Author Topic: Is empathy required for comassion?  (Read 3482 times)

Offline Optimus Prime

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Re: Is empathy required for comassion?
« Reply #15 on: January 05, 2010, 03:14:55 am »
Does compassion require that I feel their pain and suffering?

No.  But it helps.

What is compassion?  It is the wholesome emotion that moves you into helping someone out of their suffering.  It actually moves you into action.  

Example 1
Take the example of a doctor who has a patient who has cancer.  Does the doctor have to also have cancer in order to help their patient out?  Does the doctor have to feel what the patient feels in order to treat them?  Of course not.

Example 2
Sometimes, you can be annoyed and still have compassion.  Take another example.  A doctor tells a patient that they have to have a certain procedure done.  It's an important procedure that could tell them crucial information that could save the patient's vital organs from severe damage.  So the doctor tells them how important it is to do it and why it's needed and how much heartache it could save the patient in the long run.  It'll cost them say $100.  

Now maybe the patient has an entitlement mentality, maybe the patient is cash strapped, maybe the patient is just tight or stubborn and says, "Oh no, I'm not going to pay anything to get that stupid test done!" and begins to walk off in a huff!  (Believe it or not, you do get people like this who spend all their money on drugs, alcohol, smokes and poker machines but when it's time for them to spend some money on something important, they'd rather suffer and let their vital organs die.)

But the doctor says, "Hey!  Come back.  Sit down.  I'll see what I can do."  

The patient gets up again to go, "Sorry, I'm going" as the patient still thinks he's going to have to pay! lol

Now maybe the doctor is mega busy and is running late but still - so this is really annoying him that the patient just won't do what he says.  "What an idiot!" the doctor is thinking.  But still, the doctor knows that it has to be done and by now the doctor says to the patient in a loud, firm, forceful voice, "No you're not.  You're going to sit down here right now until I can organize something for you.  If you don't undergo this procedure, you can suffer severe damage to this vital organ".  By this time, the doctor has decided that either he or his medical colleagues will wear the cost on behalf of this patient, so he says, "You're not going to have to pay, so stay there and we'll fix it all up for you."

So here, you can see that practicing compassion may sometimes involve a bit of trouble for you.  Sometimes, you might need to do something that may be unpopular or disapproved of on the face of it but you know that it will result in the greatest good for all involved in the long run.  You may not even feel very compassionate when you're doing it - you may feel irritated or angry and it may even annoy you to bits.  But in the end, what matters is that the suffering is prevented, treated or addressed.  So here, compassion is the quality of stepping in to do what needs to be done - to pick up the slack - even when it's others who've put themselves in this bad situation and even it will cause you some trouble.

Also notice that here that compassion is combined with wisdom.  Now the doctor knows that the patient is tight but it's a false economy because if the patient's vital organ is damaged, they're going to be spending thousands of dollars, a lot of time in hospital and will be undergoing a lot of heartache if his instructions aren't followed.  So though the doctor doesn't necessarily know what it feels like to have the same disease the patient has, but he knows enough to know that the patient is going to suffer really badly in the long run if the patient doesn't listen and follow his instructions.  

NB:  One thing to be aware of though is that if you have compassion WITHOUT wisdom and you step in to help try and help - sometimes, you can sometimes make things worse.  This is a case of when someone has good intentions and comes in to help out but ends up stuffing things up, maybe say through incompetence or say through placing efforts into something that won't yield much results and even slowing everyone else down.
« Last Edit: January 05, 2010, 03:26:19 am by Optimus Prime »

Offline Pema Rigdzin

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Re: Is empathy required for comassion?
« Reply #16 on: January 05, 2010, 05:32:16 am »
"genuine compassion" is the genuine wish that beings may be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. And the prerequisite for "genuine compassion" is "genuine love" which is the genuine wish that beings may have happiness and its causes.

There is no need to "re-invent the wheel" if one follows the teachings of the Buddhas.

Kind regards
Then are we talking about different kinds of compassion? "Genuine compassion" sounds really nice and all, but it also sounds like you could blissfully walk around among suffering people, having "genuine compassion" for them and wishing them well but not really acknowledging them or their individual suffering.
In this regard, the Mahayana POV is that compassion must be paired with wisdom, otherwise it can go astray. Mahayana sutras speak of three types of compassion. Below is a quote of the late Kalu Rinpoche's explanation:

"1. Compassion with reference to beings.

It arises when we perceive the suffering of others. It is the first kind of compassion to arise, and causes us to strive deeply to do everything we can to help all those who suffer. It emerges when we perceive the pain and sufferings or others.

This form of compassion is marked by our no longer being able to remain unmoved by the suffering of beings and by aspiring to do everything possible to help alleviate their suffering.

2. Compassion with reference to reality.

It arises when we have a genuine experience of the power of ignorance; when we actually perceive how beings create their own suffering. This compassion occurs when we really see how others strive to be happy and avoid suffering but how, not understanding the causes of happiness nor the means of avoiding suffering, they produce more causes of suffering and have no idea how to cultivate the causes of happiness. They are blinded by their ignorance, their motivations and actions contradict one another.

Through understanding the illusory nature of reality, genuine perception of this situation beings forth this 2nd type of compassion, which is more intense and profound than the1st kind.

3. Compassion without reference.

It retains no notion of subject, object, or intention.  It is the ultimate form of a Buddha's or great Bodhisattva's compassion and depends upon the realization of emptiness. There is no longer any reference to a 'me' or 'other'.

This compassion opens naturally and spontaneous.

Offline Ron-the-Elder

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Re: Is empathy required for compassion?
« Reply #17 on: January 05, 2010, 06:43:45 am »
One of the major points made by the character portraying Dr. House in the t.v. series, "House", is that getting too emotionally involved with the patient/client can lead to difficulty in diagnosis, because of the emotive distractions to concentration, and focus needed to collect data relating to genetic influences, environmental conditions, and symptoms presented.  For this aspect of being of assistance empathy can actually be detrimental possibly causing more harm than good.

In the case of dealing with specific conditions, such as rape victims for example, it is often beneficial to have someone present with experience similar to the patients/clients, because they can speak, ask questions and most importantly listen with depth of understanding born of experience.  The same is true for affectations due to heart disease, cancer, or any number of diseases which have sudden and uexpected onsets leaving the patient/client feeling confused and helpless .  Compassion born of experience and empathy can be very beneficial in such situations, especially when explaining why and of what benefit certain therapeutic courses of action should/must be taken to facillitate recovery.

Recognizing this fact most Twelve Step organizations borrow The Promises from The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous in the chapter called "How it Works":

...We will see how our experiences can benefit others..."

Buddha of course taught not only out of wisdom, but out of great loving-kindness and compassion (karuna) with great mental equanimity:

II. Compassion (Karuna)

The world suffers. But most men have their eyes and ears closed. They do not see the unbroken stream of tears flowing through life; they do not hear the cry of distress continually pervading the world. Their own little grief or joy bars their sight, deafens their ears. Bound by selfishness, their hearts turn stiff and narrow. Being stiff and narrow, how should they be able to strive for any higher goal, to realize that only release from selfish craving will effect their own freedom from suffering?

It is compassion that removes the heavy bar, opens the door to freedom, makes the narrow heart as wide as the world. Compassion takes away from the heart the inert weight, the paralyzing heaviness; it gives wings to those who cling to the lowlands of self.

Through compassion the fact of suffering remains vividly present to our mind, even at times when we personally are free from it. It gives us the rich experience of suffering, thus strengthening us to meet it prepared, when it does befall us.

Compassion reconciles us to our own destiny by showing us the life of others, often much harder than ours.

Behold the endless caravan of beings, men and beasts, burdened with sorrow and pain! The burden of every one of them, we also have carried in bygone times during the unfathomable sequence of repeated births. Behold this, and open your heart to compassion!

And this misery may well be our own destiny again! He who is without compassion now, will one day cry for it. If sympathy with others is lacking, it will have to be acquired through one's own long and painful experience. This is the great law of life. Knowing this, keep guard over yourself!

Beings, sunk in ignorance, lost in delusion, hasten from one state of suffering to another, not knowing the real cause, not knowing the escape from it. This insight into the general law of suffering is the real foundation of our compassion, not any isolated fact of suffering.

Hence our compassion will also include those who at the moment may be happy, but act with an evil and deluded mind. In their present deeds we shall foresee their future state of distress, and compassion will arise.

The compassion of the wise man does not render him a victim of suffering. His thoughts, words and deeds are full of pity. But his heart does not waver; unchanged it remains, serene and calm. How else should he be able to help?

May such compassion arise in our hearts! Compassion that is sublime nobility of heart and intellect which knows, understands and is ready to help.

Compassion that is strength and gives strength: this is highest compassion.

And what is the highest manifestation of compassion?

To show to the world the path leading to the end of suffering, the path pointed out, trodden and realized to perfection by Him, the Exalted One, the Buddha.


What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.


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