Lesson
2

Compassion [karuna]

1 of 6

Here, monks, a disciple dwells pervading one direction with his heart filled with compassion, likewise the second, the third, and the fourth directions; so above, below and around; he dwells pervading the entire world every-where and equally with his heart filled with compassion, abundant, grown great, measureless, free from enmity, and free from distress.   Buddha

On the path of "the liberation of the heart which is love," you have studied and practiced the quality of lovingkindness (metta). In this lesson you will explore the teachings and practices of compassion (karuna).

In many Buddhist traditions, the teachings are said to have two wings, like the wings of a bird: wisdom and compassion. Wisdom — clearly seeing or understanding interconnectedness of everything — cultivates compassion, which is a powerful force that can transform our own lives and the loves of others.

 A trembling of the heart

Compassion, the second of the brahma-viharas, is the literal translation of the word karuna from Pali.

What do you think of when you here the word compassion? What does it mean to you to be compassionate?

The feeling we call compassion is often misunderstood.

Oh, I translate compassion as a state of being terribly overcome by somebody's sorrow, like having a stake through your heart and having the burden of somebody's pain burdening you as well.
                                                                                             Russian translator

Does this resemble your notion of compassion—overwhelming burden?

It's one thing to have one's heart engaged, and another to have it overwhelmed or broken. Here lies our aversion to suffering.   Ram Dass and Paul Gorman

It is easy to understand how the meaning of compassion could be taken to include this state of being overcome by the suffering of another. For if we feel that our hearts will break, that we will be overwhelmed, that we cannot bear what is going on, we find it difficult to open to pain. Yet that opening s the basis of compassion.


Compassion is a verb.
Thich Nhat Hanh

When it is translated literally from the Pali and Sanskrit, the word karuna can be described as "the trembling or quivering of one’s heart in response to seeing pain or suffering.”