Compassion is an oft-overlooked yet vital part of the Hindu and Tantric path toward personal happiness and liberation. In the Devi Mahatmyam, the Gods praise Mahadevi (literally, the Great Goddess) in all Her forms with a famous and powerful hymn called the Devi Suktam. One of the verses from the hymn praises Her as compassion (daya):
ya devi sarvabhutesu dayarupena samsthita |
namastasyai namastasyai namastasyai namo namah ||
Devi Mahatmyam 5.65-67: To that Goddess who exists in all things as the form of compassion, I adore her, I adore her, I adore her, again and again!
The Goddess is compassion, She is manifested in all things as compassion. What does this mean in a real day-to-day sense?
For the Tantric sadhaka/sadhika (practitioner), compassion is vital for spiritual development. Compassion keeps us from becoming too self-involved, helps us avoid becoming numb to the suffering of others as we focus on our own spiritual development. Through compassion, we can develop a broadened sense of consciousness, and we can cultivate the awareness that we are not separate from our fellow beings.
When we understand compassion as an active state of awareness, we can take action to help alleviate suffering. When we remove ourselves from the necessity and the high of seeing immediate results or being thanked for our duty to our fellow creatures (plant, animal, or human), the energy spent in these actions helps liberate us through burning karmas and further releasing us from unnecessary desire.
In this way, we use compassion fiercely. Compassion is not a passive state, but an active one. When we force ourselves to be ruthlessly compassionate, we must release mere pity and complacency, and instead cultivate a clear view toward the most compassionate stance we can take. Karuna, the rasa or emotional essence of compassion for those in distress, is not about losing oneself in loneliness, fear, pity, and heartache about the lot of ourselves or the world around us. For the Tantric sadhaka, it is a matter of looking at what is true, what is practical, and what compassionate action or non-action one can take. Being compassionate sometimes means stepping back and doing nothing – a conscious, active choice of non-action. Other times, it means speaking up, doing something, helping, or, with kindness, speaking difficult truth that is necessary to be heard. It means understanding that it is more important to be compassionate than to be right. And it means finding kind and compassionate ways to express yourself in the moment, rather than swallowing your words out of fear, whether you are speaking on behalf of someone else, or speaking on your own behalf.
When we understand compassion as an active state of awareness, we can take action to help alleviate suffering.
And we can exercise this compassion toward ourselves, as well. We all have difficult times in our lives, and it can be tempting to beat ourselves up, to pity ourselves and drift into depression, or to use our difficulty as an excuse to behave in ways that may harm ourselves or others. These are all the shadow play of the wily ego.
In truth, we must be fearless with our compassion, even toward ourselves. We must develop clear vision, and learn how to compassionately identify our own shortcomings and problems, without attaching judgment. Even as we do these things for ourselves, we must develop this attitude toward others, as well. Remember Mahadevi, who, even locked in battle with Her greatest enemies who sought Her destruction, wanted only liberation and blessings for her enemies as well as her allies, recognizing that they were all nothing less than Her own Self. When we are in an argument, when we feel we have been wronged, the answer is not to get even or take revenge. Rather, the answer is to stand back from the situation and see how we might be most compassionate to ourselves and the other person. Compassion may involve holding that person accountable for their actions, or it may mean letting it go. With guidance from our Atman, our highest Self, we can work on taking the long view. Compassion also means learning from our mistakes with gratitude, and accepting every moment as one of learning.
When we cultivate compassion fearlessly, at first it can seem strange. We might feel like we’re fighting with ourself. But this is just the struggle with the ego. When you learn to be conscious, fearless, and truly compassionate, then you realize that every action and reaction is a choice. When you choose compassion, you begin to release the shackles of egoic perception, and become more free. You can experience love and divine grace more readily and openly.
You can meditate on this concept of compassion, concentrating on each stage for one to ten minutes, depending on your ability. With each stage of the meditation, radiate love, gratitude, and compassion, and ask forgiveness for any harm you may have caused intentionally or unintentionally.
- First, meditate on radiating love and compassion toward the ones you love unconditionally – children and pets are ideal. When you are finished, release them completely.
- Second, meditate on sending love and compassion to the ones you love most dearly – for example, your partner, your parents, your close friends and family, your gurus, etc. When you are finished, release them completely.
- Third, meditate on sending love and compassion to your acquaintances and distant relatives, such as co-workers, friends, and so forth. When you are finished, release them completely.
- Fourth, meditate on sending love and compassion to the world in general, to all those you know and don’t know. When you are finished, release them completely.
- Finally, if you are able, meditate on sending love and compassion to your enemies, to anyone who has harmed you intentionally or unintentionally. Ask for forgiveness for any harm you may have caused them intentionally or unintentionally. When you are finished, release them completely.
- When you are finished, radiate love to the Divine Mother, and accept Her love in return. Allow yourself to open to Her grace, and when you are finished, release all of that energy and all of the fruits of this meditation back to Her, saying OM CHANDIKAYAI NAMAH!
Questions for you!
How will you cultivate compassion in your life?
What was a moment in your life that was difficult to express compassion toward yourself or another person? How might you have reacted differently?