Compassion: Our Share of Divine Service

Compassion and Divine Service

The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made. [Psalm 145:8-9 (NRS)].

Compassion is shared suffering — our commiseration with the misfortune of someone else. It includes such emotions as pity, empathy, sympathy and, of course, kindness. It is a heartfelt awareness of someone’s pain, accompanied by a strong desire to relieve it.

Compassion is a mind having the one savor of mercy for all sentient beings. [Nagarjuna, Precious Garland, 437].

We consider compassion a Divine attribute,  earthly reflection of the Divine Reality, and a primary component of the “complete” person. It is the quality most needed by the human species  for survival and for salvation.

I truly believe compassion provides the basis of human survival, the real value of life, without that there is a basic piece missing. We cannot be happy ourselves without thinking about the happiness of others. [His Holiness, The Dalai Lama].

Compassion and Survival

Compassion arises at the convergence of evolution and spirituality. Human survival as a species is based on a reciprocal relationship between individuals and groups. Our instinctual compassion is most visible during times of natural calamities and communal disasters.

Believe me, it’s no time for words when the wounds are fresh and bleeding; no time for homilies when the lightning’s shaft has smitten, and the man lies stunned and stricken. Then let the comforter be silent; let him sustain by his presence, not by his preaching; by his sympathetic silence, not by his speech. [George Claude Lorimer, p. 147-8].

Our mutuality of interests and interdependence produce symbiotic responses essential for communal effort and protection.  Compassion evokes altruistic behavior toward others experiencing the same plight. This identifies others as similar to ourselves and produces a sense of emotional attachment that stimulates collective action.

Accordingly, synchrony may constitute a more basic signal by which the mind interprets similarity or unity and, consequently, tunes subsequent emotional responses and moral behaviors in line with adaptive pressures (cf. de Waal, 2008). In sum, by eliciting perceptions of similarity with con-specifics, synchronous action functionally directs the experience of compassion in response to the plight of those around us, interests us in their well-being, and motivates us to help on their behalf. [Piercarlo Valdesolo, David DeSteno, Synchrony and the social tuning of compassion, American Psychological Association].

Our instinctual tendency is normally to react to our environment by trying to satisfy personal material needs. Without the benefit of education and training, all of us behave as animals.

We refine ourselves socially by learning from members of our family, community or educational institutions. However, this does always cultivate essential patterns of spiritual behavior.

Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother.” [Zechariah 7:9 (NKJV)].

Our Share of Suffering 

We are well aware that the values of a culture or civilization can degenerate, destroying the relationship between its members and their physical environment. Similarly, without compassion, the spiritual framework of a society can deteriorate, spewing the toxic by-products such as immorality, dishonesty and greed.

But those who strove in Our cause and served Our purpose shall be the recipients of Our mercy and blessings. We will guide them to Our paths and ways of righteousness and action and of thought and conduct. And, Allah upholds those who perfect their illustrious toils and turn their thoughts on moral excellence and benevolence. [Qur’an 29:79].

Our compassion assures that the conduct between human groups and their social environment remains sacred. It minimizes the detrimental effects of modernity and progress on our interpersonal relationships.

The whole idea of compassion … is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another [Thomas Merton].

Sympathy Sanctified

We all want to be free from personal suffering, the normal condition hovering over human existence. When we extend this wish to include the well-being of others, we are on the path  genuine compassion.

Whoever has compassion on others, himself receives compassion thereby. [Talmud Shabbat].

Most of us do not readily demonstrate empathy and sympathetic kindness to those afflicted with misfortune. Primitive behavior prevails in all societies. So we have to learn what should come naturally. Without such guidance and training, self-interest, indifference and primitive instincts stifle our best inherent qualities.

We train our youth to restrain their desires and selfish emotions. We “civilize” their passions and harness their energy so they can function “normally” in society.

It can be said that without compassion we cannot have civilization. Compassion is the foundation of morality and virtue, underlining our righteousness. Without it we cannot have true justice.

Compassion clothes the soul with the robe of God and divinely adorns it. And those who follow compassion find life for themselves, justice for the neighbor and glory for God. [Meister Eckhart, quoted in Meditations with Meister Eckhart by Matthew Fox, p. 93].

Heart of Religion

Compassion can be considered a “sixth sense” in that it requires awareness of the inner feelings and emotions of another being. It is the normal state of the God-conscious person, by which we can glimpse into Divine Reality.

This work of compassion and of common neighbourly love overcomes and casts out the third mortal sin, that is hatred or Envy. For compassion is a wound in the heart, whence flows a common love to all mankind and which cannot be healed so long as any suffering lives in man; for God has ordained grief and sorrow of heart before all the virtues. And this is why Christ says: Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. And that shall come to pass when they reap in joy that which now, through compassion and pity, they sow in tears. [St. John of Ruysbroeck, Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage].

When we experience the power of compassion, we elevate our thought process far beyond material dimensions. We soar into a spiritual realm of angels and saints, where the words spoken by prophets and sages become vivid reality.

O good man! Compassion is the Buddha Nature of all beings. Such a Buddha Nature is long overshadowed by illusion. That is why beings cannot see. The Buddha Nature is Compassion. [Mahaparinirvana Sutra, 259].

Compassion is at the core of all religious. Living in harmony with one another, being sympathetic and loving, exemplifies the ultimate goal of the Divine Reality.

What sort of religion can it be without compassion? You need to show compassion to all living beings. Compassion is the root of all religious faiths. [Basavanna, Vachana 247].

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Related Posts:

Performance-Enhancing Thoughts (PETs) : Compassion (3)

Further reading:

The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Educatio, Peered-reviewed articles

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