I accidentally came across an English translation of the earliest available Jain-scripture called the ‘Acaranga Sutra’, in which Lord Mahavir gives the first most basic and universal definition of compassion or ‘Ahimsa’, which is the foundation of Jain religion, just as ‘Ashoi’ is the foundation of our religion. The Jain Sutra says: “I pronounce that nothing which breathes, which exists, which lives, and which has any essence or potential of life, should be destroyed or ruled over, subjugated, harmed or denied of its essence or potential. “
Gautama Buddha had asked his disciples, “Is pain and sorrow desirable to you? If your answer is in the affirmative, it would be a lie as it is against the evident reality. If your answer is just the opposite, you will be telling the truth. What I want to add to the truth expressed by you is that as sorrow and pain is not desirable to you, so it is to all that breathe, exist, live or have any essence of life. To you and all around you, it is undesirable, painful and repugnant. “
When we see another person suffering, it at once gives us a feeling of sympathy, and that is the origin of compassion, the feeling of empathy and kindness for suffering, sorrow and anguish of another. It inspires one to indulge in acts of amelioration of suffering to abstain from acts of violence. This way, compassion becomes the driving force of vibrant Ahimsa.
In my life, I have seen much kindness and compassion between doctors and the interaction of patients with each other at India’s premier eye hospital, the LV Prasad Eye Hospital at Hyderabad. Rich families would bring huge amounts of freshly cooked food for the poor patients, in the free and semi-free wards, on a daily basis. Also, highly qualified, foreign educated doctors would perform free operations for poor patients (unlike those who only have time only for the rich and famous). This restores faith in humanity.
Man is a social animal. Reciprocity is an essential trait in society and that facilitates any sentiment gaining a wider acceptance in promoting a vital role in promoting and maintaining social harmony. Acts of Compassion are the binding force in social relationships and manifest at all levels as affinity, sympathy, fraternity, love and altruism. Compassion is not pity – it is empathy. It is to wish for the welfare of both friend and foe. Compassion for a friend is easy to understand but the same feeling for one who tries to harm you is difficult to digest. To understand this, we have to be impartial and considerate enough to know that he who wants to harm you is, in fact, a troubled soul and your compassion can relieve him of his ailment. As both, compassion and violence, have their roots in the survival instinct, the most potent force to counter violence is compassion.
Compassion does not stop at philanthropy, it extends to universal fraternity for all beings and to matter, as well. It is a fundamental principle applicable to all facets of life. At the same time, in the form of non-transgression / non-interference, it also extends to all dimensions of the physical world. It is not just about feelings and spirituality, it is also about equilibrium in the physical universe. Anything conducive to balance in temporal and spatial dimensions is Ahimsa and the sentiment of compassion is the driving force of ahimsa. Brings to mind the words said by Dasturji Bulsara, at the Jamshed Mehta Theosophy Lodge, “Becoming harmless is the highest religion in the world!”