Compassion is the understanding or empathy for the suffering of others.
Compassion is often regarded as emotional in nature, and there is an aspect of compassion which regards a quantitative dimension, such that individual's compassion is often given a property of "depth," "vigour," or "passion." The etymology of "compassion" is Latin, meaning "co-suffering." More involved than simple empathy, compassion commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another's suffering. It is often, though not inevitably, the key component in what manifests in the social context as altruism. In ethical terms, the various expressions down the ages of the so-called Golden Rule often embodies by implication the principle of compassion: Do to others what you would have them do to you.1
The English noun compassion, meaning to suffer together with, comes from Latin. Its prefix com- comes directly from com, an archaic version of the Latin preposition and affix cum (= with); the -passion segment is derived from passus, past participle of the deponent verb patior, patī, passus sum. Compassion is thus related in origin, form and meaning to the English noun patient (= one who suffers), from patiens, present participle of the same patior, and is akin to the Greek verb πάσχειν (= paskhein, to suffer) and to its cognate noun πάθος (= pathos).23 Ranked a great virtue in numerous philosophies, compassion is considered in almost all the major religious traditions as among the greatest of virtues.
In the various Hindu traditions, compassion is called daya, and, along with charity and self-control, is one of the three central virtues.4 The importance of compassion in the Hindu traditions reaches as far back as the Vedas. The central concept particularly relevant to compassion in Hindu spirituality is that of ahimsa. The exact definition of ahimsa varies from one tradition to another. Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word which can be translated most directly as "refraining from harmfulness." It is a derivation of himsa which means harmful, or having the intent to cause harm.5
The prayers of Vasudeva Datta, for example, a 16th-century Vaishnava holy man or sadhu, exemplify compassion within Gaudiya Vaishnavism. He prayed to the Lord Krishna asking him to "deliver all conditioned souls" because his "heart breaks to see the sufferings of all conditioned souls".
In the Jewish tradition, God is the Compassionate and is invoked as the Father of Compassion:6 hence Raḥmana or Compassionate becomes the usual designation for His revealed word. (Compare, below, the frequent use of raḥman in the Quran).7 Sorrow and pity for one in distress, creating a desire to relieve, is a feeling ascribed alike to man and God: in Biblical Hebrew, ("riḥam," from "reḥem," the mother, womb), "to pity" or "to show mercy" in view of the sufferer's helplessness, hence also "to forgive" (Hab. iii. 2);, "to forbear" (Ex. ii. 6; I Sam. xv. 3; Jer. xv. 15, xxi. 7.) The Rabbis speak of the "thirteen attributes of compassion." The Biblical conception of compassion is the feeling of the parent for the child. Hence the prophet's appeal in confirmation of his trust in God invokes the feeling of a mother for her offspring (Isa. xlix. 15).7
A classic articulation of the Golden Rule (see above) came from the first century Rabbi Hillel the Elder. Renowned in the Jewish tradition as a sage and a scholar, he is associated with the development of the Mishnah and the Talmud and, as such, one of the most important figures in Jewish history. Asked for a summary of the Jewish religion in the "while standing on one leg" meaning in the most concise terms, Hillel stated: "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah. The rest is the explanation; go and learn."8 Post 9/11, the words of Rabbi Hillel are frequently quoted in public lectures and interviews around the world by the prominent writer on comparative religion Karen Armstrong.
Many Jewish sources speak of the importance of compassion for animals. Significant rabbis who have done so include Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch,9 Rabbi Simhah Zissel Ziv,10 and Rabbi Moshe Cordovero.11
Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and destroys the pain of others; thus, it is called compassion. It is called compassion because it shelters and embraces the distressed. - The Buddha.12
Compassion or karuna is at the transcendental and experiential heart of the Buddha's teachings. He was reputedly asked by his personal attendant, Ananda, "Would it be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is a part of our practice?" To which the Buddha replied, "No. It would not be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is part of our practice. It would be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is all of our practice."citation needed
The first of what in English are called the Four Noble Truths is the truth of suffering or dukkha (unsatisfactoriness or stress). Dukkha is identified as one of the three distinguishing characteristics of all conditioned existence. It arises as a consequence of the failure to adapt to change or anicca (the second characteristic) and the insubstantiality, lack of fixed identity, the horrendous lack of certainty of anatta (the third characteristic) to which all this constant change in turn gives rise. Compassion made possible by observation and accurate perception is the appropriate practical response. The ultimate and earnest wish, manifest in the Buddha, both as archetype and as historical entity, is to relieve the suffering of all living beings everywhere.13
The Dalai Lama has said, "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion." The American monk Bhikkhu Bodhi states that 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. Like metta, compassion arises by entering into the subjectivity of others, by sharing their interiority in a deep and total way. It springs up by considering that all beings, like ourselves, wish to be free from suffering, yet despite their wishes continue to be harassed by pain, fear, sorrow, and other forms of dukkha."14
At the same time, it is emphasised that in order to manifest effective compassion for others it is first of all necessary to be able to experience and fully appreciate one's own suffering and to have, as a consequence, compassion for oneself. The Buddha is reported to have said, "It is possible to travel the whole world in search of one who is more worthy of compassion than oneself. No such person can be found."citation needed
The Christian Bible's Second Epistle to the Corinthians is but one place where God is spoken of as the "Father of compassion" and the "God of all comfort" It reads as follows: 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort." Jesus embodies for Christians, the very essence of compassion and relational care. Christ challenges Christians to forsake their own desires and to act compassionately towards others, particularly those in need or distress.15 Jesus assures his listeners in the Sermon on the Mount that, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." In the Parable of the Good Samaritan he holds up to his followers the ideal of compassionate conduct. True Christian compassion, say the Gospels, should extend to all, even to the extent of loving one's enemies.
In the Muslim tradition, foremost among God's attributes are mercy and compassion or, in the canonical language of Arabic, Rahman and Rahim. Each of the 114 chapters of the Quran, with one exception, begins with the verse, "In the name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful,".16 The Arabic word for compassion is rahmah. As a cultural influence, its roots abound in the Quran. A good Muslim is to commence each day, each prayer and each significant action by invoking God the Merciful and Compassionate, i.e. by reciting Bism-i-llah a-Rahman-i-Rahim. The womb and family ties are characterized by compassion and named after the exalted attribute of God "Al-Rahim" (The Compassionate).
The Muslim scriptures urge compassion towards captives as well as to widows, orphans and the poor. Zakat, a toll tax to help the poor and needy, is obligatory upon all Muslims deemed wealthy enough to do so (calculated by assessing the net wealth of an adult at the end of a year)(9:60). One of the practical purposes of fasting or sawm during the month of Ramadan is to help one empathize with the hunger pangs of those less fortunate, to enhance sensitivity to the suffering of others and develop compassion for the poor and destitute.17 The Prophet is referred to by the Quran as the Mercy for the World (21:107); and one of the sayings of the Prophet informs the faithful that, "God is more loving and kinder than a mother to her dear child."16
Compassion for all life, human and non-human, is central to the Jain tradition. Though all life is considered sacred, human life is deemed the highest form of earthly existence. To kill any person, no matter their crime, is considered unimaginably abhorrent. It is the only substantial religious tradition that requires both monks and laity to be vegetarian. It is suggested that certain strains of the Hindu tradition became vegetarian due to strong Jain influences.18 The Jain tradition's stance on nonviolence, however, goes far beyond vegetarianism. Jains refuse food obtained with unnecessary cruelty. Many practice veganism. Jains run animal shelters all over India: Delhi has a bird hospital run by Jains; every city and town in Bundelkhand has animal shelters run by Jains. Jain monks go to lengths to avoid killing any living creature, sweeping the ground in front of them in order to avoid killing insects, and even wearing a face mask to avoid inhaling the smallest fly.
Compassion has become related and researched in the field of Positive Psychology. Compassion is a process of connecting by identifying with another process. This identification with others through compassion can lead to increased motivation to do something in an effort to relieve the suffering of others.19 Compassion is viewed as an emotion that is essential in helping professions.19
Compassion consists of three major requirements, which are: People must feel that troubles that evoke their feelings are serious, people require that sufferers' troubles are not self-inflicted, and that people must be able to picture themselves with the same problems.19
Three theoretical perspectives of compassion have been proposed, which are contrasted by their predictions and approaches of compassion.
- Compassion as a synonym of empathic distress, which is characterized by the feeling of distress in connection with another person's suffering.2021 22 This perspective of compassion is based on the finding that people sometimes emulate and feel the emotions of people around them.23
- Compassion is simply a variation of love or sadness, not a distinct emotion.2425
- From the perspective of evolutionary psychology, Compassion can be viewed as a distinct emotional state, which can be differentiated from distress, sadness, and love.26 27 28
Identifying with another person is an essential process for human beings. It is commonly seen throughout the world as people adapt and change with new styles of clothing, language, behavior, etc., which is illustrated by infants that begin to mirror the facial expressions and body movements of their mother as early as the first days of their lives.29 This process is highly related to compassion because of the fact that sympathizing with others is possible with people from different countries, cultures, locations, etc. A possible source of this process of identifying with others comes from a universal category called, "Spirit". Toward the late 1970s, very different cultures and nations around the world took a turn to religious fundamentalism, which has occasionally been attributed to "Spirit".30 The more one person knows about the human condition and the associated experiences is another route to identification.19 The importance of identifying with others for compassion is contrasted by the negative physical and psychological effects of abandonment. Compassion seems to be characteristic of democratic societies.19 The role of compassion as a factor contributing to individual or societal behavior has been the topic of continuous debate.31 In contrast to the process of identifying with other people, A complete absence of compassion may require ignoring or disapproving identification with other people or groups.19 This concept has been illustrated throughout history, such as: The Holocaust, Genocide, European colonization of the Americas, etc. The seemingly essential step in these atrocities could be the defining of the victims as "not human" or "not us". The various atrocities that have been committed throughout human history have only been relieved through the presence of compassion.1932 Suffering has been defined as the perception of a person's impending destruction or loss of integrity, which continues until the threat is gone or the person's integrity can be restored.19 Personality Psychology agrees that people are inherently different and distinct from one another, which should lead to the conclusion that human suffering is always individual and unique. Suffering can result from psychological, social, and physical trauma.33 Suffering appears to happen in acute forms as often as chronically.34 There is an inherent difficulty in knowing that someone else is suffering because of its lonely nature, which leads to the conclusion that many people may not know they are suffering. They may instead point to their external circumstances with the early stages of suffering being quiet or not discussed. The later stages may involve the person expressing their victimization and searching for help.35 Compassion is recognized through identifying with other people, the knowledge of human behavior, the perception of suffering, transfer of feelings, knowledge of goal and purpose changes in sufferers, and the absence of the sufferer from a group. 19 A recent international survey suggests that compassion toward animals is correlated with compassion toward human beings.363738 Earlier studies also established the links between interpersonal violence and animal cruelty.3940 Compassion may have the ability to induce feelings of kindness and forgiveness, which could give compassion to have the ability to stop situations that occasionally lead to violence.41
In a recent small fMRI experiment, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and colleagues at the Brain and Creativity Institute studied strong feelings of compassion for both social pain in others, and physical pain in others. Both feelings involved an expected change in activity in the anterior insula, anterior cingulate, hypothalamus, and midbrain, but they also found a previously undescribed pattern of cortical activity on the posterior medial surface of each brain hemisphere, a region involved in the default mode of brain function, and implicated in self-related processes. Compassion for social pain in others was associated with strong activation in the interoceptive, inferior/posterior portion of this region, while compassion for physical pain in others involved heightened activity in the exteroceptive, superior/anterior portion. Compassion for social pain also activated this superior/anterior section, but to a lesser extent. Activity in the anterior insula related to compassion for social pain peaked later and endured longer than that associated with compassion for physical pain.42 Compassionate emotions in relation to others has effects on the prefrontal cortex, inferior frontal cortex, and the midbrain.43 Feelings and acts of compassion have been found to simulate areas known to regulate homeostasis, such as: insular cortex, and hypothalamus.44
Compassion is one of the most important attributes for physicians practicing medical services.45 It has been suggested that felt compassion brings about the desire to do something to help the sufferer.19 That desire to be helpful is not actually compassion but it does suggest that compassion is similar to other emotions by motivating behaviors to reduce the tension brought on by the emotion.19 Physicians generally identify their central duties as the responsibility to put the patient's interests first, including the duty not to harm, deliver proper care, and maintain confidentiality.19 Compassion is seen in each of those duties because of its direct relation to the recognition and treatment of suffering.19 Physicians who utilize compassion understand the effects of sickness and suffering on human behavior.46 Compassion may be closely related to love and the emotions evoked in both. This is illustrated by the relationship between patients and physicians in medical institutions.19 The relationship between suffering patients and their care-givers provides evidence that compassion is a social emotion, which is highly related to closeness between individuals.
Individuals with a higher capacity or responsibility to empathize with others may be at risk for compassion fatigue or stress, which is related to professionals and individuals who spend a significant amount of time responding to information related to suffering.47
Authentic leadership and general leadership may be the keys to increasing compassion in the workplace.48 Similarly, Acting in concordance with one's authentic self-concept is critical for the expression of care and compassion.48 Self-compassion may have positive effects on subjective Happiness, Optimism, Wisdom, Curiosity, Agreeableness, and Extroversion.49
Specific activities may increase feelings of and readiness to practice compassion, some of these activities including: creating a morning ritual, practicing empathy, practice random acts of kindness, and creating evening routines.
“Greek and Roman philosophers distrusted (feeling) compassion. In their view, reason alone was the proper guide to conduct. They regarded compassion (a virtue) as an affect, neither admirable nor contemptible.” Thomas Szasz from his book "Cruel Compassion". Conversely, a recent study of the historical Jesus has claimed that the founder of Christianity sought to elevate Judaic compassion as the supreme human virtue, capable of reducing suffering and fulfilling our God ordained purpose of transforming the world into something more worthy of its creator.50
- Matthew 7:12
- Brown, Lesley (2002). The New shorter Oxford English dictionary on historical principles. Oxford [Eng.]: Clarendon. ISBN 0-19-861271-0.
- Partridge, Eric (1966). Origins: a short etymological dictionary of modern English. New York: Macmillan. ISBN 0-02-594840-7.
- Dummies.com, Exploring Religious Ethics in Daily Life
- Joel Federman, The Politics of Universal Compassion (forthcoming)
- Lampert K., Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism, Palgrave-Macmillan, 2006; ISBN 978-1-4039-8527-9
- The Jewish Encyclopedia
- Babylonian Talmud, tractate Shabbat 31a. See also the ethic of reciprocity or "The Golden rule."
- Download Digital Buddha Vacana
- HarperCollins Dictionary of Religiion, 1995.
- Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Noble Eightfold Path: Way to the End of Suffering. Buddhist Publication Society, 1994, page 39.
- Lampert Khen (2006), Ch. 1 incomplete reference
- University of Southern California
- The concept of compassion in Islam- i, The Milli Gazette, Vol. 2 No. 24
- South India Handbook: The Travel Guide By Robert Bradnock, 2000 Footprint Travel Guides, p. 543, Vegetarianism: A History By Colin Spencer, 2002 Thunder's Mouth Press, p. 342
- Cassell, Eric (2009). Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology (2 ed.). New York, New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 393–403. ISBN 978-0-19-518724-3.
- Goetz, Jennifer; Dacher Kelter, Emiliana Simon-Thomas (2010). "Compassion: An Evolutionary Analysis and Empirical Review". Psychological Bulletin 136 (3): 351–374. doi:10.1037/a0018807.
- Ekman, Paul (2003). Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to improve communication and emotional life. New York, NY: Henry Holt & Company.
- Hoffman, Martin (1981). "Is altruism part of human nature?". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 40 (1): 121–137. doi:10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.124.
- Hatfield, Elaine; John Cacioppo (1993). "Emotional Contagion". Current Directions in Psychological Sciences 2: 96–99.
- Shaver, P; J Schwartz, D Kirson, C O'Connor (June 1987). "Emotion knowledge: further exploration of a prototype approach". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 6 (52): 1061–1086.
- Sprecher, Susan; Beverly Fehr (October 2005). "Compassionate love for close others and humanity". Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 22 (5). doi:10.1177/0265407505056439.
- Bowlby, John (1983). Attachment: Attachment and Loss Volume One. New York, NY: Basic Books.
- Haidt, Jonathan (2003). The Moral Emotions. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 852–870.
- Keltner, Dacher; Jonathan Haidt, Michelle Shiota (2006). Social Functionalism and the Evolution of Emotions. New York: Psychology Press. pp. 115–142.
- Meltzoff, Andrew (1985). "The Roots of Social and Cognitive Development: Models of Man's Original Nature". Social Perception in Infants: 1–30.
- Hegal, Georg (1952). Phenomenology of Spirit. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-824597-1.
- Brown, Lee (1). "Compassion and Societal Well-Being". Pacific Philosophical Quarterly.
- MacIntyre, Alisdair (1966). A Short History of Ethics. Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 0-203-13112-6.
- Cassell, Eric (1995). The Healer's Art. MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-53062-7.
- Cassell, Eric (1995). The Healer's Art. MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-53062-7.
- Reich, Warren (1987). "Models of Point Suffering: Foundations for an Ethic Compassion". Acta Neurochirugica 38: 117–122.
- Meng, Jenia. 2009. Origins of attitudes towards animals Ultravisum, Brisbane. ISBN 978-0-9808425-1-7
- Animal Welfare Index and Animal Rights Index
- Attitudes to animals in Eurasia: The identification of different types of animal protection through an international survey: http://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:211347
- Frank R. Ascione, Phil Arkow Child abuse, domestic violence, and animal abuse: linking the circles of compassion for prevention and intervention ISBN 1-55753-142-0
- Randall Lockwood, Frank R. Ascione. Cruelty to Animals and Interpersonal Violence. Purdue University Press, 1998
- Goetz, J; D Keltner, E Simon-Thomas (2010). "Compassion: An evolutionary analysis and empirical review". Psychological Bulletin 136: 351–374.
- Immordino-Yang MH, McColl A, Damasio H, Damasio A (May 2009). "Neural correlates of admiration and compassion". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 106 (19): 8021–6. doi:10.1073/pnas.0810363106. PMC 2670880. PMID 19414310.
- Immbordino, Mary; Andrea Mccoll, Hannah Demasio, Antonio Demasio (20). "Neural correlates of admiration and compassion". PNAS.
- Kim, JW; SE Kim, JJ Kim, B Jeong, CH Park, AR Son (August 2009). "Compassionate attitude towards others' suffering activates the mesolimbic neural system.". Konyang University 47 (10).
- Principles of Medical Ethics. Chicago: American Medical Association. 1981.
- Cassell, Eric (1985). The Nature of Suffering. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Figley, Charles (1995). Compassion Fatigue: Coping With Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder In Those Who Treat The Traumatized. London: Brunner-Routledge. ISBN 978-0876307595.
- Peus, Claudia (15). "Money over man versus caring and compassion? Challenges for today’s organizations and their leaders". Journal of Organizational Behavior 32: 955–960. doi:10.1002/job.751.
- NeV, Kristen; Stephanie Rude, Kristin Kirpatrick (2007). "An examination of self-compassion in relation to positive psychological functioning and personality traits". Journal of Research in Psychology 41: 908–916.
- Drake-Brockman, Tom (2012). Christian Humanism: the compassionate theology of a Jew called Jesus. Sydney: Denis Jones and associates. ISBN 9780646530390.
|Look up compassion in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
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- Center for Building a Culture of Empathy A portal for empathy and compassion related resources; art, articles, definitions, conferences, experts, history, interviews, newsletter, science, videos, etc.
- The Science of Compassion in Islam
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- TED Prize winner Karen Armstrong's video lecture on compassion
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