Ven. Nyanaponika Thera
Contemplation on The Four Sublime States
2. 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 free-dom, makes the narrow heart as wide as the world. Compassion takes away from the heart the inert weight, the paralysing 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 with-out 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 sub-lime nobility of heart and intellect which knows, understands and is ready to help.
Compassion that is strength and gives strength: this is the 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.