What Is Compassion?
Today, the entire globe but especially certain parts of the world are passing through a critical turn, which is more dangerous than ever. The destruction of the power balance, chaotic situations and utter confusion at any moment seem to be inescapable. Communities and diverse groups within communities live with apparently endless anger, hatred, and detestation, pursuing plans of murder and complete destruction that would never previously been held possible. Nations and all segments within nations wish to get rid of the people or groups that they see as “other,” as if the “other” were merely poultry affected by the bird flu pandemic which should be exterminated. Full of ill-will, these are always making malicious complaints and whipping up the latest scenarios of hostility.
Having dropped love even from their vocabulary, the individuals raised in such a world are not aware of love, and antipathy is their most vivid and unfading idea. As such, they can never feel enough hatred. They never become tired of rancor and cannot get over their anger. Never even attempting to manage their anger, they incessantly run after wickedness, one evil deed after the other, under the influence of these evil thoughts, and they try to make the wrong seem right. Committing so much wickedness, a person like this could squeeze the lifelong malevolence of the tyrants of former times into a couple of years, even into several months. He or she is paralyzed in terms of faculties, disabled in terms of reasoning, and so lost that she or he can neither think healthily nor can behave normally. Nor is he or she consistent. Bursting into anger, they sometimes destroy and reduce everything around them to ashes, and sometimes they are even in unrelenting rage and fury to the point that they eat out their own heart.
This is the case with individuals, societies, and those holding power in many parts of the world today. Many of them seem as if they have been waging war against security and peace; indeed, they not only blow up their own state of peace but also disturb public security. Even worse is that they turn to the use of force and violence, when those seeing them might think that they are fighting for freedom and liberty. They live like those who are accursed by the malediction of the oppressed, and are then thrown out like a devil expelled.
This is the reality, and we can neither put an end to their boiling with rage nor obstruct their belligerence. Neither means nor power have we to put out the kindling of instigation that hems us about. Without doubt, however, we can and will offer to those who have not completely lost their humanity the elixir of compassion. So, we will try to surmount the handicaps through this elixir and persist, holding to it.
Compassion has turned away evil instigations countless times up to the present era through the most sincere efforts of the merciful. It has saved humanity from dipping into the depths of destruction. Very many times has it turned chasms, which look like pits of hell, into gardens of paradise.
Compassion, which can be defined as loving and caring for others without expecting anything in return, helping the oppressed and the wronged, and treating them with extreme kindness and sincerity, is a manifestation of the godly virtues, heavenly breath, and a further name for the warmth of all mothers.
Those fortunate ones who have compassion in their heart always offer their hands to those in need of mercy with no expectation of any return. They try their best to reach out to the miserable and the wretched, sympathize with their suffering and loneliness, and become a source of comfort for them. This feeling of compassion becomes sight for those who are spiritually blind and hearing for the deaf and insensitive, causing them all recognize what they need above all. Even those tyrants roaring with anger become spellbound by the force of the silent proclamation of compassion and start questioning themselves, even if it is only for a moment. Pointing to compassion as one of the distinguishing characteristics of being a believer, God’s Messenger, upon whom be peace and blessings, said,
“He is not of us who does not show mercy to the young, nor honor the elderly.”
Compassion has such a great power that it softens the hearts of the pitiless; the obstinate come to heel by it, and even the worst feeling of ill-will surrenders to compassion. If there is such an elixir to obviate enmity and abhorrence, it is nothing but compassion, and again if there is anything that can invert animosity, anger, and violence completely, it is nothing other than compassion. A compassionate individual is like those people of heart resembling angels that speak the language of the realm beyond; they are like fire-fighters in putting out the rage boiling like hell. As such people speak the language of compassion, oppression and enmity become dumbstruck; the hands of those whose mind is focused only on destruction are bound up; many of the misguided are guided, but those who obstinately reject being guided to the right way are only divinely penalized because of their blind wrong-headedness.
Compassion is such a tender feeling that it opens up new prospects. It is only through compassion that the compassionate one not only receives a share in the happiness, peace, and pleasure of others but also shows feeling of sympathy for their sufferings, with an ardent desire to help. Social relations improve quicker in an atmosphere where compassion prevails, and the solidarity of communities is built up by its presence in them. Everyone in such a community embraces the other with loving affection. Individuals and groups of people in such a community turn out to be models of geniality and sincerity, as if they lead a life of competition among themselves to conquer hearts. In this way, bonds of love and affection between people grow stronger, and the immeasurable pleasure of living for others is truly felt.
Tackling the issue from a wider perspective, compassion is of supreme significance if it means feeling keenly and facing bravely the grave sufferings of people, helping them eliminate their suffering, and even removing anticipated sources of distress and replacing them with joy and happiness. A person whose heart beats with the pulse of mercy is so full of compassion for others that he or she approaches very gently all people and events. She or he embraces those in misery like a compassionate mother taking her little ones into her bosom. He or she constantly circles around those in dire need and protection like a mother bird beating her wings to return to the nest to feed and protect her chicks. She or he lives for others, takes all risks in order to save them from harm, and denies himself or herself for them to the point of risking his or her own life.
Indeed, if we contemplate existence deeply, and if we lend an ear to what it whispers from within, we will see compassion embracing everything and the melody of compassion will be heard all around. The universe and all things are essentially woven out of compassion, and what brings created things their essential beauty is compassion, indeed. The trees, for instance, are embodied in concrete forms out of divine compassion, and their fruits are, again, the embodiments of God’s mercy and compassion. Likewise, a human being is a mirror of divine mercy, and faith is luminous divine compassion. This fleeting world is a means of eternal bliss, and the other world is the exhibition of compassion in its entire splendor. The beginning and end of all things is indeed mercy and compassion.
If the enlightening narratives of such guiding figures as the prophets, the saintly scholars, and the friends of God are truly comprehended, it will clearly be seen that compassion effervesces throughout their luminous lives without ceasing. They have lived as the heroes of compassion, have conducted themselves always in and with compassion, and rested in compassion. This is so, for if compassion is a luminous vertical passage elevating one to the heavens, then those whose hearts beat with compassion are like the larks of the vertiginous elevation. While such blessed travelers riding a heavenly steed granted by divine providence are never seen stranded, those whose hearts beat with hatred, grudge, and ruthlessness never reach their target at all. As was reported by God’s Messenger, an immoral woman entered Paradise because she took pity and gave some water to a dog that was dying of thirst, whilst an ill-fated woman, who was so cruel to her cat that she did not let it go out, eventually starving it to death, was condemned to hell. In this respect, Paradise is a pavilion of compassion, while hell is a dungeon of wrath and hatred. Just as every virtuous deed performed here in this world will be waiting for the one who performed it in Paradise, every bad deed will be watching for the ill-fated one who is earning hell by its commission.
Even though compassion and hatred are both present as realities in this world, it is indeed compassion which is the essence of all existence. Were it not for compassion as the essence of creation, human beings or any other thing would not come into existence nor would they remain in existence. Without it, crushing and collapsing would follow one upon the other, and all existence would turn into a spiral of chaos. Lamentations of misery and desolation would be heard everywhere, cries of grief from atrocity and savagery would be sensed, and the entire world would turn into a place of mourning. If we have existed until now and will continue to exist, it is because of the compassion of the All-Merciful. If we are those who love others and whom others love, it is due to His blessing and mercy.
Beyond everything else, it is the compassion that invigorates our hearts that triggers humane feelings, and again it is nothing but compassion which drives us in our inner world to do good, to welcome and to help others. Under the light of divine mercy and compassion, a bosom full of compassion displays a committed generosity, has pure and fine manners, and always acts in sincerity. One with compassion moves on the path of love, and is spurred to action in goodness and benevolence on this way. In accordance with the extent of such people’s compassion, God Almighty turns towards them, expands the immensity of their bosom, and bestows them with exceptional blessings. I hope days that shall fill us with compassion and that will save us from crude behavior are not far in the distance.
By M. Fethullah Gülen
The Fountain, May – June 2008, Issue 63