Compassion (Karuna)

May all beings be free from suffering
and the causes of suffering

Beauty of a FlowerIn this second verse, we generate the mind of Compassion. From the very depths of our heart, we radiate in all directions the sincere wish for all living beings to be free from suffering and the causes that bring suffering. The immeasurable quality of Compassion (Mercy) is a wise heartfelt motivation to relieve the pain, sorrow, and suffering of others.

This sublime Compassion arises from our genuine concern for others and manifests as selfless acts of physical and spiritual charity. With true Compassion we have deep insight into the causes of human suffering. Therefore, we are able to serve others in wise, loving, calm, and skillful ways without being overwhelmed by our feelings of pity, grief, or sadness.

In this way, Compassion opens the heart and dissolves cruelty, selfishness, and narrow-mindedness. Our Compassion—our sincere wish that all beings be free from suffering—must extend even further than those to whom we feel close. Our Compassion must extend to and embrace all living beings throughout all realms of existence for it to become sublime, limitless, and immeasurable.

Source: Used with permission from SourcePoint Global Outreach, The Heart of Dharma Collection (Mount Shasta, CA: Naljor Prison Dharma Service, n.d.)



May I be free from suffering and its causes.
May all beings be free from suffering and its causes.

Karuna is felt as a quivering commiseration in the heart. The compassionate heart is softer than the petals of a flower. Compassion lives in a wise resonance with the tender and painful aspects of life. As the heart opens with acceptance it becomes large enough to hold our existential suffering with increasing truth and respect. Rumi wrote that suffering is the mirror that holds itself to where we are working. With growing compassion there is less shame associated with the truth of suffering. The belief that we are somehow being punished dissolves away into an oceanic experience of sympathy and forgiveness.

The compassion exemplar is the same mother-child relationship that remains undisturbed by fear and aversion when the child is suffering. The practice of compassion allows for sustained and unobstructed presence of mind as the darker side of life is lifted into the light of awareness.

Pity is the near enemy to compassion, for it has a hidden quality of aversion. The delusion of pity comes, in part, from the belief that if we hold ourselves as separate, we are protecting ourselves in some way. Karuna dissolves the boundaries dividing our hearts in two. With growing compassion we are less apt to look away, to withdraw our attention, to abandon or be abandoned.

Compassion’s far enemy is cruelty. Cruelty is devoid of mercy. Compassion practice is a safe way to expose latent cruelty that may exist at an unconscious level. Once, when I was a substitute resident teacher at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, staff members decided to practice one Brahma Vihara per week. I was very moved at the end of the week of compassion. The happiness of clear seeing, vipassana happiness, was evident in the radiant light in the yogis’ faces as each disclosed discoveries of hatred in their own hearts.

Source: Used with permission from the Brahma Vihara Foundation.