From "A Thousand Names for Joy" by Byron Katie
Some people think that compassion means feeling another person's pain. That's nonsense. It's not possible to feel another person's pain. You imagine what you'd feel if you were in that person's shoes, and you feel your own projection. Who would you be without your story? Pain-free, happy, and totally available if someone needs you—a listener, a teacher in the house, a Buddha in the house, the one who lives it. As long as you think there's a you and a me, let's get the bodies straight. What I love about separate bodies is that when you hurt, I don't—it's not my turn. And when I hurt, you don't. Can you be there for me without putting your own suffering between us? Your suffering can't show me the way. Suffering can only teach suffering.
The Buddhists say that it's important to recognize the suffering in the world, and that's true, of course. But if you look more deeply, even that is a story. It's a story to say that there is any suffering in the world. Suffering is imagined, because we haven't adequately questioned our thoughts. I am able to be present with people in extreme states of torment without seeing their suffering as real. I'm in the position of being totally available to help them see what I see, if that's what they want. They're the only ones who can change, but I can be present, with kind words and the power of inquiry.
It's amazing how many people believe that suffering is a proof of love. If I don't suffer when you suffer, they think, it means that I don't love you. How can that possibly be true? Love is serene; it's fearless. If you're busy projecting what someone's pain must feel like, how can you be fully present with her? How can you hold her hand and love her with all your heart as she moves through her experience of pain? Why would she want you to be in pain, too? Wouldn't she rather have you present and available? You can't be present for people if you believe that you're feeling their pain. If a car runs over someone and you project what that must feel like, you're paralyzed. But sometimes in a crisis like that, the mind loses its reference, it can't project anymore, you don't think, you just act, you run over and pick up the car before you have time to think This isn't possible. It happens in a split second. Who would you be without your story? The car is up in the air.
Sadness is always a sign that you're believing a stressful thought that isn't true for you. It's a constriction, and it feels bad. Conventional wisdom says differently, but the truth is that sadness isn't rational, it isn't a natural response, and it can't ever help you. It just indicates the loss of reality, the loss of the awareness of love. Sadness is the war with what is. It's a tantrum. You can experience it only when you're arguing with God. When the mind is clear, there isn't any sadness. There can't be.
If you move into situations of loss in a spirit of surrender to what is, all you experience is a profound sweetness and an excitement about what can come out of the apparent loss. And once you question the mind, once the stressful story is seen for what it is, there's nothing you can do to make it hurt. You see that the worst loss you've experienced is the greatest gift you can have. When the story arises again—"She shouldn't have died" or "He shouldn't have left"—it's experienced with a little humor, a little joy. Life is joy, and if you understand the illusion arising, you understand that it's you arising, as joy.
What does compassion look like? At a funeral, just eat the cake. You don't have to know what to do. It's revealed to you. Someone comes into your arms, and the kind words speak themselves; you're not doing it. Compassion isn't a doing. Whether or not you're suffering over their suffering, you're standing or you're sitting. But one way you're comfortable, the other way you're not.
You don't have to feel bad to act kindly. On the contrary: the less you suffer, the kinder you naturally become. And if compassion means wanting others to be free of suffering, how can you want for others what you won't give to yourself?
I read an interview with a well-known Buddhist teacher in which he described how appalled and devastated he felt while watching the planes hit the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. While this reaction is very popular, it is not the reaction of an open mind and heart. It has nothing to do with compassion. It comes from believing unquestioned thoughts. He believed, for example, "This shouldn't be happening" or "This is a terrible thing." It was thoughts like these that were making him suffer, not the event itself. He was devastating himself with his unquestioned thoughts. His suffering had nothing to do with the terrorists or the people who died. Can you take this in? Here was a man dedicated to the Buddha's way—the end of suffering—who in that moment was terrorizing his own mind, causing his own grief. I felt compassion for people who projected fearful meanings onto that picture of a plane hitting a building, who killed themselves with their unquestioned thoughts and took away their own state of grace.
The end of suffering happens in this very moment, whether you're watching a terrorist attack or doing the dishes. And compassion begins at home. Because I don't believe my thoughts, sadness can't exist. That's how I can go to the depths of anyone's suffering, if they invite me, and take them by the hand and walk them out of it into the sunlight of reality. I've taken the walk myself.
I've heard people say that they cling to their painful thoughts because they're afraid that without them they wouldn't be activists for peace. "If I felt completely peaceful," they say, "why would I bother taking action at all?" My answer is "Because that's what love does." To think that we need sadness or outrage to motivate us to do what's right is insane. As if the clearer and happier you get, the less kind you become. As if when someone finds freedom, she just sits around all day with drool running down her chin. My experience is the opposite. Love is action. It's clear, it's kind, it's effortless, and it's irresistible.