The meaning of compassion: the sublime expression of love

The word compassion suggests pity or pity, thereby devaluing to some extent. Authentic compassion is a sublime expression of love.

We live in a world where joy and sadness intersect. The news that the media offers us often refers to wars, social injustices, serious accidents. And we almost prefer to ignore that every day 60,000 people die of hunger on a planet that could well feed all its inhabitants if there were really less selfishness.

We would like things to be better, that everyone could enjoy a life full of peace, harmony and joy. But easily that desired balance is broken and adversity makes an appearance.

Analyzing the factors that lead to such negative situations could lead to complex developments. But, simplifying, it can be said that generally the motive is a scarce and inconstant presence of “good will”. Not in vain is the Gospel exclaimed, when Jesus is born, the well-known phrase: “Glory to God in Heaven and peace on earth to men of good will”.

This willingness to do good could also be called compassion, that is, the capacity that we all have and often forget to “feel with”, to approach the suffering of others and seek its solution.


The word compassion does not usually appear in bright letters or is often repeated in the phrases of politicians, but it contains a message of great importance and multiple meanings.

The first reading that is usually made of compassion involves the instinctive reaction of feeling sorry for the misfortune of others. This attitude of compassion often implies a certain position of superiority.

All of us, in general, tend to feel sorry for the suffering of those in worse conditions than us. However, at the root of feeling sorry for the suffering of others there remains a certainty that is difficult to accept: we are all equal in the face of misfortune. Apparently, there are people who are healthier, richer or more fortunate than others, but no one can claim to escape illness, sadness or death. Furthermore, we are all essentially poor and helpless, since we can be so at any given moment by losing what we now possess.

We are all potentially victims of misfortune. So, by feeling sorry for others, we do it for ourselves and, likewise, by helping others we also help ourselves.

Compassion is synonymous with goodwill, in the sense of the ability to act positively beyond natural selfishness. But we know that the will is governed by feeling and intelligence.

In the recognition that there is no radical difference between the “I” and the “other”, since there is an existential continuum, there would be the intellectual aspect of compassion. But at the same time, behind the compassionate attitude there is always a clear feeling of kindness.


The loving feeling has different aspects. Initially, it usually has a possessive component that makes us feel special interest in our partner, family and friends. That attachment is understandable, we all feel a special bond with certain people.

But love also has the natural tendency, as if it were the rays of the sun, to extend beyond the natural circle of our affections. It could be said that love can rise and become less limited and selfish. That is why there are people who help others selflessly, without asking for anything in return. Something that parents usually do with their children spontaneously.

All religions encourage compassion, beginning by considering God – as Islam and especially Sufism do the Compassionate or Merciful. But it is Christianity and Buddhism that one in the West and one in the East – express in a special way the importance of compassion.

The concept of Christian “charity” is perhaps more sentimental when compared to Buddhist karuna, but it is perfectly comparable. It is not only about being sensitive to the suffering of others, but about acting to alleviate or eradicate it. Although the Buddhist ideal supposes the desire that all beings be definitively liberated from suffering, reaching enlightenment or awakening.

In Christianity a distinction is made between eros, love based on passion, and agape, pure and compassionate love. Buddhism, for its part, approaches compassion as the consequence of a wisdom based on contemplative meditation. Beyond the chains of the ego, in true freedom, there is no essential difference between oneself and others.

If Buddhism is based on the union of wisdom and compassion, in no other land than Tibet has that ideal been expressed with such fervor. The mantra of the Buddha of Compassion (Chenrezig), Om Mani Padme Hum, can be found everywhere: carved in stones, in the course of rivers, in flags that the wind blows, in spinning prayer mills, recited over and over again. again, while passing the 108 beads of the Tibetan rosary. His intention is that all beings can avoid suffering and achieve true happiness.


The Buddhist concept of the interdependence of all phenomena also encourages the emergence of a compassionate attitude. If everything is in some way interconnected, causing pain to other beings has a negative impact on whoever does it, be it immediately or subtly and at another time in their existence. That is what the eastern notion of karma is based on. In the same way, doing good reverses positively.

Unlike Western thought, which tends to limit charity or compassion to the human race, both Hinduism and Buddhism extend this respectful attitude to all living beings. Since they too have in common with us the desire to be free and happy.

If we take the example of the hen, we see that for thousands of years, millions of these animals have given us their meat and eggs to feed us. Does anyone know of a place where such a sacrifice is honored? I know that imagining the monument to the “unknown chicken” in the middle of a square now sounds comical. But that shows how far we are sometimes from real things and how little gratitude we feel for the animals and plants that we eat.

It is not a question here of necessarily advocating vegetarianism, which is an understandable option, but rather that compassion for living things should not be lost sight of. And even towards the apparently inanimate part of the planet, such as the mineral earth”s crust, air and waters.

We depend on them to exist and yet we act without regard for the environment. The consequences of such a wrong attitude are becoming even more apparent in recent years due to climate change, among other disturbing phenomena.


Compassion is, on the one hand, inherent to the human being and, on the other, it needs a certain learning to express itself that, like all educational work, should begin in childhood. The child can be taught not to always be focused on his personal interests and to pay attention at times to the discomfort of his family members, of one of his friends who may be sick, or even to help an animal.

Such learning demands to be continued throughout life and opportunities for training are not lacking. In this sense, various scientific studies show that compassion and the positive emotions that accompany it can be learned in the same way as a musical instrument.

Cultivating kindness and benevolence through meditation affects areas of the brain (especially the temporo-parietal area of ​​the right hemisphere) involved in empathy, that is, in the ability to feel the emotional states of others. Which would also be useful to prevent depression, a situation in which the person tends to be self-absorbed.

Other experiments confirm that having a compassionate attitude and helping helpless people through volunteer work supports the immune system, decreases stress and increases serenity, while aggressive or cruel people often suffer an agonizing sense of insecurity and fear.

But neither is it necessary to reserve a compassionate attitude for big issues, such as caring for the sick, helping the poor, or preserving the natural environment. We continually need a modicum of good will to counteract our egotistical tendency.

For example, we tend to feel more important than others. And not because we have better qualities in any particular aspect, but because each one feels the center of things. That is why the defects of others tend to be seen with great ease and not so much those of oneself. Just trying to see the positive qualities that everyone has is a good exercise in compassion. Simple, but not easy as soon as we try.

There are many other occasions that allow us to express natural goodness to a different extent. Do we have time to listen to someone who wants to tell us something that is important to them? Do we try not to squander while others are in hardships? Do we treat rich and poor alike, handsome or ugly?

A fairer economy, well-applied ecology, any social improvement that we can imagine requires a good dose of compassion to be beneficial. It is not, therefore, an attitude of weak people to be compassionate, but an expression of the power of love, of the essential unity of all things.

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