Compassion vs Pity Explained by a Buddhist Teacher
Compassion and pity are commonly misunderstood. And this is equally relevant to both Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. While entire schools of Buddhism are anchored on the concept of compassion, and many compendia have been written on the topic, in this article we learn what they are, how they affect you, and how to adopt an easy way to spot the difference between them.
Compassion is the ability to recognise the suffering in one's self or in others, coupled with the unselfish desire to alleviate that suffering. It's borne in the understanding that everyone is just like you: they are alive and have a strong wish to be happy and to be free of unhappiness. Its foundation is based on the understanding that sincerely and unselfishly caring for others is an empowering source of peace and happiness. One only needs to engage in genuinely compassionate thoughts, speech, and actions to experience the truth found in that teaching.
When we genuinely have concern for the well-being of others and we take skilful actions accordingly, we are certain to experience a deep sense of positive emotions and pleasure -- it feels good to be compassionate toward others: it feels open and vast... and that's because it's supposed to, because it's a reflection of a heart that is open and vast, and of a mind that is free of self-cherishing thoughts and pettiness.
Compassion is often coupled with compassionate speech and/or action; because genuine compassion is rarely passive. In many schools of Buddhism, we diligently work to cultivate insights into how compassion for others is an inexhaustible source of inner-peace, and though regular insights and practice, compassion begins to flow freely and easily, colouring everything we think, say, and do. It's a wonderful way to live life and to interact with the world around us!
Pity, on the other hand, is borne of a better-off-than mindset, and one where help is often rendered with an unspoken expectation of something in return (e.g., appreciation, gratitude, respect, influence, reputation, ego, leverage, reciprocation, etc). It's more passive than compassion and is more often coupled with words-alone or superficial offerings rather than compassionate action. Pity is a reflection of an unhealthy mind and those who engage in acts of Pity, even if only occasionally, can serve as excellent objects for our own compassion.
We must be ever-so mindful of the intentions and motivations behind our actions for others. As such, when we are on the cushion we must be vigilant of the potential dark side of meditation: indifference, detachment, pity, routine, self-cherishing, coldness, and pride; these create a type of blind hardness and can be a challenge to both novice and experienced meditators and compassionate dharma practitioners alike. This is where having a skilled meditation trainer and dharma coach to personally help you stay the course becomes important.
I hope this was helpful to you.
Buddhist Ācariya and Anagārika
Recommended listening: The Science of Compassion: A Modern Approach for Cultivating Empathy, Love, and Connection by Kelly McGonigal
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by Anagārika Pasannacitta
Pasannacitta is a pre-monastic ariya-puggala and a full-time Buddhist anagārika; and he is also a deeply accomplished streamentry mentor and applied-dharma teacher. He emphasises and teaches the practical application of the Buddha's teachings in our everyday lives to overcome our human problems that stand in the way of making measurable progress toward Buddhist enlightenment and he is particularly adept at explaining them in ways that can be easily understood and practiced by Western Buddhists. He has been meditating and cultivating the views and techniques that generate indestructible resilience, inner-strength, and direct experience for almost 30 years and has helped countless numbers of students and peers enhance and course-correct their practice to make veritable progress along the path toward Nibbāna.
do good. be kind. help others. be peaceful.™