The Yoga of Compassion

Ramu Sudarsan – India

[This talk was given during 15th Annual International Theosophy Conference held in August 2013 in New York. The theme title of the conference was “How to Awaken Compassion? - H. P. Blavatsky and the Eternal Secret Doctrine”]

Yoga means attuning, literally. Attuning can be to any state of being. Fundamentally, each one of us is a being and there is a state of being. Yoga of Compassion is attuning to a compassionate state-of-being.

What is Compassion?

Compassion is keen awareness of, and sensitivity to, the suffering one witnesses coupled with a deep yearning to see it relieved. Compassion literally means “to suffer with,” which implies a basic mutuality in the experience of suffering. Compassion is loving kindness, expressed in the context of suffering.

Loving Kindness

Our attempts to awaken compassion have to be through sensitizing people to the suffering of others.

Buddha means the ‘awakened one’. He was awakened to compassion when he was sensitized to the suffering he witnessed.

Compassion is not a relationship between the giver and the recipient. It's a relationship between equals. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”  - Pema Chödrön

Compassion is not mere display of kindness or sympathy to someone in distress. It calls for complete identification with the suffering experienced by another and relieving that suffering as a means of relieving the agony experienced by himself. (Not possible without the realization of oneness of life.)

Suffering & Compassion - A New (?) Theosophical Perspective:

Suffering is part of the ‘unexplained laws of Nature’ notwithstanding the many sources of pleasure, joy and beauty, which are also not fully understood. Compassion is one of the ‘powers latent in man’ that alleviates suffering. Theosophy teaches us that the cosmos is guided by justice and love. There are different kinds of love such as patriotic love, filial love, conjugal love, etc. One type of love is kindness expressed as compassion to relieve suffering.

Genuine compassion often pours out only from a heart that has suffered. The heart that is pained at the suffering of others is more creative to alleviate suffering effectively than a mind that is distressed at the sight of suffering.

Does suffering sensitize people to be compassionate?

Annie Besant was moved to deep compassion by the terrible plight of the girls toiling in the match industry perhaps because she suffered so much through her marriage and childcare. Her heart’s suffering could be a catalyst for her becoming a compassionate person. It is suffering caused by sheer injustice by man against man that made people like Annie Besant, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King take up compassionate causes.

The overwhelming suffering of humanity is caused by intolerance, lack of compassion, hatred, prejudice, anger, fear, greed, cravings for gratifying desires, religious superstitions, blind materialistic pursuits, selfishness, and violent tendencies. Illusions about nature of existence and ignorance of the fundamental truths that govern life, and all the relationships life entails. Hence the Theosophist alleviates suffering as well as strives to remove the root causes of suffering.

Suffering is a Truth but Compassion is a greater Truth.

The Buddhist philosophy of the truth of suffering is a profound but only a partial or lesser truth but compassion as the universal remedy of suffering is the greater truth. Hunger is a truth but food that quenches hunger is a greater truth. Higher truth prevails over lower truth.

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” “Only the development of compassion and understanding for others can bring us the tranquillity and happiness we all seek.”  - Dalai Lama XIV

Compassion ennobles the life of all.

Compassion begins at home:

I have to be in a state of compassion to be able to be compassionate. This implies compassion to my own condition, which is marked by the facts that I am imperfect, my knowledge is partial, I am a partaker of the collective suffering and of the predicaments of all beings, suffering will continue to educate me in my evolutionary process, I am still evolving and I will probably continue to evolve eternally, which may include some struggle based suffering.

Suffering & Compassion. Another New Theosophical Perspective.

H. P. Blavatsky said that To be true, religion and philosophy must offer the solution of every problem.’ ‘But Religion and philosophy are as far from the solution as they ever were’...but ‘to these there must be somewhere a consistent solution.’  I dare to complete what H. P. B. left a bit incomplete and say that the possible ‘consistent solution’ referred by H. P. B. may well be Compassion.

The Compassionate Theosophist:

The true Theosophist is a Compassionate Yogi. The Theosophist earnestly allows constant unfolding of the power of compassion ‘latent in him’. The Theosophist preaches only what he practices and knows that only by his compassionate living can he awaken compassion in others. “The simplest acts of kindness (or compassion) are by far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.”  - Mahatma Gandhi.

A Theosophist is a compassionate spiritualist.

Spirituality has to do with level of consciousness. And there are markers or signatures of higher consciousness. ‘Compassion is the signature of Higher Consciousness. Great sages have felt compassionate for even the suffering due to the entanglement of the spirit in matter or the spiritual being entangled in materialism, which ultimately is the illusion of mistaking the phenomenal world for Reality. “It is compassion, the most gracious of virtues, which moves the world.”  - Thiruvalluvar, (Tamil Poet of 1 AD and author of Tirukkural) “The one who is without loving kindness is just a bundle of bones clad in skin” ibid.

Importance of Compassion in Hinduism:

Two of the qualitative names of the Hindu God is Dayasagar & Karunasagar. Sagar means Ocean. Daya and Karuna also imply compassion, kindness, pity, mercy, sympathy, philanthropy. I can’t think of better names for the newborns now. These names are gender neutral. They are even species nutral and one’s pet animal can also be named Daya or Karuna. The two names, Daya and Karuna, by themselves, are beautiful names. (Many erroneously question how can there be so many gods in Hinduism. There are not many gods but only names that signify certain qualities of godhood. Like every one of us has official name and then pet name, e-mail name, and descriptions by our roles such as dad or mom, boss or executive, president of a Lodge, brother, son etc)

Creativity – A Marker of Compassionate state of being:

Compassionate state is marked by a raised level of consciousness when one is deeply moved by suffering. In that state of compassion filled consciousness, a jet of creative goodness springs from oneself. Valmiki, Vyasa, Shakespeare, probably Homer too are examples of such creativity. These authors gave us masterpieces of creativity, poignantly moved by the fundamental human predicaments and the endurance tests, the pain and suffering in life, their characters had to go through. Ultimately, it is creativity that solves real human problems and alleviates suffering and adds joy to life.

Universal Compassion:

Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.”  - Albert Schweitzer. “The assumption that animals are without rights, and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance, is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion in the only guarantee of morality.”  - Arthur Schopenhauer, The Basis of Morality . “For as long as man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings, he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other.” - Pythagoras

Compassion has no exception:

In suffering ‘there are no others’. Suffering of every living being is my suffering. Compassion to all without exception is the universal religion that is the basis of all true religions and even sound economic policies. “We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”  - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

"Samatvam Yoga Uchyatte“ -‘Sameness’ is a superior Yoga (Bhagavad Gita). I am emboldened to say that the ‘right understanding’ or the ‘right knowledge’ mentioned in the various scriptures means non-discrimination and oneness. Discrimination is dangerous for the practice of the yoga of compassion because when we compare and discriminate, we get spun off from the yogic path of compassion. A superior Yoga is the capability to consider everything as 'the same' – in the sense of each and every entity of men and materials around as 'being a bit of Brahman - the Primordial energy'. In Chapter 5/19 of the Bhagavd Gita, , being established in ‘sameness’ and equanimity,  is recommended for flawless in yogic action. The Spirit of oneness is the foundation of genuine compassionate actions.

We are naturally compassionate but we (artificially) suppress it.

Compassion is our basic and first instinct. All mammals, the Dalai Lama says, practice a basic compassion that stems from the mother-infant bond. We humans thus have, by nature, a sense of love and affection. We are even hardwired to be compassionate but then some other inputs short circuit it. Compassion is probably encoded in our genes with provision for more positive mutation.

Our natural instinct to be compassionate is impeded by the analytical intellect of our conditioned brain and its thoughts. Consciousness is our essential quality and compassion is its innate faculty. But other super-imposed faculties supersede this innate faculty of compassion. In the awareness of this conditioning, there is the possibility of transcending the limitations and awakening of compassion. Egotism is a strong impediment to the practicing of the Yoga of Compassion.

Why is Compassion at a low level?

Why haven’t the teachings of sages, saints, philosophers and humanists lifted our individual and collective consciousness to the desired level of compassion? Why is there such stark absence of sensitivity? Why are we benumbed? Why is human compassion in sleep mode? Even when compassion is seen, it is an occasional experience, more as a relief from a life dominated by conflict. “It's a little embarrassing that after 45 years of research and study, the best advice I can give people, is to be a little kinder to each other.” - Aldous Huxley People are enthusiastic about bringing about unity amongst various groups of students of Theosophy. But I say let us diagnose the causes of disunity first."The reason why the world lacks unity, and lies broken and in heaps, is, because man is disunited with himself." Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Law and its criminal justice system, religious moralities, nationalism and its so-called patriotism, The United Nations and its so-called peace keeping force are poor substitutes for any kind of efforts to awakening of compassion in the human beings to solve human problems. Methods other than awakening of compassion are bound to be more knotty.

Countries like America spend huge amount of precious resources in rapidly increasing security systems, crime detection and criminal justice system and also on life-style related health abuses. If the leadership ponders on education at formative years, on universal values such as compassionate living, and modest life style instead of indulgence, there is scope for preventing the unnecessary spending of resources and they can be used towards more productive causes. Parents, teachers and caregivers should set an example for modest lifestyle and compassionate living. President Obama said, while commenting on a recent man-made tragedy due to an act of violence, “we should ask ourselves if we're doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion in our own communities.”

But he has a tough job, if he really meant what he said. A society that promotes indulgence, gratification and too much competitiveness and that is grounded on exploitation and the ideas such as survival of the fittest, which means marginalization or even annihilation of the less fit, is highly unlikely to be sensitive to suffering of fellow human beings and show compassion and hence one should not but expect social tension and increasing acts of cruelty, violence and galloping crime rates. Economic wealth created without the parallel nurturing of values such as compassion, will only lead to envy, social tension and violent crimes. Many think that tougher laws will take care of such ills, not to speak of the easy availability of guns. It is surprising that interconnectedness and compassionate living is hardly taught to children and the youth; and all efforts here are towards competitive living and material success. And yet people complain about growing conflict and violence. Education is designed to make ‘people think that only intellect counts: knowing how to solve problems, knowing how to get by, knowing how to identify an advantage and seize it. But the functions of intellect are insufficient without love, friendship, compassion, and empathy.’

Ego dampens true Compassion.

The intellect is a tool of the ego and looks at everything from the point of ‘What is in it for me?’ One cause for lack of compassion is we are conditioned to judge, evaluate and ask ‘what is in it for me?' Can we transcend that psychological compulsion so that compassion can flow unhindered? “What is in the intellect or reason? It goes a few steps and there it stops” said Swami Vivekananda. “If it is not tempered by compassion, and empathy, reason can lead men and women into a moral void. ” - Karen Armstrong. One human face of the ego is selfishness. This demon called the ego lacks any capacity for empathy, compassion, generosity or love; and, worst of all, will never ever acknowledge that which is sacred. Awakening compassion willy-nilly requires sublimation of the ego. But you do not try to restrict your ego in order to experience our true compassionate self; we experience our true compassionate self first, and that is what liberates us from identification with the ego. When the light (of oneness of being) comes, darkness (of absence of compassion) disappears.

Why is compassion not a reality?

Because compassion as we know, is not rooted in the Ultimate Truth which is oneness of ‘beingness’. The root cause of absence of compassion as the root cause of most human predicaments is ignorance, ignorance of fundamental truths of life.

The Yoga of Compassion has to be rooted in the Yoga of Oneness of being.

No doubt compassion is the highest wisdom, but to be actualised and sustainable, it has to be rooted in the realization of the truth of oneness of being. Attuning to ‘oneness of being’ is the ultimate Yoga. True Theosophist is a Compassionate Yogi. True yogi, more so the practitioner of yoga of compassion, is one who does not suffer from a sense of separateness; nor, more importantly, can cause such a suffering, i.e. will not create a sense of separation or division in others too. In his yogic state of oneness of being, the collective human predicament is his and all sufferings form part of the yogi’s duty or dharma to understand and alleviate. In that sense Christ was a true yogi, Buddha was a true yogi. And they were compassion personified. “The ‘beingness’ is the same in all.” said Ramana Mahrishi, one of the greatest practitioners of Advaita (non-dualism). Every being has an experience of “I am” and that is the same in all. I am this and you are that (identity) is a superimposition that appears to give rise to separateness. The illusion of sense of separateness and wholesome compassion cannot coexist. Compassion is communion of spirit with spirit, and spirit being the same in all beings, oneness of being is automatically implied. In other words, compassion, to be true, has to be rooted in the spirit of oneness. Compassion cannot be generated, taught, awakened or practiced in isolation. Compassion is the automatic outcome of the realization of oneness of being, like happiness is an automatic outcome of right living and not by pursuing it as a separate goal. Many may ask ‘How to Awaken Compassion’. But ‘how’ implies a process which works mostly for changing something that is made up of matter. In the spiritual context, it is realization rather than processes that bring about fundamental transformation.

How to Awaken Compassion or create a compassionate state.

Children and youth should be encouraged and helped to spend more to time in situations where compassionate acts take place and to associate with compassionate people. “Those who unlock your compassion are those to whom you've been assigned.” - Mike Murdock. An affluent, lavish and protected life of indulgence and merrymaking, not sensitized to some suffering, is an unlikely source of compassion. ‘One should be mindful of the misery in the universe in general and of all living beings in particular. Be mindful and aware of it; feel it! By feeling it, you will develop loving-kindness and compassion for all sentient beings, and to the extent that compassion unfolds within you, your delusion of self will decrease. These two qualities of compassion and loving-kindness in a person indicate the he is beginning to develop spiritually. Perhaps, at first, he will show them in small ways but later he will embrace the whole universe. The powers of compassion and wisdom are much stronger than the powers of ignorance and hatred. This being so, we should fill our minds with compassion, loving-kindness and wisdom and radiate these to all living beings together with a strong wish for their happiness. Never forget to send out the force of loving-kindness to all sentient beings.’ Samdhong Rinpoche. Group Meditation has the ability to foster a view that all beings are interconnected.

For the future to be marked by peace, harmony, freedom and joy, all our efforts, especially in the field of education in the formative years, but not just in the school but by exemplifying compassionate living at home too, should be towards awakening compassion that is in all of us but made dormant in varying degrees.

Suffering is a Truth. That suffering can be and must be alleviated, is a greater Truth. That Compassion alleviates suffering is a much greater Truth. Oneness of being awakens Compassion is the greatest and the most fundamental Truth. Wake up to these Truths. There is no Dharma higher than these Truths.


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