Compassion: what is it?

The word “compassion” is derived from the Latin compati and the Greek pathein meaning to suffer or endure with another person’s suffering or pain.

From a sacred context perhaps the most well known definition is that of the Dalai Lama’s, who suggests that compassion is a “sensitivity to the suffering of self and others, with a deep commitment to try to relieve it” and suggests that “the first beneficiary of compassion is always oneself” Mingyur Rinpoche suggests compassion is “a spontaneous feeling of connection with all living things”

From the Judaeo-Christian perspective Jim Marion in Putting On The Mind Of Christwrites “compassion, in the Buddhist sense […] is identical with Christian love, the non-judgmental, unconditional love that is the goal of Christian spirituality”

There appears to be a unanimous agreement that compassion reframes our egocentric self, encouraging us to place the other in the centre of the frame and widen our own identity. In a recent BBC 4 discussion Karen Armstrong stated that compassion “de-thrones the self from the centre of the universe” and Kristen Neff, who has written extensively about the subject suggests that self compassion involves “de-emphasising the separate self”

Compassion has a three part process. Whilst practising compassion we involve ourselves with

1. feeling for the other (affective domain)
2. attempting to understand the other (cognitive domain)
3. wanting to help the other (motivational domain)

Mindfulness and compassion go well together, as if mindfulness in its depth of connection is the very loam from which compassion arises, where we radically accept ourselves and our hearts find a soulful kinship with all.


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