Commentary by Siddha Yoga Student Robert Rachins
There are many Sanskrit words for compassion, and the range of their meanings is great and highly nuanced. One of these Sanskrit terms, dayā, can also mean “mercy,” “sympathy for life,” or “loving kindness.” Dayā connotes more than just the feeling of compassion; it has the power to heal another’s suffering through one’s love.
Gurumayi speaks about compassion in this way:
In true compassion, your thoughts become pure and your heart experiences its integrity, its dignity, its wholesomeness. You feel completely renewed. The boon, the blessing, of compassion is much greater than the pale imitations produced by pity. In compassion, the heart literally moves with love, and the one who inspires it receives love, and healing too.1
When we have compassion, we are experiencing the heightened state that results from connecting to the Heart, to the innermost Self. True compassion is not equivalent to pity. Pity implies a subtle calculation about one’s own self vis-à-vis the other person’s situation. There is a separation between the one who suffers and the one who pities.
Haven’t you noticed how, sometimes, when you tell someone how sorry you feel for them, it doesn’t actually appear to make them feel better? Sometimes it seems like it makes them feel worse. They may even push back against your offers to help. Then you wonder what’s going on. You think you are contributing so much, and there are no beneficial results. Why? Because they are experiencing the condescension of your pity, and not the empathy and protection that comes from true compassion.
Compassion is expansive. When we are connected to the Heart, our awareness of who we are expands to include the other person’s experience—indeed, to include the experience of all beings. Compassion is a doorway to divinity. Relating to another with tenderness, with a perspective of oneness, creates a connection to the Divine—both for the one who gives compassion and the one who receives it.
And here’s the paradox: inherent in compassion is tough love. Compassion is not about pampering the ego or enabling fantasies of the mind. It is about infusing another with confidence that they can fulfill their intentions and goals. Compassion is about redirecting self-pity to confidence. “You can do it!”
Jnaneshvar Maharaj, a thirteenth-century Maharashtrian saint who wrote an enlightened commentary on Shri Bhagavad Gita, describes how a compassionate person perceives those who are suffering:
अगा पुढ़िलाचा दोखु । करूनि आपुलिये दिठी चोखु ।
मग घापे अवलोकु । तयावरी ॥१४६॥
agā puḍhilātsā dokhu, karūni āpuliye diṭhī tsokhu,
maga ghāpe avaloku, tayāvarī.
He looks at them only after he has cleansed them with his own pure glance.2
Jnaneshvar is referring to the act of seeing the inner divinity in the person you perceive. For Jnaneshvar, compassion is not only the way you respond to those in distress but also the way you perceive them in the first place. Jnaneshvar presents a continuum from inner action to outer action, from perception to interaction, and this entire continuum provides an opportunity to exhibit compassion.
When you begin to understand the true nature of compassion and practice extending compassion from that state, you will experience compassion not only in your outward actions, but in your inner ones as well, in your thoughts and perceptions. You will experience your own Heart and recognize the compassion that is part of its true nature. You will be able to offer this sacred virtue to others and, in doing so, honor the divinity in all those you meet.