Ryokan Taigu was a Soto Zen Buddhist monk who lived the life of a hermit. One day, a thief entered his already bare hut. Feeling sorry for the man, Ryokan removed the one pair of clothes he had on him and gave it as a gift. The embarrassed thief ran away with the clothes, leaving the now naked Ryokan sitting in his hut peacefully. Looking out of the window, this is a translation of what he wrote:
“The thief left it behind…
At my window” ( – English version – Stephen Mitchell)
Compassion, in its truest sense means to be able to feel the pain of another… it’s about reaching out to people in their suffering and going beyond pity and empathy. It is difficult to draw a line between feeling pity and being compassionate. Pity arises from the thoughts of what the other person may be going through, sympathy and feeling sorry for them. Compassion, on the other hand, stems from the desire to extend oneself to help others and empathize with them.
Today’s life is as beautiful as it is challenging. Many of us are too self-absorbed to think about others around us. Electronic gadgets have taken over our life and replaced open and honest one-to-one interaction. As a result, we lack empathy, sympathy and understanding. Putting ourselves in others’ shoes becomes difficult. Maybe we do not want to even try.
But all is not lost. However cold and aloof we may appear to be, there are still numerous examples of compassion in daily life. If we look around, we will see random acts of kindness which are selfless, without any agenda. That is the seat of compassion. It could simply mean giving a patient ear to someone who needs to get something off their chest or being there for someone without expecting anything in return or simply giving unconditional acceptance, love and support – no questions asked.
It is so easy to be bring compassion into our lives. During the lockdown, when many went penniless and were left starving, numerous individuals and organizations came forward to ensure no one remained hungry. Philanthropists paid for others’ travels so that they could go back home to their villages. Many donated personal items and eatables to help others. One good thought, one good deed can manifest and multiply into so much more. Compassion is such a strong emotion that it can multiply and bring many under its umbrella.
Make a start now! Open your heart – reach out and help. Let your heart guide you. Your show of empathy, not sympathy, brings about a positivity in the opposite person. Pity often angers the person. Lend a helping hand to others without being asked to – do whatever is possible by you that will make a difference… Letting someone in a hurry go ahead of you in a line, let another person take the taxi you were waiting for, share your food with someone needy, give monetary assistance when genuinely needed… These are small examples of being compassionate.
People will always remember you for how you treated them and made them feel. After a point, money and wealth will be forgotten, but feelings and emotions remain lifelong. We hear of numerous successful people who have made a mark in this world. One act of compassion changed their lives for the better and made them what they are today, eg. Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and more recently, Mother Teresa, to name just a few.
As much or even more than our fellow humans, animals deserve compassion. Putting out water for animals in the hot sun, caring and looking after them, sheltering them and even getting them help in crises, all make for a compassionate human being. Those eyes will always look back with love and gratitude. Even a loving touch that you give a deprived, receptive animal goes a long way.
Be compassionate because it fills your heart when you make a difference in the lives of others. It is one of life’s biggest purposes! Here’s wishing you all a Happy and Fulfilling Sal Mubarak!