Compassion is a human characteristic; some may say the most human of all. It is also the premier activity of enlightened people, as well as the major reason Buddhists commit to becoming enlightened.
Those with Buddhist insight are particularly suited for experiencing compassion, compassion being defined as awareness of the suffering of others and the desire to relieve it. One reason is that they experience more subtle levels of suffering than the general population. As part of their path to enlightenment, they sit in meditation and observe the workings of ego, an entity others may not be aware of. They see how it creates pain for others and how that pain manifests. Having experienced it themselves, they are familiar with the constant, nagging discomfort it elicits. They are not only moved to compassion by starving children in Africa or populations stripped of their possessions by catastrophes, but by the more subtle ways ego causes some to dislike themselves for the way they look, their material status or educational level. Although the sufferers may lack awareness of what is happening, it is quite obvious to those who have explored ego and its results, and in some cases overcome its effects through mediation and insight. The enlightened are experts about suffering in themselves and others and as a result possess the awareness of suffering required for great compassion.
Furthermore, those with insight not only recognize more suffering but see it more clearly. Because they have transcended the major obstruction to seeing the world clearly, the presence of ego, their perception is exceedingly sharp. When they look at others from the baseline of nonego, they note all of ego’s nuances in others and its effects on them. Also, since they have explored through meditation and learning all the conditions involved with being human, their heart naturally goes out to others they recognize as the same as themselves and who are in pain. So, the enlightened observe more suffering more clearly, along with feeling intensely the strong bond they share with other humans, insights that greatly enhance their sense of compassion.
Finally, those with insight possess not only the desire to relieve suffering, but the best tools for achieving their goal. Their selfless nature makes them immensely helpful to others, while those who struggle with ego-centered wants are unable to be of complete help, because their own agenda interferes. We see such problems in Western charitable organizations where graft or excessive remuneration poses constant problems with administrators and their self-centered pursuit of wealth. Even at the street level, those who try to be of benefit fall prey to egocentric “do-goodism” which actually worsens rather than benefits the conditions of those they serve. By making the recipients of charity feed the giver’s need for self worth, the givers lessen the self-respect the needy most require in their downtrodden state. The enlightened circumvent such problems because the true or enlightened nature of mind is naturally compassionate, so their actions are always beneficial and not flawed by contrivance. Since it is their natural state they avoid the errors inherent in applying one’s ideas about compassion to real world situations.
Compassion is not the exclusive province of the enlightened, but they do have special abilities regarding it. They have knowledge about levels of suffering others feel indistinctly, if at all. Also, because of their baseline of egolessness they see clearly the many ways self-centeredness harms others. Due to the amount of suffering they see and the clarity with which they see it, they have the advanced understanding of other’s pain necessary for compassion. Furthermore, they possess the best means for exerting compassionate action, since they don’t allow self-centered activity to interfere with their efforts, and since being enlightened they possess a mind naturally compassionate and without mistakes resulting from concepts rather than true experience in the world. For the reasons outlined, it is safe to say there is no better way to become truly compassionate than the Buddhist path to enlightenment.
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