We had just finished watching Earthlings, a documentary that exposes how we as a society exploit animals, and the floor was open for anyone who would like to speak or share their thoughts in any way. My classmate Catherine went up, and she said it wasn't the first time she saw the documentary. However, whereas in the past she only saw the animals being mistreated and slaughtered, this time she also saw the people who were committing those acts of violence towards the innocent animals. Trembling and in tears, she shared with us how she coped with each violent image that was projected on the screen. She would see the animals being treated violently, and she would chant Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu; she would think of the people who were committing these acts of violence, and she would chant Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu. Scene by scene, this was how she coped. Scene by scene, her compassion unraveled.
To me, her inclusion even of those whom we perceive as committing great atrocities is what compassion is about. The wisdom of compassion is not merely to see what is readily in front us, but to see so deeply, so piercingly, that we're able to see the whole picture, to put ourselves in the position of both the victim and the perpetrator, and to understand the suffering of both. Compassion is not just a feeling, although it may arise from a feeling. Compassion is pro-active in that it seeks to understand why things are so and why people act in certain ways. Compassion is to understand how much of our collective pain is invisible or channeled as anger or hurtful actions.
Compassion is complete and unconditional. It does not in any way mean that we condone injustices or violence. It does mean, however, that we see others beyond their actions. We see so deeply, so openly, so piercingly, that we understand that what all of us ever want is to be happy, including those and especially those whose actions hurt others. Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu.