Compassion (as an aspect of love)

Compassion is about wanting others to be free of suffering.

In the Sufi church service, we say “we offer to the omniscient god, our reverence our homage and our gratitude for the light of the divine compassion” after we have read from the Buddhist scriptures. This is because the Lord Buddha saw and understood the suffering of mankind and clearly explained in his teachings how we can overcome our suffering. Because he wanted all beings to be free of suffering, he is called the compassionate Buddha.

Abdullah says that although compassion is a very high state, on a simple level it also means to do things for others and not think of ourselves all of the time. So you can start with the usual things like cheerfully helping Mum and Dad around the house, and realizing that Mum and Dad don’t enjoy having to deal with you shouting at your brother or sister over which TV channel to watch.

It is always a little bit complicated when it comes to seeing other people’s suffering and we have to be careful not to wade in to someone else’s problems when we don’t really know what we are doing. So sometimes the best thing is just to give someone quiet space to sort things out themselves.

But sometimes with bigger problems, if we are strong enough to help, then it might be important to do what we can and not just sit back.

You might have seen your parents give money for child sponsorship or to Greenpeace to help stop the destruction of forests, or help out a friend or neighbour who was having a hard time. Acts of kindness and understanding like these are related to compassion.

The first story today comes from Ch’an Buddhism.

One day, Master K’ung-yeh was traveling on the road when he met three young men who threatened him and demanded he hand over his money.

A tear came into the master’s eye.

One of the robbers cried out “The old man is so scared he is crying!”

Master K’ung-yeh said, “I’m not crying because I am scared of you. I have no fear of pain or death. The tear that came into my eye is because before me I see three young healthy men who have chosen to be robbers when they could instead have chosen an honest living.

The path you have chosen will lead you to great suffering and this fills me with sadness which is why I have a tear in my eye.

At this the three young men were moved to think about their choice and decided to give up being robbers.

Abdullah says that compassion only begins to flow through a person by the grace of God and although we can learn to be kind, compassion is really something much bigger than that. He says we can learn about compassion by reading about people who led compassionate lives, and by trying to understand the Islamic idea of Allah being compassionate and merciful.

The second story is the ‘hymn of the pearl’ from the Gnostics.

There was once a prince whose father the king sent him on a journey to a strange land and said to him “When you get there, bring back the one true pearl which is guarded by a dragon.”

The prince left the palace and eventually made it to the strange land. When he got there he went to an inn near where the pearl was being guarded by the dragon and waited to see if the dragon would fall asleep so he could get the pearl. Since he was a stranger in that land and the people there were friendly with the dragon, he didn’t tell them why he was there, and he wore rough clothes like theirs so they wouldn’t be suspicious of him.

But the people there noticed he was a bit different from them and they didn’t like that so they pretended to be his friends and persuaded him to drink their strong drink and eat their unclean food and over time the prince began to forget that he was a prince who served the king. He forgot about the pearl, and took to sleeping most of the time.

But the king knew what had happened and he was very sad about it and wanted to help the prince, so he sent a messenger to the prince with a letter which said “From your father the king, to you my son in this strange and far-off land. Awake from your sleep, and understand the words of this letter. Remember that you are a king’s son. Remember the one true pearl”.

When the prince read the letter he remembered who he was and why he had come there and was very sorry for forgetting. He decided to get to work to try to charm the dragon to sleep, and he eventually managed to do this by singing the king’s name over and over. When the dragon fell asleep the prince took the pearl, then casting away the rough clothes he had been wearing, he set off back to the palace in his father’s kingdom.

When he got back to the king’s palace he remembered once again how beautiful it was and he bowed his head before his father the king who received him joyfully.

This story shows one way in which God is compassionate towards us.

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