Can you be compassionate to Saddam Hussein, an impoverished Ethiopian orphan and Queen Elizabeth II?

Hello my fellow human Beings:

I’m sure this question made you think and you may have had different reactions and answers for the three different people mentioned.

Can you feel compassionate towards someone who has committed violent atrocities?

Can you show compassion to an underprivileged child who is alone?

Can you express compassion to a wealthy, privileged and powerful monarch?

For most people, it is easier to show compassion for someone who is less fortunate than ourselves – someone who may be disadvantaged, destitute or weaker than we are.  We can easily feel sympathetic towards such a person.

However, most of us feel more challenged with feeling empathy and compassion towards someone whom we observe perpetrating, or hear has perpetrated, acts of killing, torture and violence.  We may judge such a person’s acts as wrong behaviour and find it hard to not judge the perpetrator of those acts just as harshly.

Furthermore, we may find it difficult to feel compassionate towards someone who is seen as more privileged, more affluent and more influential than us, because we may feel disadvantaged or weaker compared to her or him.

Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, believed to be a manifestation of the Boddhisattva of Compassion, in his book, Ancient Wisdom, Modern World, counsels us to strive for compassion as follows:

“Most people, when they see someone who is handicapped, feel sympathetic toward that person.  But when they see others who compared with themselves are wealthier, or better educated, or better placed socially, they immediately feel envious and competitive toward them.  Our negative feelings prevent us from seeing the sameness of ourselves and all others.  We forget that just like us, whether fortunate or unfortunate, distant or near, they desire to be happy and not to suffer.

The struggle is thus to overcome these feelings of partiality. …

In other words, what is being suggested is that we need to strive for even-handedness in our approach towards all others, a level ground into which we can plant the seed of … great love and compassion.

If we can begin to relate to others on the basis of such equanimity, … a feeling of closeness towards all others can be developed based on the simple recognition that, just like myself, all wish to be happy and to avoid suffering.”

So we are encouraged to treat all persons with love and compassion, regardless of their social status, wealth class or deeds.  This means that we are encouraged to see people for their True Selves, their essence which is connected to all beings, and not judge them for their ego behaviours or their life circumstances or their misguided acts.  We are asked to look beyond what they might say, do or think while they are suffering to see that just like us, they want to be happy and to be free from suffering.

Oh yes, this is a lofty ideal that is tough to attain, but we are each on a spiritual journey of growth to be more loving people leading more abundant lives.

So we take small daily steps on our path towards being more compassionate and loving to all beings.  Our meditation practice is a useful tool to guide us on this journey.

It is a reason why in loving-kindness meditation practice we start with offering love and compassion to ourselves, and then we offer our infinite love and compassion to others – our loved ones, those who are neutral to us, those who may have hurt or harmed us, and then to all beings.

In this way we take steps to walk towards really knowing that, as the Dalai Lama says, “compassion … is unconditional, undifferentiated and universal in scope”.

So this week, I invite you all to find the time to PAUSE, be still and connect to your True Selves, so that you can show love and compassion to yourselves, your family and friends, your neighbours and coworkers, your enemies, and even strangers you meet around the corner or across the globe.  For it is by learning to feel compassion equally for Saddam Hussein, an impoverished Ethiopian orphan and Queen Elizabeth II, among others, that we can each grow to live more abundantly.

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6 thoughts on “Can you be compassionate to Saddam Hussein, an impoverished Ethiopian orphan and Queen Elizabeth II?

  1. Beautiful! I love the title – and yes, how often it is harder for us to feel compassion and empathy for those more privileged than us…As you beautifully remind us, metta is a beautiful practice to cultivate. I also love the practice of muditha – sympathic joy – feeling joy in other people’s good fortune. Yes, may we all be happy and have peace!

    Warmly,
    Shuba

    • Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the Dalai Lama defines COMPASSION in his book, Ancient Wisdom, Modern World as follows:

      “True compassion is not just an emotional response but a firm commitment founded on reason. Therefore, a truly compassionate attitude towards others does not change even if they behave negatively.”

  2. I have been reflecting on this so important subject of compassion in my own life. And yes, it is easier to find compassion within ourselves in the face of those who are vulnerable, weak, downtrodden and oppressed. And so difficult to muster when faced with the aggressor, hostility and meanness. Thank you dear Valerie for this deeply challenging post and yet one we all need to enlarge our hearts to embrace. Sharon

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