Compassion is a mental attitude or an orientation toward suffering that contains four components. It is not a hobby or something you do when you are in a good mood, well-fed, or among your friends. Recognizing the existence of pain. That anguish has impacted me emotionally. You want relief from that suffering. Being ready to take action to relieve that suffering.
The heart is a muscular organ. It must be exercised in order to grow or it will degrade and atrophy. Every child is born with the ability to love all beings, both humans and nonhumans. By the age of three, their parents have conditioned children to fear compassion, and they cease to love. You may, however, recondition yourself.
There is a course for it! Based on scientific trials, there is a two-month academic compassion cultivation training course that was developed by Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D., and colleagues at Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. If I were a minister for education I would make it compulsory.
There is also a course called Great Good in Action GGIA that will provide you with your exercises. Like other workouts, the more you perform them, the faster your heart and mind will grow. Even small steps assist; if your objective for physical activity is 10,000 steps per day and you only take 3,000, that is still better for your health than doing none.
Begin to pay attention to your actions: when do you feed compassionately on the spur of the moment? When you see an accident on the news and have no choice but to watch it? When do you resist addressing suffering throughout the day (for example, when passing someone on the street asking for money or your attitude toward a bothersome family member)?
How many times per day do you criticize or diminish your suffering by claiming that it was deserved or that it is minor in comparison to someone else or something else going on in the world? Change comes effortlessly once you become aware of your ideas.
So next time you are going to work, notice how clean the steps are and who cleaned then when you stand in line at a mall take a moment to see the stress of the cashier or the people stocking the shelves.
A word of gratitude? When my car came to a stop at a light, I recall feeling proud because it happened naturally. When I observed a parched plant on the road divided by drooping leaves, I opened a bottle of water to sip. I jumped out, poured water on the plant, and waited for it to come back to life. I couldn’t think of anything else at the time, but it made me happy. Giving and doing for others brings you greater enjoyment than receiving anything for yourself, so you’re on the correct course.
Set the intention to “practice” compassion. What do you want for the world? What do you want for your life? What do you have to offer the world?
Here are some cliched yet effective suggestions: Praise Others, Respect Others’ Privacy Open the door (metaphorically! ), set aside time to do nice things intentionally, learn how to say thank you, and develop empathy – the art of seeing oneself in the shoes of others – and take each step thoughtfully (physically).
Are you evolving? Have you given up making excuses to stay away? Is your vision improving so that you can perceive the world as a place of misery that you can improve? Are you more compassionate to humans or animals? Have you added anything to your life? Whose life did you positively impact? Have your heroes evolved? How many times have you expressed gratitude to a being or even the universe? How many times have you turned down the chance to injure someone? Did you note how many times humans showed you compassion? If you want, keep a journal of your ideas and behaviors.
Compassion is about alleviating suffering and ultimately it is the only thing that is meaningful in life. It is easy to fight with your neighbors and thousands of people did that during the lockdown. Kicking a dog on the stairs who is taking shelter from the rain is easy. It is easy to declare a wounded mother tigress as a maneater and hunt her down. It is easy to put bombs in food so that a cow has her jaw blown apart, it is easy to chop down trees. But did that take the world forward or backward? Violence is the ultimate setback for good economics and it is the direct opposite of compassion.
Princess Diana’s handshake with an AIDs patient, something done spontaneously, changed attitudes towards AIDs worldwide. Mother Teresa cradling the very sick, the lepers, and the homeless brought so many people into the field of compassion.
People who have made companies bring artificial meat to meat-eaters have done so out of compassion, as have people who run shelter homes with no money for accident-hit and diseased animals, people who give blood, people who start foundations for bone marrow transplant victims, people who donate small amounts of money to the needy rather than offering it to a temple as forwarding payments for wishes to be granted, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who go into the deep villa.
The Pay it Forward movement is what we need to adopt. Do three good deeds without expecting anything in return and only ask that the recipient do three good deeds too.
Many years ago my mother and I watched a TV show by Larry King. His guest of the evening was Jeane Dixon, a world-famous “ seer” who was famous for her predictions. We, in India, have hundreds of people like that so it wasn’t that part that interested me. It was something else that she said that has stayed with me as a living principle. She said that Earth was the designated “ hell” of the universe.
Every being that had committed some kind of violence or “ crime “ on any other planet was sent here and that is why everyone on the planet, rich or poor, was in a constant state of suffering. And we would come back again and again until we changed ourselves. And the only way out of it was compassion, rising above oneself to be kind. Do you want to get yourself out of here? I do.
Maneka is an Indian Politician and a member of the Lok Sabha, the Lower House of the Indian parliament, and a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party. She is Sultanpur MP and former Women and Child Development Minister and is an animal rights activist.