One of my colleagues at my university is teaching a course about “compassion.” I was asked to give several talks in her class as a guest lecturer but felt somewhat awkward every time I taught the topic. Is “compassion” something we can learn? Even if we can learn it, can we use it in a practical way? Or are these people studying theories of compassion just for the sake of theorizing?
In this rough world, many people help others by conducting “good deeds.” Why do they do these things? There are, of course, people who do it from their altruism without expecting any return. I definitely cannot imitate what they do. When I try to help someone else, there is always something behind my motivation that drives me to conduct good deeds. Even though I do not wish some material return on the surface, I will implicitly expect mental returns. It is almost impossible for me to conduct “compassionate” acts without self-satisfaction and narcissistic feelings.
Also, I am afraid to give the example of celebrities, but why do they often publicize the amount of money they donate? Some may feel “bad” if those they donated to don’t express their thanks. If it is the case, those making the donations are looking for mental rewards by preying on “pitiful” people. Of course, not everybody does good deeds in this way. It is just my imagination that comes from my jealousy of celebrities.
However, can I “try” to do something good by making the effort to do so? I think that I can perform good deeds only when I don’t intend to do them. I may model the examples of good deeds as “molds” to shape my mind and discipline myself. But, as soon as the thought of “me doing good things” sneaks into my mind, I face the danger of indulging in ecstasy caused by self-deception.
In the course, we discussed the differences between “compassion,” “sympathy,” and “empathy.” I won’t explain here how these are different, but one of the expressions often used to define “empathy” is an act like “walking in others’ shoes.” However, for me, it sounds like imagination based on an incorrect perception, because it is far from reality to regard “I” and “others” as separate existences. There are neither my nor others’ shoes.
Therefore, compassion occurs when I directly realize that “myself and other-selves are inter-connected.” When I really comprehend this fact, I can perform genuine “altruistic=selfish” practice at that time, because I discover that “I AM others.” Only through this realization can I conduct a compassionate act spontaneously in a different dimension from intellectual thinking or mental imagination.