The Buddha has been said to be compassion however i have not seen compassion described.

  1. What does it mean to be compassionate?
  2. How is it different to love, sympathy and empathy?

1 Answer 1


How is it different to love, sympathy and empathy

There's a description of compassion, empathy, and love in the Brahmavihara article on Wikipedia,

  1. Loving-kindness (Pāli: mettā, Sanskrit: maitrī) towards all: the hope that a person will be well; "the wish that all sentient beings, without any exception, be happy."[11]
  2. Compassion (Pāli and Sanskrit: karuṇā): the hope that a person's sufferings will diminish; "the wish for all sentient beings to be free from suffering."[11]
  3. Empathetic joy (Pāli and Sanskrit: muditā): joy in the accomplishments of a person—oneself or another; sympathetic joy; "the wholesome attitude of rejoicing in the happiness and virtues of all sentient beings."[11]

What the word means in English

"Compassion" is from a Latin word, "co" meaning "with" and "pati/passio" meaning "suffer", so "compassion" means "suffer with".

For example:

  • If someone is hungry then you think, "I wouldn't like to be hungry" so you feed them.
  • If someone is being bullied then you think, "I wouldn't like to be bullied" so you stop whoever is bullying.
  • If someone is suffering for any reason then you think, "I wouldn't like to suffer for that reason" and so you try to help them.

If you're unable to help then it might mean literally suffering with: someone said of the earliest Christians that they'd love (have compassion for) each other; that if for example they didn't have enough food for two some day, then they would fast together and then eat together on the next day.

"Sympathy" is I think essentially just the same as "compassion", only it derives from Greek instead of Latin: "sym" means "with" and "pathos" means "feeling".

What the word means in Buddhism

Wikipedia's Karuṇā article seems like a fair introduction. It says,

The Pali commentaries distinguish between karuṇā and mettā in the following complementary manner: Karuna is the desire to remove harm and suffering (ahita-dukkha-apanaya-kāmatā) from others; while mettā is the desire to bring about the well-being and happiness (hita-sukha-upanaya-kāmatā) of others.

I guess that the Dhammapada includes one classic example, at the start of the chapter on Violence:

All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.

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