Man is a social animal. He cannot survive alone for long. He has an inherent need to connect with people at physical and emotional level. This is because he has evolved into a higher stage where his consciousness has developed a spiritual aspect apart from the material aspect which other animals have.
Spiritual consciousness relates to being aware of non – material or abstract aspects of experience. This includes emotions, desires, passions and above all, the need to connect to the higher-self inside us, which is said to be the state of self – realization which some saints have called Nirvana or Moksha.
“Man is inherently good” i.e. “Summum Bonum” is an ancient term which tries to explain the universal quality of the higher self. This higher self is the point of consciousness from where the highest values such as empathy and compassion flow.
Compassion and empathy are closely related. While the latter means putting oneself in other’s shoes and feeling what the other is feeling, the former goes a step ahead and generates an urge to improve the others state of being. We may define compassion as the ability to feel other’s suffering and to have in urge to alleviate other’s suffering.
These values, especially compassion, have an important role in human life. Human life involves physiological, material and spiritual, needs, expectations and goals as well as the attempts to fulfill these. The harmonization of these desires and goals requires a strong value base to avoid wavering of mind to the extremes of greed, lust and hatred.
Modern world is the quintessential materialistic world where forces of industrialism and capitalism dominate to create a never ending demand for goods and services. Average life has become a monotony where earning a living has become the goal of life and because higher standards of living demand higher incomes, there is a frenzy for making more and more money.
This money is being spent on unnecessary and socially dictated goods which not only are drifting the society away from its basic spiritual needs but are also harming the environment at alarming levels. Fast fashion products, SUV cars, high end mobile phones, etc. to name a few.
It is notable that business tycoons have started realizing that accumulation of wealth was never the aim of life and doesn’t amount to contentment. Wealth is only a means for achieving other ends and these ends do not lie in material aggrandizement of oneself. Bill and Melinda foundation is a significant example in this regard. It funds various NGOs throughout the world for socio – economic development in under-developed and developing countries.
This brings us back to the importance of compassion is human life. The contentment one gets by driving himself by compassion is deeper and more satiating than the superficial satisfaction that one may get by following the lust for material wealth.
Not only personal contentment, but compassion also leads to contentment of others because its aim is to help others. This in-turn has the power to create a happier, more fulfilled and harmonious society. This deep understanding was gained by Lord Buddha when he included Karuna (Compassion) & Maitri (friendship) in his four noble qualities (Aruya Guna). His doctrine of non – violence against humans as well as animals was also on the same lines.
Mauryan king Ashoka, as an enlighten benevolent despot, tried to ban animal sacrifice and took various welfare measures for poor, old and destitute as a part of his Dhamma policy which was a consequence of his transformation post the Kalinga war. Compassion for the victims of war, as he mentions in his 13th Rock edict, made him change the nature of his state from war state (Bheri Ghosa) to a state that tried to conquer by Dhamma (Dhamma Ghosh).
In medieval times, various Bhakti and Sufi saints repeatedly stressed upon compassion, especially for poor & backward. Guru Nanak Dev believed that one should serve humanity to serve God and also promoted community kitchen (Langar) on his doctrine of ‘Vandd Chak’. The very same compassion drove Swami Vivekanand to establish Ramakrishna Mission in modern times.
In contemporary world Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa are the greatest examples of ardent supporters of compassion. While Mahatma Gandhi, in his concept of Satyagraha, would go as far as advocating compassion for one’s enemy, Mother Teresa wouldn’t mind holding a leper’s hand and staying with him to support him even if it led to her own infection with leprosy.
Compassion is the basis of life which can be seen throughout from birth to death. A child cannot grow up healthy without her mother’s compassion for him/her. A family can’t survive if the parents are not compassionately earning a living for their children. The compassion of grandparents towards their families drives them to use their wisdom to guide the younger generations on the tortuous paths of life.
In public administration, compassion is as an indispensable value. Civil servants cannot act honestly, responsibly and effectively if they are not driven by compassion to work in public interest and solve the problems of the marginalized.
Corporate Social Responsibility, similarly, tries to inculcate compassion into the corporate sector for alleviating societal problems by taking active role in development. Hence it is being incorporated in legal structures throughout the world.
Indian culture has always believed in the concept of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ i.e. whole world in one family. Similarly, ‘Sarve Bhavantu Sukhina’ and ‘Sarve Santu Niramaya’ (May all be happy and healthy) are nothing but the timeless wisdom of our saints based on compassion for all.
Hence compassion is the soul of human life. Without this the humans die spiritually and became mechanical and superficial in their lives. It is therefore important for everyone to realize this inherent virtue to make the world a better place to live in.
“Kisi ki muskurahaton pe ho nisar,
Kisi ka dard mil sake to le udhaar,
Kisi ke vaaste ho tere dil mein pyaar,
Jeena isi ka naam hai.”