» Articles Index    

Compassion: The Basis for Peace and Understanding

Radha Burnier

A lecture given at the European Theosophical Congress in Helsinki, Finland on 17 July 2007, and published in the September 2007 edition of The Theosophist

Radha BurnierI am very happy to be with all of you on this occasion. Today we are going to consider compassion as the basis for peace and understanding. Actually com­passion is the basis for living as a true human being. What we generally regard as living is only a mechanical part of human life; this must take place and proceed as a ground for compassion to grow, foster, and flower. Only when a new movement begins in the mind will it take human beings to the fullness of their own potential. This is not of course the occasion for discussing what that potential will be.

We will start by considering what compassion may mean. The word itself suggests a passionate feeling for what one comes into contact with. But what is meant by a passionate feeling? It surely refers to a feeling that comes from the oneness that we speak about in contemplating Theosophy. This oneness is not just mental; nor is it a mere feeling, however deep it may be. It is in fact an all-inclusive perception which makes one realise the needs of others, even if others do not understand their own lives. It is a passion, not merely a feeling. Feelings can be superficial and change from time to time; that is the nature of feeling. But the pas­sion that works for and through all people and things is something which never changes. It only seeks to bring about the progress and perfection of all beings.

Progress and perfection have to do not only with the physical and mechanical side of an individual, but with a sense of unity that arises from the depths. They demand that everyone should enjoy happiness and beatitude. That is a feel­ing that exists at one with all that is. Therefore when there is compassion, it seeks not only the satisfaction of physical, emotional, and intellectual needs, but asks for a long view, if not a clear view, of each person's growth. In line with this view, all individuals will grow and flower according to their own natures, but in unity with that of others. This makes of course the whole to be much more than its parts. The whole is unimaginably beautiful, showing dif­ferent facets at different times; coming to that is part of human destiny, when human beings really become what they are meant to be from the point of view of evolution.

Before we come to this point of view we have to learn many things. It appears that the process takes place slowly. It takes many incarnations before each person goes through various experiences, and finally derives the inner knowledge that begins to throw light on the experiences. This process, looked at through ignorant eyes, appears not to exist at all, or that experience itself does not seem to take place as imagined, and each incarnation appears to be meaningless. But even then the soul — a term we can use for want of any other — recognises some aspect of truth without knowing it at the outer level. The value of an incarnation after a long journey in which there are only a few events, is that human beings come to the point where they begin to realise what they have to learn. Even then they learn many things about life at the physical and other levels which do not help them very much. But they understand that they have to learn even when they do not know what is really important in the learning.

One of the things that humans begin to learn about is compassion through suf­fering of various kinds. They learn that suffering is bound to ensue when their attitude does not have the quality of compassion. When there is compassion it sows the seeds for peace and under­standing to grow. This process takes a long time. The seeds lie under the ground and are not seen. They may have to pass through a period of lying fallow before germinating, coming out of the ground of the unknown. Similarly, the result of practising compassion may remain un­seen; then it emerges out of the unknown into view, and the persons realise that it is the only way to real peace and under­standing among people with varied characteristics. This we may call the beginning of a new pattern.

The quality of compassion as it grows makes the earth seem to be a place of more beauty and richness. There is an outward change and the qualities of peace and understanding begin to spread. Without the growth of compassion within, in the heart and mind, the impact it makes will not be felt by others who come into contact with its source. They will see just the ordinary human being, perhaps show­ing some differences at the outer level. When compassion comes to the point where its impact is felt in the outer world, then there is correspondingly an inner richness which grows and makes itself known through qualities like peace and understanding.

Peace and understanding are generally by-products of a compassionate attitude; they refer to the normal response of a per­son in whom peace is predominant. There can be peace even when another person does wrong. Those who have understand­ing respond peacefully to everything, even to the remarks or the actions of a person who lacks the qualities which make for peace. This is because they know that in the long run even those who do not know what to do in the present will learn.

The story of the Buddha faced with the violence of Angulimala is an example meant to show this as a fact. Angulimala was a man who was used to robbing people and killing them whenever it suited him, and he came to the Buddha with that attitude, while everybody else had fled away. The Buddha was so digni­fied and compassionate that the violence in Angulimala ebbed away and the crim­inal tendencies became converted into attitudes of devotion and aspiration to learn from the Buddha. Such stories should not be taken literally; they have to be regarded as symbolic.

Even terror or uncertainty or bad in­tentions drop away in the course of time when they are opposed by compassion and the gentle qualities which belong to an attitude which is spiritual or tending in that direction. The good is eternal, while evil is ephemeral. The good will always triumph, and people who are truly com­passionate know this. This is one of the important teachings given by the Buddha in a variety of ways.

Both understanding and a sense of peace will become part of any civilisation where people are in the process of as­similating the teaching that compassion is a fundamental virtue. It is therefore to be regarded as a sound basis for all things that need to be done during our course through the physical world. Compassion is not a subject for religious people alone, nor is it to be practised by others when they are feeling on the whole more sympathetic towards another person. It is a quality which must be practised at all times with a full assurance that the result will be for the progress and perfection of all men and women.



Top | Articles-index | Homepage

To Home Page