Compassion with Wisdom

Compassion is the intention and capability to lessen suffering and, ultimately, to transform this suffering. When we adopt an awareness imbued with compassion, we seek to ease others’ pain. But in our wish to help, more often than not, we react emotionally and end up getting carried away by our feelings. At times we empathize so completely with what someone is going through that we subject ourselves to the same distress. So instead of one person suffering, there are now two miserable people!

Instead of reacting emotionally, we need to learn to temper our compassion with wisdom. Then we will know how to better help another help another. We will also realize that an individual’s circumstances are the result of past karmas. Therefore, it may well be next to impossible for us to improve another’s situation. This realization does not mean that we should stop caring about others or dismiss their difficulties as being their own fault. It means we understand that our wanting to alleviate their suffering may instead be of benefit to them in the future, in ways we cannot foresee.

So be compassionate, but do not focus on getting immediate positive results. Do not get wrapped up in egoistic thoughts, thinking that “I” can fix the problem. Without such expectations, we will not be disappointed or saddened when our attempts to help end in failure, or worse, aggravate the situation. We will not know how best to help if we fail to temper our compassion with wisdom. In other words, the person we want to help may not have the requisite conditions for us to do so.

When we stop focusing on immediate results and instead focus on just helping others, our compassion will ultimately be able to benefit all beings. By planting the seeds of compassion—the wish for all beings to be happy and free of suffering—we can be confident that we have indeed helped others.


Thinking Makes It So

When we see an object or watch others enjoying an activity that we view as pleasant, we want to own the object or to undergo a similar experience. We want to possess a newer model of something we already own. We want to go to the same vacation spot a co-worker visited. We want to indulge ourselves because we feel that we deserve it or perhaps because we want to cheer ourselves up after something disappointing has happened.

And so we want—we crave—things and experiences. But as the Buddha explained, craving leads to suffering for craving inexorably leads to more craving. Unquenchable, it grows like an addiction. The more we have and the more we experience, the more we want. Our ever-increasing greed results in our lives becoming more stressful as our craving for objects and experiences far surpasses our ability to obtain them. And so we fall deeper and deeper into suffering.

Why does all this happen? It happens because we mistakenly think that pleasant things, be they material objects or experiences, will make us happy. But happiness is a mental state. Happiness is not a quality inherent in material possessions or experiences. Whether or not something makes us happy depends on what we tell ourselves. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” That is, it is our thinking that makes us happy or sad. We can tell ourselves that to be happy we need more pleasant objects and situations. Or, we can tell ourselves that wanting more inevitably leads to more wanting and thus to more suffering.


Opportunities to Grow

What we experience today is the result of our past karmas. We readily accept the good results because we feel we have earned them. But what of our suffering and pain as we face situations that threaten to overwhelm us? These too are due to our past karmas. We may ask “Why?” Or we may understand why.

Thoughts of angrily blaming ourselves, of terrible sadness over having committed an insensitive and stupid act, of self-loathing, or of other debilitating emotions will derail us from the path. Our current pain is the fruition—the maturing—of past karma.

We can allow painful difficulties to consume us. But doing so will enable the pain to continue as painful results will in turn create more causes that will invariably lead to further painful results.

Instead of being so overwhelmed, we can try to be grateful and understand that this is an opportunity to figuratively sweep away some of our negative karma. As the Buddha said, everything arises from the mind. By changing our misunderstanding to understanding, we can see that misfortune is in fact the clearance of negative karma. Viewed this way, misfortune can thus provide us with the opportunity to grow and progress.


Find the Right Time


If you know anything that is hurtful and untrue, do not say it.

If you know anything that is helpful but untrue, do not say it.

If you know anything that is hurtful but true, do not say it.

If you know anything that is both helpful and true, find the right time.

~ The Buddha


Shall we strive for everlasting bliss
And perfect peace for ourselves, alone?
Until all sentient beings achieve this,
Our responsibility has not been satisfied.
But why should we be responsible?
Because our success depends upon
The help of all other sentient beings,
Which is our solemn duty to repay.

We cannot look with favor upon some,
While drawing away from still others,
Or be indifferent to all of the rest.
Striving for our own self-happiness
While avoiding all that is unpleasant
Is a selfish expression of the ego.
Helping your friends while hating our enemies
Is a hindrance and a bad habit, at best.

We must show equanimity to all beings
As they are all deserving of our help,
In seeking happiness and peace.
Even the friends that we have in this life
Were strangers before ever we met,
Neither helping or hindering our search.
Friendship may not last forever
And friends may become enemies, one day.

Equanimity means treating everyone the same,
With no one being better or worse.
All sentient beings seek happiness,
And enlightenment should be sought by all.
Equanimity means all being equal, in our eyes,
Whether friend, enemy, or stranger.
All need our help and our love,
So equanimity means everyone helping everyone.

~ Llamo Samadhana ~