Swamiji, what are the practical ways to practice compassion in our lives?
Real compassion is when we realize that we are one with one another, when we understand our true identity. When we attain that state of oneness, we automatically reach out to help others. That is compassion. When there is a pain in the left hand, the right hand goes to soothe the pain without any effort. This is the compassion that we see in Amma.
Our mind is primarily focused on the “me” thanks to the ego. If the mind has to go beyond the “me”, it has to focus on another person. When we start to help others, we try to put ourselves in their shoes, and this allows us to empathize with them. Compassion starts with kindness – to other human beings, animals and nature. Kindness broadens the mind.
Amma says that when we give something to others, it is we who gain more than them. When we give something to others, it makes the other person happy and we gain the merit and share in their happiness. Let us, for example, say that there are some children around us and we have one cookie. We could eat the whole cookie by ourselves and get X amount of happiness out of that experience. But let us say there are 3 children present and we break the cookie in 4 pieces, offer it to the children and we eat the last piece – the happiness we derive is much more than X – it is 4X the original amount or even more. With sharing, we bring happiness to others and ourselves.
When we emphasize kindness, we start identifying with others and our mind expands. Otherwise, our mind is like a small pond. We believe that this is the biggest pond in the world. It is like the story of a frog from the ocean that came to visit another frog that had been living in a well all his life. The visitor tried to explain the vastness of the ocean to the well-frog. Jumping one foot into the air, the well-frog asked if the ocean was that big. “No, it is much bigger” said the ocean-frog. Jumping two feet up, the well-frog asked if the ocean was that big. “No, it is much bigger” said the ocean-frog. Then the well-frog jumped from one end of the well to the other and asked if the ocean is that big. The ocean-frog says “No, it is much bigger.” Having never set foot outside the well, the well-frog could not imagine the vastness of the ocean. Like that frog, we are limited by our mind. Unless our mind expands and disappears, we cannot reach that plane of oneness.
How do we practice compassion every day?
Take a vow to perform one action every day that will help others – whether it is to our family members or to society. For example, we could be sitting on a bus and we get up to offer our seat to an elderly person – this is a small step towards performing compassionate actions. Amma says a kind word; a smile can go a long way.
Another way to enact compassion in your daily life is to take a vow to do one good thing for nature every day. Whether you are using less water while taking a bath, consuming less paper, planting a tree, or watering a plant – these are compassionate actions because you are thinking about others, not yourself. You are not thinking of how you should benefit but how nature or the other person should benefit.
Compassion starts with baby steps. Only a person like Amma can be compassionate all the time, as Amma has gone beyond the level of the body and the mind. She knows that She is not limited and hence has limitless compassion. We do not have limitless compassion – for example when we offer our food to a beggar and if the beggar throws the food away saying it is not tasty, we get angry. In real compassion, there is no reaction. You give without expectation. We have not reached that level. We at least expect a “thank you” from the other person. We might even spend days thinking why we did not receive a “thank you’ or a word of gratitude for the help we offered. In compassion, there is no expectation. Does the left hand say, “thank you” to the right hand that came to soothe the pain? The hands know that they are part of the same body. In true compassion, there is no expectation of gratitude, only oneness and love.