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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

See also: Compassion International

Compassion personified: a statue at the Epcotcenter in Florida

Compassion (from Latin: "co-suffering") is a virtue —one in which the emotional capacities
of empathy and sympathy (for the suffering of others) are regarded as a part of love itself, and a
cornerstone of greater social interconnectedness and humanism —foundational to the
highest principles in philosophy, society, and personhood.

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." More vigorous than empathy, the
feeling 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. [1]

The English noun compassion, meaning to suffer together with, comes from the Latin.
Its prefix com- comes directly from com, an archaic version of the Latin preposition and affix cum (= with);
the -passion segment is derived from passus, past participle of the deponent verbpatior, patī, passus
sum. Compassion is thus related in origin, form and meaning to the English noun patient (= one who
suffers), frompatiens, present participle of the same patior, and is akin to the Greek verb πάσχειν
(= paskhein, to suffer) and to its cognate noun πάθος(= pathos).[2][3]
Ranked a great virtue in numerous philosophies, compassion is considered in all the major religious
traditions as among the greatest ofvirtues.


• 1 Religious and spiritual


o 1.1 Christianity

o 1.2 Hinduism

o 1.3 Buddhism

o 1.4 Jainism

o 1.5 Judaism

o 1.6 Islam

• 2 See also

• 3 References

• 4 External links

[edit]Religious and spiritual views


Compassion in action: an 18th-century Italian depiction of the Parable of the Good Samaritan

The Christian Bible's Second Epistle to the Corinthians is but one place where God is spoken of as the
"Father of compassion" and the "God of all comfort" (1.3). The life of Jesus embodies for Christians the
very essence of compassion and relational care. Christ's example challenges Christians to forsake their
own desires and to act compassionately towards others, particularly those in need or distress.[4] Jesus
assures his listeners in the Sermon on the Mount that, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain
mercy." In the Parable of the Good Samaritan he holds up to his followers the ideal of compassionate

The heritage within Western Christendom of compassion as the principle of charity has resulted in recent
times in the growth of remarkablecharitable phenomena such as Oxfam, Médecins sans
Frontières and Live Aid with global reach and budgets of millions of dollars. True Christian compassion,
say the Gospels, should extend to all, even to the extent of loving one's enemies.

In the various Hindu traditions, compassion is called DAYA, and, along with charity and self-control, is
one of the three central virtues.[5] The importance of compassion in the Hindu traditions reaches as far
back as the Vedas, sacred texts composed over a period prior to 1500 B.C. While the early Vedas
sometimes glorify war and the worship of the war god, Indra, Indra too is compassionate towards humans
& humanity, though he is war god, he is discompassionate towards Asuras - The evil people who cause
sufferings to human race, the later Vedas demonstrate a greater sensitivity to the values of compassion.
The central concept particularly relevant to compassion in Hindu spirituality is that of ahimsa. The exact
definition of ahimsa varies from one tradition to another. Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word which can be
translated most directly as "refraining from harmfulness." It is a derivation of himsa which means harmful,
or having the intent to cause harm.[6]

The prayers of Vasudeva Datta, for example, a 16th century Vaishnava holy man or sadhu, exemplify
compassion within Gaudiya Vaishnavism. He prayed to the Lord Krishna asking him to "deliver all
conditioned souls" because his "heart breaks to see the sufferings of all conditioned souls".


Main article: Karuṇā

Her white robes flowing: Kannon, theBodhisattva of Compassion, 16th century image from Japan
Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and
destroys the pain of others; thus, it is called compassion. It is called compassion because it shelters and
embraces the distressed. - The Buddha.[7]

Compassion or karuna is at the transcendental and experiential heart of the Buddha's teachings. He was
reputedly asked by his personal attendant, Ananda, "Would it be true to say that the cultivation of loving
kindness and compassion is a part of our practice?" To which the Buddha replied, "No. It would not be
true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is part of our practice. It would be true
to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is all of our practice."[citation needed]

The first of what in English are called the Four Noble Truths is the truth
of suffering or dukkha (unsatisfactoriness or stress). Dukkha is identified as one of the three
distinguishing characteristics of all conditioned existence. It arises as a consequence of the failure to
adapt to change oranicca (the second characteristic) and the insubstantiality, lack of fixed identity, the
horrendous lack of certainty of anatta (the third characteristic) to which all this constant change in turn
gives rise. Compassion made possible by observation and accurate perception is the appropriate
practical response. The ultimate and earnest wish, manifest in the Buddha, both as archetype and as
historical entity, is to relieve the suffering of all living beings everywhere.[8]

Guan Yin, the Chinese version of Kannon. She is also revered byTaoists as an immortal

The Dalai Lama has said, "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy,
practice compassion." The American monk Bhikkhu Bodhi states that compassion "supplies the
complement to loving-kindness: whereas loving-kindness has the characteristic of wishing for
the happiness and welfare of others, compassion has the characteristic of wishing that others be free
from suffering, a wish to be extended without limits to all living beings. Like metta, compassion arises by
entering into the subjectivity of others, by sharing their interiority in a deep and total way. It springs up by
considering that all beings, like ourselves, wish to be free from suffering, yet despite their wishes continue
to be harassed by pain, fear, sorrow, and other forms of dukkha."[9]

At the same time, it is emphasised that in order to manifest effective compassion for others it is first of all
necessary to be able to experience and fully appreciate one's own suffering and to have, as a
consequence, compassion for oneself. The Buddha is reported to have said, "It is possible to travel the
whole world in search of one who is more worthy of compassion than oneself. No such person can be
found."[citation needed]

Compassion is the antidote to the self-chosen poison of anger.


Compassion for all life, human and non-human, is central to the Jain tradition. Though all life is
considered sacred, human life is deemed the highest form of earthly existence. To kill any person, no
matter their crime, is considered unimaginably abhorrent. It is the only substantial religious tradition that
requires both monks and laity to be vegetarian. It is suggested that certain strains of the Hindu
tradition became vegetarian due to strong Jain influences.[10] The Jain tradition's stance on nonviolence,
however, goes far beyond vegetarianism. Jains refuse food obtained with unnecessary cruelty. Many
practice a lifestyle similar to veganism in response to factory farming. Jains run animal shelters all over
India: Delhi has a bird hospital run by Jains; every city and town in Bundelkhand has animal shelters run
by Jains. Jain monks go to inordinate lengths to avoid killing any living creature, sweeping the ground in
front of them in order to avoid killing insects, and even wearing a face mask to avoid inhaling the smallest


In the Jewish tradition, God is the Compassionate and is invoked as the Father of Compassion[11]:
hence Raḥmana or Compassionate becomes the usual designation for His revealed word. (Compare,
below, the frequent use of raḥman in the Quran).[12] Sorrow and pity for one in distress, creating a desire
to relieve, is a feeling ascribed alike to man and God: in Biblical Hebrew, ("riḥam," from "reḥem," the
mother, womb), "to pity" or "to show mercy" in view of the sufferer's helplessness, hence also "to forgive"
(Hab. iii. 2); , "to forbear" (Ex. ii. 6; I Sam. xv. 3; Jer. xv. 15, xxi. 7.) The Rabbis speak of the "thirteen
attributes of compassion." The Biblical conception of compassion is the feeling of the parent for the child.
Hence the prophet's appeal in confirmation of his trust in God invokes the feeling of a mother for her
offspring (Isa. xlix. 15). [12]

Lack of compassion, by contrast, marks a people as cruel (Jer. vi. 23). The repeated injunctions of the
Law and the Prophets that the widow, the orphan and the stranger should be protected show how deeply,
it is argued, the feeling of compassion was rooted in the hearts of the righteous in ancient Israel.
Compassion, empathy, altruism, kindness and love are frequently used interchangeably in common
usage. When the concept is examined in depth it becomes clear that compassion is more than simply a
human emotion. Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, is particularly clear about this. One rabbi has put
it this way:

Kindness gives to another. Compassion knows no other.

“ ”
This idea is greatly expanded by Michael Laitman who says, "Thus if we thoroughly examine Nature's
elements, we will see that altruism is the basis of life." Here altruism is the word used but the concept is
consistent with an understanding of compassion [15]

A classic articulation of the Golden Rule (see above) came from the first century Rabbi Hillel the Elder.
Renowned in the Jewish tradition as a sage and a scholar, he is associated with the development of
the Mishnah and the Talmud and, as such, one of the most important figures in Jewish history. Asked for
a summary of the Jewish religion in the "while standing on one leg" meaning in the most concise terms,
Hillel stated: "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah. The rest is
the explanation; go and learn." [16]Post 9/11, the words of Rabbi Hillel are frequently quoted in public
lectures and interviews around the world by the prominent writer on comparative religion Karen


A 1930s photograph of a desert traveler seeking the assistance of God the Merciful, the Compassionate

In the Muslim tradition, foremost among God's attributes are mercy and compassion or, in the canonical
language of Arabic, Rahman and Rahim. Each of the 114 chapters of the Quran, with one exception,
begins with the verse, "In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate".[17] The Arabic word for
compassion is rahmah. As a cultural influence, its roots abound in the Quran. A good Muslim is to
commence each day, each prayer and each significant action by invoking God the Merciful and
Compassionate, i.e. by reciting Bism-i-llah a-Rahman-i-Rahim. The womb and family ties are
characterised by compassion and named after the exalted attribute of God "Al-Rahman" (The

The Muslim scriptures urge compassion towards captives as well as to widows, orphans and the
poor.Zakat, a toll tax to help the poor and needy, is obligatory upon all Muslims (9:60). One of the
practical purposes of fasting or sawm during the month of Ramadan is to help one empathize with the
hunger pangs of those less fortunate, to enhance sensitivity to the suffering of others and develop
compassion for the poor and destitute.[18]The Prophet is referred to by the Quran as the Mercy of the
World (21:107); and one of the sayings of the Prophet informs the faithful that, "God is more loving and
kinder than a mother to her dear child." [17]

Compassion ... It's a Virtue

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

It is unsettling when you think how many children and adults are living their
lives in anger. We go to bed mad about something that happened during the day
or twenty years ago, and we wake up mad about another. The "emotional space"
in our lives is filled with anger, allowing little room for an emotion such as
compassion. Our engagement with anger results in our feeling alone and
unsupported. We interpret this, however, as a result of other people's action such
as, "No body cares," "No body understands me," or "Nobody understands my
pain." Anger separates us from others, divides a family, and breaks up a union.
Compassion connects us with others.

Here is an example of how compassion works: A child is lost. People in the

community get together. They form search teams spending days and nights in a
spirit of camaraderie and self-sacrifice. Being bonded by compassion for the lost
child, everyone who takes part in the search feels an emotional high. And, the
family who is the recipient of everyone's compassion feels connected to the
entire human race.

Albert Einstein, was not only one of the greatest scientists of all times, but also
an extremely kind and compassionate person. He tried to help people any way
he could. People wrote to him all the time seeking his advice about their
personal and family problems. I don't know how, but Einstein took time to write
to them personally. Once a rabbi wrote to him that he had tried in vain to
comfort his 19-year old daughter over the death of her 16-year old sister. Here is
an excerpt of Einstein's reply to the rabbi:

"A human being is a part of whole, that we call Universe--a part limited by time
and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something
separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This
delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us towards our personal desires,
and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.

Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of
compassion to embrace all living creatures and whole Nature with its beauty.
Nobody has been able to achieve it completely, but striving for such an
achievement is a part of liberation and foundation for inner security." (Aired
by a New York radio station on the 25th anniversary of Einstein's death)

I have never heard a more forceful plea for compassion than this one. Coming
from the greatest physicist of our time, the plea is based on solid science. Every
act of compassion that we deliver, is not really towards somebody outside
ourselves, it is directed towards our own self. If that is too esoteric for you, look
at it as a principle of "Whatever goes around, comes around." As you deliver an
act of compassion, so you receive. Said another way, "As you sow, so shall you

Universe does not separate us from other people, we do. We do it through our
"divisive emotions" such as anger, hate, prejudice, etc. We connect with others
through the 'uniting emotions" such as, love, empathy, compassion, etc. Our
human nature has given us both sets of emotions. Choice is ours as to what we
want to develop more in our lives: Let's choose consciously by asking ourselves,
every now and then, "Do I want to stay connected and bonded with others or, do
I want to distantiate myself from them?"

Heart is the seat of compassion. The Tinman in the Wizard of Oz doesn't have a
heart and he is most unhappy about it. The Tinman wants a heart, not just any
heart, but a kind heart. Oz tries to talk him out of it and says, "I think you are
lucky not to have a heart, for the heart is what makes most people unhappy."
"That is your opinion," said the Tinman. "For my part, I will bear all the
unhappiness without a word if you will give me a heart." The Tinman and the
heart story is there to remind us the need for compassion. There is no heart
without compassion.

Imagine "Jody" walking on a lonely street or laying in his/her bed in the middle
of the night. Somebody pops up from behind and holds him/her at gun point.
You can bet that Jody's biggest wish or prayer at that point would be for this
mugger or burglar to have compassion for Jody, to take the cash and spare
his/her life. We want every mugger, burglar, and criminal of any sorts to have a
compassionate heart. So, in our drowning, sinking, and defenseless moments,
we want a rescuer who has a compassionate heart. Let's make sure that we have
one for others when they're in a similar situation. Compassion has helped the
human race to survive. Compassion may be a personal virtue, but it certainly is
a necessity for the human race.
A collection of quotations
on the virtue of Compassion

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great

Philo of Alexandria

To develop true compassion, first we must know

that suffering is real, and that sufferings hurt.
Thupten Rinpoche

How far you go in life depends on your being tender

with the young, compassionate with the aged,
sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the
weak and strong. Because someday in your life you
will have been all of these.
George Washington Carver

When you begin to touch your heart or let your

heart be touched, you begin to discover that it’s
bottomless, that it doesn’t have any resolution, that
this heart is huge, vast, and limitless. You begin to
discover how much warmth and gentleness is there,
as well as how much space.
Pema Chodron

We live very close together. So, our prime purpose

in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help
them, at least don’t hurt them.
the Dalai Lama

Toleration is the greatest gift of mind, it requires

that same effort of the brain that it takes to balance
oneself on a bicycle.
Helen Keller

Man must evolve for all human conflict a method

which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation.
The foundation for such a method is love.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all

living things, man will not himself find peace.
Albert Schweitzer
Compassion is not religious business, it is human
business; it is not luxury, it is essential for our own
peace and mental stability; it is essential for human
the Dalai Lama

A human being is a part of the whole that we call

the universe, a part limited in time and space. He
experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as
something separated from the rest—a kind of
optical illusion of his consciousness. This illusion is a
prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires
and to affection for only the few people nearest us.
Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison
by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all
living beings and all of nature.
Albert Einstein

The purpose of the journey is compassion. When

you have come past all the pairs of opposites you
have reached compassion.
Joseph Campbell

Education is much more than a matter of imparting

the knowledge and skills by which narrow goals are
achieved. It is also about opening the child’s eyes to
the needs and rights of others.
the Dalai Lama

Without an awareness of our feelings we cannot

experience compassion. How can we share the
sufferings and the joys of others if we cannot
experience our own?
Gary Zukav

Rare is the person who can weigh the faults of

others without his thumb on the scale.
Byron Langfeld

Compassion is understanding and caring when someone is hurt or troubled, even if you don’t know them. It is wanting to
help, even if all you can do is listen and say kind words. You forgive mistakes. You are a friend when someone needs a