. How helpful and revealing it can be to consider the other person not in his or her “role” of mother or father or husband, but simply as another “you,” another human being, with the same feelings as you, the same desire for happiness, the same fear of suffering. Thinking of the other one as a real person, exactly the same as you, will open your heart to him or her and give you more insight into how to help.
As you continue to meditate on compassion, when you see someone suffer, your
first response becomes not mere pity but deep compassion. You
feel for that person respect and even gratitude, because you now know that whoever
prompts you to develop compassion by his or her suffering is in fact giving
you one of the greatest gifts of all, as you are being helped to develop that
very quality you need most in your progress toward enlightenment.
That is why we say in Tibet that the beggar who is asking you for money, or
the sick, old woman wringing your heart, may be the buddhas in disguise, manifesting
on your path to help you grow in compassion and so move toward buddahood.
Your compassion can have perhaps three essential benefits for a dying person: First, because it is opening your heart, you will find it easier to show the dying person the unconditional love he or she needs so much.
On a deeper, spiritual level, I have seen again and again how, if you can embody compassion and act out of the heart of compassion, you will create an atmosphere in which the other person can be inspired to imagine the spiritual dimension or even take up spiritual practice.
On the deepest level of all, if you constantly practice compassion for the dying person, and in turn inspire him or her to do the same, you might heal the person not only spiritually but perhaps even physically. And you will discover for yourself, with wonder, what all the spiritual masters know: that the power of compassion has no bounds.
Compassion is the best protection; it is also, as the great masters of the past have always known, the source of all healing. Suppose you have a disease such as cancer or AIDS. By taking on the sickness of those suffering like you, in addition to your own pain, with a mind full of compassion, you will—beyond any doubt—purify the past negative karma that is the cause, now and in the future, of the continuation of your suffering.
In Tibet there have been many extraordinary cases of people who, when they heard they were dying of a terminal illness, gave away everything they had and went to the cemetery to die. There they practiced taking on the suffering of others; and what is amazing is that instead of dying, they returned home, fully healed.
As you continue to meditate on compassion, when you see someone suffer, your first response becomes not mere pity but deep compassion. You feel for that person respect and even gratitude, because you now know that whoever prompts you to develop compassion by his or her suffering is in fact giving you one of the greatest gifts of all, as you are being helped to develop that very quality you need most in your progress toward enlightenment.
That is why we say in Tibet that the beggar who is asking you for money, or the sick, old woman wringing your heart, may be the buddhas in disguise, manifesting on your path to help you grow in compassion and so move toward buddahood.
What is compassion? It is not simply a sense of sympathy or caring for the person suffering, not simply a warmth of heart toward the person before you, or a sharp clarity of recognition of their needs and pain, it is also a sustained and practical determination to do whatever is possible and necessary to help alleviate their suffering.
Even if someone tries to cut off your head
When you haven't done the slightest thing wrong,
Out of compassion take all his misdeeds uUpon yourself --
This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.
Sangpo, from "The Thirty-seven Practices of Bodhisattvas"
Lama Zopa Rinpoche
All the peace and happiness of the whole
the peace and happiness of societies,
the peace and happiness of family,
the peace and happiness in the individual persons' life,
and the peace and happiness of even the animals and so forth,
all depends on having loving kindness toward each other.
When you cherish others, all your wishes are fulfilled
Living your life for others, cherishing them with loving kindness and compassion is the door to happiness, the door to enlightenment.
The Door to Satisfaction
The purpose of human life, why we survive, why we live, is to pacify others' sufferings and disease, and to give happiness to them. Even if we cannot do everything now, just to stop one problem of another person is worthwhile.
Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche
April 22, 2011