Andrew Rooke – Australia
The Chinese Taoist sage, Lao Tze, says: "Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world."
But what exactly is Compassion?
‘Compassion’ is derived from the Latin com with + pati to bear, or suffer. Literally then, the capacity of ‘feeling with’, sympathetic understanding; the feeling of one’s unity with all that is, resulting in an “intimate magnetic sympathy with all that is.” There seem to be two aspects to compassion as stated by Lao Tzu: • Compassion towards yourself and your own failings encourages empathy, sympathy and understanding of the situation of others and a natural desire to help. • We could say compassion is feeling sympathy and empathy with the form we all share that makes us all human and also an understanding that we are all united in the higher level of our Being. The joy of Being beyond form.
Empathy and Compassion: The Law of Laws
Empathy and Compassion are the key qualities enabling us to be sincerely motivated to help others without thought of reward in a suffering world and to maintain the desire to continue that help on into the future ages which are required for enough people to change inwardly to outwardly make a better world.
Theosophical, Sufi, and Buddhist traditions teach that the foundation of the universe is loving kindness. The Sufis say that ‘Everything is the Beloved’ and Christians teach that ‘God is Love’. Theosophists say that what we call our Inner or Divine Nature is the expression of Compassion. Theosophical teacher, H.P. Blavatsky, put it this way: “Compassion is no attribute. It is the LAW of LAWS – eternal Harmony ... a shoreless universal essence, ... the law of love eternal’ (The Voice of the Silence, pp. 69-70).
Compassion as a universal essence must then be part of us, part of our Essence.
The Good Life?
Consider the life of a person who lives comfortably all the time without many challenges and setbacks, ie. The ideal life as described in magazines and TV programs of material wealth and well-being.
What if we were to have such an easy life and didn’t have any difficult experiences? Surely, we would then become ‘Colorless’ people who couldn’t easily identify with the majority of people and therefore would not make the effort to heal ourselves and the world. This, in fact, is often the case for people in living in comfortable ‘first-world’ situations such as in Australia. We may be tempted to remain isolated from the suffering of the majority of humanity – ‘Us and Them Syndrome’. Or we may become exhausted by continually being asked to contribute to the efforts of those philanthropic organizations, like the Salvation Army, trying to help out – ‘Compassion Fatigue’. As we have seen amongst many frontline medical staff during the Covid pandemic.
The Value of Sorrow and Trial:
The Theosophical writer, G de Purucker, reflects on this universal dilemma with the following advice:
“…Be not afraid of sorrow; be not afraid of trial. They are our best friends; and see what a manly/womanly doctrine this is. It is a doctrine of compassion; it is broad-minded, it is human, it is humane, it is sympathetic, it is full of wisdom and quiet peace. The heart which has never been wrung with sorrow has no fellow-feeling for others. The mind which has never been tormented with sorrow and doubt has a veil before it. Sorrow and doubt awaken us, quicken our intellects, open our hearts, and expand our consciousness; and it is sorrow, suffering, sickness, and pain, which are amongst the gentle agents, the merciful ministers, of the evolutionary process. The man whose heart has never been wrung with sorrow cannot understand the sorrows of others. The man who has never sorrowed, knows no greatness. He is neither great in heart or mind. Greatness, ethical majesty, spiritual and intellectual power, spring forth from trial.” – From, G de Purucker, Studies in Occult Philosophy page 709.
Where does the consistent exercise of Simplicity, Patience, and Compassion lead after many lifetimes of service? The ancient Path of Compassion (the ‘Amrita Yana’ or ‘Deathless Path’), steep and thorny, which is trod by those who would follow in the footsteps of the Christ and the Buddha: the path of altruistic endeavor which seeks wisdom solely that truth and light might be shared with all. This leads to the development of a Boddhisattva, meaning, ‘one whose essence is compassion.’
The Bodhisattva is one who has reached the point where she/he could step across the chasm of darkness into Nirvana, omniscience, peace or wisdom, however you care to describe it, but he/she refuses so that he might stay behind until the last of his brothers and sisters can cross over with him.
The most famous Boddhisattva is a woman – for once! Kwan Yin is the Goddess of Compassion revered in China, Japan and throughout the Far East. There is even a large statue of her right here in the Western suburbs of Melbourne!
The Boddhisattva: Kwan Yin:
In Japan, Korea, Tibet, and China, Kwan Yin is the beloved personification of compassion. Images of her can be found in homes, temples, and within thousands of shrines and grottoes beside roads and shaded pools.
People of all ages bring gifts of flowers and fruit, but not in supplication. There is no need for that. Kwan Yin, like a wise and loving parent knows and does what is best; does it with gentle guidance and never needs to punish or coerce. Of all the world’s great goddesses, she is undoubtedly the kindest and most giving.
Innumerable folktales describe her beneficence and each in its way inspires to noble action. Like her, devotees seek to help others by giving of themselves, and of whatever they have. Like her, they avoid causing pain to any other being for, as they say: when a worm is crushed, all beings are crushed; when a single bee sucks honey, all beings in the myriad universes suck honey.
According to tradition Kuan Yin had been an ordinary person who had followed the path of wisdom and service until after many incarnations she reached the supreme goal, Nirvana. Pausing a moment at the threshold, she heard, rising from the world, a great wail of woe, as if all the rocks and trees, insects, animals, humans, gods and demons, cried out in protest that so virtuous a one should depart from their midst. Without a second thought this noble-hearted soul turned back, determined to remain until every being without exception should precede her into nirvana.
The Pledge of Kwan Yin:
“Never will I seek nor receive private, individual salvation; never will I enter into final peace alone; but forever and everywhere will I live and strive for the redemption of every creature throughout the world.”
When the time of choice comes – Will we have the strength to follow her example?
The First Steps:
Coming the full circle from the heady heights of Boddhisattva consciousness back to the Three Treasures of Lao Tzu: Simplicity, Patience and Compassion – three little words but hard to put into action in this tough world. How can us ordinary mortals possibly do this? It all seems so overwhelming!
Taoism advises that it is always better to deal with facts and situations while they are small, before they become bigger and more difficult. If one is planning to reach a big goal like implementing the Boddhisattva ideal – one should establish a series of small steps that would guide one safely to the destination. This is essentially the principal of ‘Kaizen’, or, ‘Good Change’: progress through small increments. Anybody can do this in any situation when faced with putting our aspirations for Simplicity, Patience, and Compassion into action in our daily lives
As Lao Tzu says:
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first steps.”
Are we ready to take those first steps?
Note from the editor:
This article was also published in Theosophy Downunder, the magazine of the Theosophical Society, Pasadena, Australasian Section. [No 148, June 2023] Its editor and author of the article above, ANDREW ROOKE, kindly granted permission to publish it in Theosophy Forward, the e-Magazine.
For more issues of Theosophy Downunder click HERE