(image from Pixabay)
Compassion "supplies the complement to loving-kindness: whereas loving-kindness has the characteristic of wishing for the happiness and welfare of others, compassion has the characteristic of wishing that others be free from suffering, a wish to be extended without limits to all living beings."
- Bhikkhu Bodhi
I found the above quote in a Buddhist forum on the website New Buddhist - this quote was stated within the context of questions around happiness v freedom from suffering, and thus is loving-kindness and compassion the same thing. Someone in the forum suggested that loving-kindness and compassion are each a side of the same coin, whereas another person suggested that this didn't go deep enough - "Compassion is the inherent and cultivated desire to see others free of suffering. Loving kindness means further embracing them to you in a heartfelt equanimous way." What I find interesting about the conversation that continues is the repetition of simple analogies, but from the lens of personal experience and understanding .... and what emerges for me, from this, is that that original person was correct. It isn't so much compassion v loving-kindness, but compassion/loving-kindness - each can be practiced without the other, yet together they are stronger. What do I mean by this, and how does this explain the difference between the two?
When I explored kindness last month my kindness manifested in many different way, but there were two distinct aspects that made my exploration about kindness, as opposed to compassion and empathy, distinct. Firstly, kindness could be applied to anyone or thing, it didn't depend on a persons suffering or sadness, it simply depended on my identifying a moment where I could be of use to someone, say something to make someone smile, or be kind to myself at any time, even when I was feeling content/happy. Secondly, kindness had to be defined by some kind of action, whether that was physical action, kind words, etc. I feel that kindness does not exist if the thought or initial drive to act kind is not acted upon.
When I think of compassion, I think of the previous readings I have read, and more current readings I am reading, and I come to the conclusion that, whilst compassion can embody action, it more embodies thought and feeling. Compassion is primarily about empathising with suffering - hence, the differences between kindness and compassion start to emerge.
There are essentially two steps to compassion. Compassion is understanding suffering in others and yourself. Compassion is desiring to ease or alleviate the suffering of others and yourself. With understanding others (and you own) suffering, you are striving to really listen and engage with that person. Easing or alleviating the suffering is taking action and can lead to empathy and kindness.
What do you think?