What Is Compassion?

A pink lotus flower and lily pads with saturated color

When asked by his attendant Ananda”Would it be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is a part of our practice?” The Buddha replied, “No. It would not be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is part of our practice. It would be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is all of our practice.”


We might consider compassion an emotion we have not felt enough. We are certainly not saints and we are very caught up in our own narratives. Yet still we all feel compassion, in ways small and large. Whether we might feel the urge to lessen an animals pain, or a comfort a weeping child, loving kindness is a quality we have experienced before.

The Dalai Lama says that compassion is inherent in our nature. It begins with birth, and our mother. Compassion comes with a sense of selflessness, the sort a mother feels for her baby. At such a young age we experience a great amount of love. We start life with this sort of relationship. We are small and helpless, and someone cares for us when we cannot use words or walk, or hold up our heads.

But what about the idea of self love?

Self compassion is a radical thought. Why worry about “loving” ourselves? Isn’t that selfish? Isn’t that what ego is all about? No. I would argue that self loathing is just another form of self obsession and that in accepting ourselves we disrupt this pattern. This pattern of: “Why can’t I be more ___? Why can’t I stop these habitual thoughts? Why can’t I be less full of ego? Why can’t I be good?” Instead of fighting to get over ourselves or putting ourselves down- we forgive ourselves.

A sort of healing takes place when we stop and say, “Its okay.” “You are still worthy of love and happiness, regardless of your negative qualities” Besides, we know ourselves best, and that means we judge ourselves very harshly. By creating a wave of love for ourselves, and beginning where we are – we find that all of this rubbish, this “baggage” is compost for growth.

It is what makes us beautiful.

How could we ever begin to love someone else unconditionally unless we offer this acceptance to the one we know best? It begins with compassion for ourselves. Right now.

Not when we are successful, or when we break our bad habits, or when we achieve something in the future. But now, when we think we deserve it the very least. Now, when we are hurting and judging and afraid.

If we can begin to appreciate the good qualities about ourselves, and view the difficult ones as compost- we are finally at peace with ourselves. Instead of falsely holding up things we think define us like our jobs or social standing; instead of thinking these external labels are what make us good, we instead draw attention to the inherent beauties we have. Our patience, our kindness, our sense of justice, our ability to constantly rise from depression and sadness.

When we appreciate our inherent goodness, we are celebrating the inherent goodness of all beings. When we are experiencing our own suffering, we are sharing in the suffering of all beings. When we feel compassion for ourselves, we feel compassion for all beings. In this way, it is all of our practice.