Compassion: sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.
According to Joan Halifax, this is a trait predominantly held by women, who she describes as lotuses in a sea of fire. She encourages us to come out of our caves and partner in a powerful way with men in order to teach the skill of compassion.
Halifax has used her Buddhist philosophies with great sensitivity to work in a number of challenging environments requiring empathy, including on death row and in hospices throughout the world. She agrees with the Dalai Lama, who says love and compassion are necessities. Furthermore, she outlines the benefits of acting with kindness. Compassion enhances both neural integration and the immune system. So why not try it?
Halifax first remembers experiencing compassionate treatment from a carer at the age of four, when a virus caused her to temporarily lose her sight. Compassion, she tells us, doesn’t involve pity, fear or moral outrage. It is an inherent quality in which those practicing it display strength and don’t focus solely on outcomes.
But is compassion predominantly a female trait? East Asian Buddhists seem to have thought so; the bodhisattva of compassion, Guanyin, is depicted usually as a female figure. Guanyin’s full name, Guanshiyin, translates as ‘observing the sounds of the world.’ Legend had it that she vowed never to rest until she freed everyone in the world from their past regrets and unhappiness.
We are not Godlike, yet we all can try and develop the ability to see the world and recognise the trials in the lives of others.