Compassion (karuna) is a major theme throughout Buddhist history. In early Sanskrit it was known as “metta” which translates into loving kindness. In the West we use the word compassion more often, but there are Western Buddhist teachers, like Jack Kornfield, who says “loving kindness” in his teachings.
It reminds me to be kind to others without expecting anything in return. If someone needs help and I can help them, then the compassionate thing to do, is help them.
Being of service is something I enjoy. I like feeling needed and I know I just wrote I should be kind without expecting anything in return, but the way I see it, there’s nothing wrong with feeling good about doing something good. A Buddhist teacher will probably disagree with me because my happy feeling is a sort of attachment. I agree with that, but I’m human and I like feeling happy. Don’t most of us? If I help another sentient being and I end up getting smacked in the head for my efforts, I won’t get pissed off about it. Knowing my intentions were good, is good enough for me whatever the outcome. Wait.. maybe that isn’t attachment. I just wrote that I would feel good no matter what. That’s non-attachment. Right? Maybe I could use some more time meditating about that.
There’s another compassion, Buddhism teaches and that’s to practice loving kindness to beings who (I think) are assholes. That one I have a harder time with. When I have a conversation with someone who rubs me the wrong way; they’re a grumpy ass or they say mean things about certain groups of people, I find it hard to think kind thoughts about them.
For example: In an earlier post I wrote about one of my neighbors who lives with his elderly mother. I didn’t give the guy a name in that post, so to make it easier, I will now. Let’s call him Bob. Bob is around sixty and his mom must be pushing eighty. She has heath issues and if Bob didn’t live with her, she’d probably be living in a state-run retirement home. No fun for sure. So Bob makes sacrifices to keep his mother happy. Bob sleeps on the sofa. There are two bedrooms in their mobile home but his mom sleeps in one and the other is her art studio. Needless to say, Bob has no space or room to call his own. As for privacy, the only privacy he has is inside his truck. That would make anyone cranky. I can feel compassion for him about his living situation.
The problem and I know it’s my problem, is that I attach my happiness on his mood. I can choose to avoid him and that’s what I’ve been doing for a couple months now. I used to walk my dogs on the road by his home. Now we go another way. But by avoiding him, aren’t I missing the opportunity to practice my Buddhist belief? If he’s outside when we walk by and he sees us and stops me to talk or as I see it… talk at me, I can choose to see him differently. He may tell me he’s upset about those gays or those liberals or whatever FOX news told him to be angry about and I can understand that he isn’t angry about any of that. He’s angry about his life and his living situation. It’s easier to complain about things going on “out there” than to say how he’s really feeling. Only a few times has he complained about his mother and that was about her finding more chores for him to do.
Instead of feeling my anger bubble up as he’s talking “at” me, I can choose to feel compassion for his living situation. Its easier for me to do it later when I meditate on it, but as it’s happening in real-time, not so much. I never get into an argument with him but I am known to say something sarcastic which comes out as a joke, but really isn’t. It would be nice for me to remember that his harsh words are coming from a place of pain and that’s where I would like to focus my compassion. That’s where I can practice being a Bodhisattva instead of a smart ass.
Choosing to respond in loving kindness to difficult people is hard. It takes practice. Lots of practice. But it is something I am willing to work on.