Dharma is said to be complete when kindness and charity are practised as its integral components in addition to other basic principles of right conduct. Kindness and charity (dāna) are hailed as exemplary virtues, both of which are actually rooted in compassion. There is often the tendency to mix up kindness (dayā) with compassion (karunā) from a practical perspective. Sanskrit philosophical usage, however, clearly distinguishes between these qualities.
Sanskritic wisdom teachings point out that dharma clings to the one who is a compassionate being, whereas kindness permeates through offerings whenever kindly acts are undertaken without any expectation of receiving in return. Of course, charitable intent is often closely linked with the random acts of kindness. Compassion is usually not directly mentioned as part of the standard principles of what dharma entails. This is because compassion is a state of being achieved through introspection based on transcending passion.
Kindness is said to be more rooted in compassion when the nature of the offering is impersonal. Herein impersonal implies impartiality with regard to name and fame. Similarly, charity is said to be rooted in compassion when the recipients are worthy of their cause and the charitable intent is pure and impersonal. In both cases impersonal also relates to the absence of an urge to seek recognition by the practitioner. One may participate repeatedly in random acts of kindness which will surely purify the heart. However, this does not automatically make one compassionate.
A kind person may be responding to a particular situation but might not fully relate to what is the cause of suffering. Kindness surely harbours a giving quality and beautifully turns a situation into an opportunity to practise a virtue. However, this does not necessarily allow the kind person to be anchored in a state of compassion. Kindness might not itself yield to forgiveness whereas compassion itself teaches how to forgive.
Similarly, humility should not be mistaken as a sign of compassion. Humility is the fruit of seeking ripened by the light of knowledge. Humility might make one polite but not necessarily compassionate. Similarly, a genuine donor supporting a noble cause cannot be deemed to be established in compassion based simply on the charitable or hospitable intent.
Compassion is an internal freedom wherein the compassionate one can fully relate to what is residing in the heart of the sufferer (or enjoyer). It implies that the compassionate one has overridden all experiences which bring about afflictive consequences. The compassionate one naturally exhibits integrated behavior in all interactions. Such a person attains an incredible capacity to relate to all emotions, cope with all contradictions and exhibit an extraordinary maturity of personality as if knowing about all kinds of experiences. There is a smooth efficiency and effectiveness in all actions guided by an expanded vision.
The creativity of such a person is a source of inspiration to all others and they teach everyone around them when and how to let go. A higher yoga of balance emanates from their wisdom, wherein raw passions of reaction and overreaction are overridden so effortlessly. Therefore a compassionate being is neither enamoured by the world nor needing to be critical of the worldly ways.
While kindness might subside somewhat after the act and might rise again at an appropriate opportunity, compassion is said to be a state of knowing whereupon the evenness of mind exudes a natural benevolence. A general attitude of kindness is helpful in preparing oneself towards compassion. It is the compassionate one who graces all around with equanimity and deep understanding.
Kindness and other virtues practised over time can mature into compassion provided there is the cultivation of dispassion (vairāgya) through mindful disengagement from worldly distractions. Herein the burden of growth into a state of compassion rests upon those who are so-called highly evolved.
The challenge of compassion poses an interesting enigma. The contact of our subtle sense organs with the objects of the world guided by the condition of mind, ego and intellect manifests the experience of pleasure, pain and stupefaction. The capacities and limitations of the subtle sense organs determine the nature and degree of the experience.
Obviously the ability to experience is markedly different between species based on their evolution. The more highly evolved is the intelligence, the greater is the range of pleasure and pain. The wider is the swing of pleasure and pain, the greater is the burden of achieving compassion. This is why the wisdom teachings urge a server to recognize the value of aiming higher at nobler actions and thus help transcend passion. Dharma teaches that the ambition to succeed should be measured against the wisdom of right action. Moreover, the passion to achieve must disengage from the fruits of the labour for real success to prevail.
Yoga philosophy teaches a beautiful way to compassion. Of course, it rests in the understanding of the trinity – passion, dispassion and compassion. Dispassion towards worldly allurement is the support for persistent practice (abhyāsa). Herein practice implies a gathered focus on the right action that prevents derailment from a higher path. Regularly practising proven meditation techniques or earnestly praying for greater benevolence would be deemed as persistent practice.
Such practice brings about spiritual clarity and discriminative wisdom. Furthermore, consistent spiritual practice aids dispassion. Meditation takes hold when dispassion and persistent practice are both invoked. Of course, dispassion matures in stages based on understanding the consequences of worldly engagements and due to the spiritual clarity gained from introspective practices.
Dispassion is not necessarily an antithesis to spirited participation. On the contrary, the right energy is applied behind a performance. So much so that dispassion ushers in a way to become a mighty performer, until one reaches the highest stages and naturally withdraws from the need to act externally.
Dispassion stops the flow of the mind towards seeking pleasure and prevents entrapment from the realms of passion. Dispassion allows a practitioner to realize that the opposite of pain is not pleasure, but the absence of pain. Deeply cultivated dispassion helps rid oneself of misery and further strengthens spiritual practice, even leading to the transition from steady ideation to calmness, from one-pointed focus to tranquility. Dispassion towards worldly attractions cultivates compassion for the world; such is the experience.
This is verifiable and visible among sages, saints and noble servers. Through dispassion one transcends passion into compassion. And this requires consistent spiritual practice. A compassionate one certainly deems enjoyment of pleasure to be insatiable. A compassionate being discerns bliss from pleasure. Compassion makes repose in bliss attainable. A compassionate one is always kind.