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Power of compassion can solve our problems

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: August 27, 2011

This week's column is written by Kelsang Chonyi, resident teacher at Pure Land Buddhist Centre, Exeter

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I BELIEVE that all our human problems can be solved through the power of compassion.

I also believe that for each one of us individually, our personal problems can be solved if we practise compassion, so no need for an, "I'll give it a go if everyone else does", approach. I doubt I can substantiate these beliefs in 500 words, but at least I can make a start.

What exactly is compassion? Compassion is a mind that is motivated by cherishing other living beings and wishes to release them from their suffering. When we wish our family or friends to be free from their physical sickness or mental pain, that's compassion.

Often we feel that compassion is a somewhat weak and ineffective mind. If we actually stop to contemplate the pain experienced by some of our loved ones or the intense pain we hear about every day in the news – the suffering, fear and grief caused by war, conflict, tragic accidents, natural disasters and economic depression, we can easily become overwhelmed.

Unless we can immediately do something to alleviate the suffering of others we may think, "what's the point in feeling compassion?"

The point is this. Compassion is the medicine that has the power to take away our own suffering, that enables us to be of real benefit to others and that can ultimately solve the problems of the world.

For example, we can remember those from whom we have received help in our darkest hours. Who are the people who stand out as having really helped us?

I'd hazard a guess it was those with compassion. The real benefit we receive from others comes from their compassion. Of course, if you go to the doctor, it helps if he or she knows a bit about human anatomy and pathology and that kind of thing, but knowledge applied without compassion brings only limited benefit.

Just as the benefit we receive from others comes primarily from their compassion, so our ability to benefit others comes from our compassion.

Whoever you are and whatever you do, you can help to transform this world through developing your compassion. Even if you are too weak or sick to do anything very much, you can still "do" compassion, and that has immeasurable meaning.

The supreme power to heal and transform comes from universal compassion which is a completely unbiased compassion towards all living beings. That's a bit tricky for us!

More about that in a future article. For now we can think that any time we generate compassion towards anyone anywhere in the world, even if we cannot immediately help these people, by allowing this compassion to pervade our mind and motivate our actions we are right now increasing our ability to heal this world.

Compassion also offers immediate relief from our own pain. Here's a simple example. Say we have a headache, the more we focus on the thought, "I've got a headache and I feel rubbish" the worse it gets, so instead, think about others experiencing similar or far worse pain and generate the compassionate wish for them to be free from that suffering.

Once again, although our compassion does not instantly cure others' headaches it is nonetheless a completely reliable medicine that is slowly but surely gaining potency within our own mind.

So now our mind is focused on others – that's fantastic! If it's partially focused on others and still partially on our self then our own pain will reduce.

If it's fully focused on others then for as long as we can maintain that compassion, which may be only a few seconds to begin with but we can gradually improve, then our own pain will cease.

You can make fire from wood, but the fire then destroys the wood. In the same way we can use our own painful experiences to generate compassion and the compassion then destroys our suffering. Try it – it works!

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