Suffering and Compassion

Seen at Sujatin's blog.

Seeing the suffering in the world around us and in our own bodies and
minds, we begin to understand suffering not only as an individual
problem, but as a universal experience. It is one of the aspects of
being alive. The question that then comes to mind is: If compassion
arises from the awareness of suffering, why isnt the world a more
compassionate place? The problem is that often our hearts are not open
to feel the pain. We move away from it, close off, and become defended.
By closing ourselves off from suffering, however, we also close
ourselves to our own wellspring of compassion. We dont need to be
particularly saintly in order to be compassionate. Compassion is the
natural response of an open heart, but that wellspring of compassion
remains capped as long as we turn away from or deny or resist the truth
of what is there. When we deny our experience of suffering, we move
away from what is genuine to what is fabricated, deceptive, and

~ Joseph Goldstein, Seeking the Heart of Wisdom

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  1. In other words, the world is the way it is because the best defense is a good offense? Hmmmm.

  2. This is one of the reasons, I think, that Jesus encourages us to turn the other cheek. To not try to close ourselves off from pain or do something to make it feel avenged or justified, but to accept it and remain open for more, if that is what is to come.

  3. This takes a kind of faith and bravery that few people possess. I think God leads us into the valley of the shadow for exactly this reason — we sure as hell wouldn't journey there if we had any say. I think the irony is this: whether one has faith or character, we are our own worst enemy, and our own actions, especially if we believe ourselves to be the captain of our souls, will land us in the very darkest part of that same valley. Thus the only thing we can really control is our attitude… yet few people are self-aware enough to choose compassion or sympathy, preffering to scapegoat or to manipulate their way out of their pain. On the other hand, if they embrace the pain, their compassion and empathy is generally condencending and somewhat smug.
    I find i pray the word "Maranatha" a lot — "Come again, Lord Jesus."

  4. Perhaps it isn't that we defend ourselves from the evidence of suffering. Instead, maybe the problem of this lack of compassion is caused by the lack of our constant awareness of suffering around the world and our lack of interest in helping and being concerned about others. We may "hear" about Darfur or the food crisis in Haiti or the starving and orphaned children in Africa, but we soon forget what we have heard because we are too concerned about ourselves and our own lives. Sacrifice is something the majority of us do not wish to make, including me. This is something that definitely needs to changed, either for selfish or unselfish reasons.

  5. To really be aware of suffering, it has to touch us personally, I think. We forget about children in Africa, but what about suffering in our own lives? If we can't be open to that, how can we be open in any meaningful way to the suffering of others? I think that's what causes the smugness and condescension that Christianity in the Raw points out. When we are open to others suffering, but we won't let it touch us. When we hold ourselves separate. In that case, is it really compassion? Compassion means co-feeling. If you don't consent to suffer yourself, how can you really say you feel what they feel? People are much more open to pity than compassion. Compassion holds a vulnerability that most are unwilling or scared to embrace.

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