Terrible Compassion

There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what constitutes compassion. It’s understandable; mention the word compassion, and it evokes the image of Jesus being tortured to death, still imploring on behalf of the jeering crowd: “Forgive them, they know not what they do.”

One man I spoke to was  disgusted with how the liberating energy of compassion has been corrupted.

“Tara who wields swords and sits upon the corpse of a dead man his ripped out heart in her hand, a symbol of both suffering and liberation, destroyer and creator. Her later incarnation into Buddhism [Kuan Yim, the goddess of compassion] took something from her that was not returned.”

I told him that I didn’t think he had to worry; compassion was terrible and beautiful and not for the faint of heart.

I don’t think compassion embodied is a kind of simpering virtue. Compassion is holy fire.

A lot of people grapple with the idea that life really ought to be kind and just, even when inundated with evidence to the contrary. Then they further struggle with the question of “What kind of Power arranges things this way?”

My own thought is — a compassionate one.

Let me ask you a question. How do you learn best? How to you get things, in a visceral way?

Do you read about it? Do your research? Take good advice?

Of course not. You do it. You struggle, you fail, you fall down, you get hurt. You survive. And then you really know. Whatever your question was, you got answers. Not all the answers, of course. That’s for the next time. But for right now, you learned something, and you learned it good.

Try taking that away. All your past hurts, all your suffering and pain. What remains? If you’re like me, not very much. A lump of iron, never forged. Good for nothing.

Compassion is not the art of relieving suffering, succoring the helpless, or protecting the weak. Compassion is the art and the discipline of allowing things to be as they are without being motivated to “save” people from their suffering. Compassion is staying centred in the knowledge that everything unfolds as it should. It’s allowing pain to pain to exist alongside pleasure, both in your own life, and the lives of those you love. That’s what’s terrible about it.

What motivates your acts of compassion? Do you agree or disagree that compassion is terrible as well as kind?


4 thoughts on “Terrible Compassion”

  1. WOW!  Just WOW!this is such a powerful way of talking about it.  This is how I have felt and even what I teach, but the way you describe it here really hit home for me tonight.Thanks!Andy

      1. Indeed!!And I’m finding that acceptance of where I am right now, and allowing that to be OK are some of the most powerful tools I have – though it’s totally counter to what my programed habit and therefore tendencies are.

        1. I agree with nearly all of what you say, and I would like to add a little to it. I believe the degree of compassion relates to how you create, maintain and grow yourself. It is difficult for me to measure as terrible or kind, becuase it’s live, it’s relative to your psyche, your space in the world, and your courage, and all three of those also to your circle. To explain the convoluted statement just made, it degrades, it evolves and it’s definition depends on which pattern you are in. At this stage in my journey, although I wrestle with the accuracy of defining it to myself, I find it is more terrible than kind.

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