Healing Through Compassion

The Practice of Compassion

by Jayaram V

Compassion means showing love, kindness, sensitivity, pity, mercy and sympathy to others, feeling in your heart their sorrow and suffering as if it is your own. A truly compassionate person not only recognizes and feels for the suffering of others but also tries to alleviate them selflessly. This is considered the highest form of compassion. In Sanskrit compassion is known as karuna. The Buddhists recognize it as loving kindness, one of the powerful emotions which can lead to liberation.

In spiritual life, compassion is one of the highest virtues. Spiritual practitioners are encouraged to practice compassion since it can wash away all the past sins and hasten the process of self-transformation. True compassion arises out of pure love, which is free from seeking and selfishness. It does not manifest in a person unless all traces of egoism, self-promotion and attachments are suppressed.

Levels of compassion

True compassion is the culmination of prolonged spiritual practice. It arises in a person who is pure in the heart and mind and has overcome negativity and evil qualities, such as pride, anger, lust and envy. In life we get to see three variations of compassion shown by people towards others, which are described below.

1. Conditional compassion.

The lowest form of compassion is showing pity or sympathy towards those to whom we are attached or whom we like for one reason or another. Feeling compassion for our children, pets, close relatives when they are suffering or when they are in pain comes under this category. It is definitely a good karma. However, since it is tinged with selfishness, attachment and egoism we cannot truly categorize it as a higher virtue. For example in a battlefield a soldier may feel compassion for a fellow soldier but feel no compassion for the enemy. A person may feel compassion for his pets but may go and hunt wild animals or chase away the birds who invade his backyard or farmland. Even animals show conditional compassion, which means it is instinctual and natural and requires no special effort. However, we should not discount conditional compassion since it serves an important role in spiritual practice as the starting point. It can be elevated and extended into higher forms of compassion with the suggestions given in the next section.

2. Unconditional compassion

This is the attitude of showing compassion to anyone who is seemingly going through some form of suffering, irrespective of his or her condition, status or affiliation, without any expectation and self-interest. Some adepts feel general compassion towards all even if they are not showing signs of suffering since they believe that suffering is inherent in life and even when a person is normal he is still not free from suffering. Many people show unconditional compassion occasionally when they witness disasters and natural calamities. Only a few are capable of practicing it constantly and universally towards all sentient beings. Unconditional compassion arises from unconditional, universal love, sameness, nonjudgmental awareness, detachment and absence of ego, as the fruit of prolonged spiritual practice and self-transformation. It motivates people to become vegetarians or care for wildlife and environment protection.

3. Healing compassion

The highest form of compassion is that in which one not only feels compassion for others but also responds to it actively with determination doing whatever is possible to mitigate their suffering without any desire or expectation. They are the Bodhisattvas in the making, who practice non-injury in letter and spirit, make efforts to protect the weak and the meek from harm. They not only provide material and moral support to those who suffer but also pray for others to heal. In extreme cases, they take over the suffering of others to heal them or transfer their good karma to them. Healing compassion is natural to those who reached the pinnacle of perfection in their spiritual practice and filled their hearts with unconditional love. Opening their hearts and minds to the woes of the world, in meditation they send out their prayers and thoughts of healing and transformation to others in all directions.

Invoking compassion

Your compassion not only heals others but also heals you. By showing compassion to others not only you earn good karma but also you allow others to cleanse their sins. By giving you an opportunity to do good, they earn good karma in return. Thus, compassion is beneficial to those who show it and those who receive it.

Here are some of the practical ways in which you can open your heart to the feelings of compassion.

1. To intensify positive and healing thoughts of love and compassion, think of those you love most dearly. Then replace their images with those whom you want to heal.

2. Try to send thoughts of compassion and healing to those whom you find difficult to forgive or whom you hate intensely. If you are unable to do it easily, follow the suggestion mentioned before.

3. Compassion is an offshoot of nonviolence. Therefore as far as possible practice nonviolence in all its form both in word and deed. Speaking gently, avoiding harsh words, showing consideration to others, practising humility, accepting others as they are and avoiding criticizing them are different expressions of nonviolence only.

4. To feel good about others and fill yourself with feelings of love and kindness, think of all the people in your life who showered you in the past with their love and helped you at various stages of your life when you had problems or when you needed help. As the time goes by, we tend to forget the help which we receive from others. It is important to remember them occasionally and feel grateful about their compassion. As you remember them, your heart will be filled with love and gratitude, and you may unconsciously develop a desire to think and act like them.

5. Avoid intentionally hurting or harming others who may have wronged you or who are ill disposed towards you. It is important to cultivate the attitude of forgiving those who harm you or intend to harm you. If you find it difficult to practice it, imagine the hurt and harm you caused to others in the past and how it might have karmically effected them or you. Send them thoughts of healing and directly or indirectly seek their forgiveness.

6. Seeing others as if you are them creates in you feelings of oneness and empathy which is a great way to cultivate compassion. When you see their suffering  and feel their pain as if your own, it creates great empathy and elevates your consciousness to a higher level where you will see suffering as a universal phenomena which does not spare anyone. With that awareness, you will also overcome any negative thoughts which you may harbor towards others.

7. Compassion has a lot to do with paying attention to others and their suffering, rather than remaining preoccupied with yourself and your own problems. When you see others and pay attention to their particular problems, fears and concerns, your compassion for them grows exponentially. By paying attention and being mindful of their suffering, you will also stay in the present and keep your wandering mind in control.

8. Find opportunities to feel compassion for others, if necessary by force. Meditation and visualization are the best means to generate compassion and make it your natural disposition. Contemplate upon various forms of suffering and how it effects people. You can also visualize people who are going through suffering and feel their pain. These are some of the ways to change your whole attitude towards others and yourself.

9. Practice self-compassion and self-acceptance, not self-pity. Examine your own life and the struggles you went through from birth and until now to understand the role suffering played in your life and the need for compassion and forgiveness you deserve from yourself. You cannot truly feel compassion for others unless you are sensitive to your own suffering and feel compassion for yourself.

Compassion, healing and taking over other's suffering

Compassion is the most powerful healer. With compassion you can heal yourself and others. By opening your heart to the tender feelings of loving kindness, you can melt away years of darkness, anger, frustration and similar negative feelings that accumulated in you.

In Tibetan Buddhism there is an important practice called Tonglen in which a monk or a practitioner willingly takes over the suffering of others and in return transfers his happiness and Wellbeing to them. Through healing power the monks take over the sinful karma of others and given them their own good karma. Usually, they do this exchange while meditating upon their breath.

Truly, it is the highest of all charities. A monk may have no material possessions, but he possess the abundance of virtue which he gathers on the Eightfold Path through righteous living. By sharing it with others he spreads happiness. Indeed, it requires immense courage to take over the suffering and bad karma of another person. It is a test of your own spirituality. However, with practice and effort, you can develop the courage, conviction and a good heart to consciously direct your feelings of compassion to others and heal them.

It is not even necessary that you should always transfer your karma to heal others. You can do it with faith and devotion by praying to God and seeking his intervention to alleviate the suffering of those whom you want to heal. In addition, you may also request him to take over their suffering and sinful karma so that they may find some relief. If you want to go a step further and help someone whom you love dearly, you can make an offering of your good karma to God and seek his help to mitigate his or her suffering. In life, there is no spiritual practice, which is higher than this.

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