Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it.
Years ago I met someone out in New Jersey who taught mathematics at Rutgers University and was a few years away from retirement. He was an intelligent old man with a deep heart. He once told me how when he was a young boy he'd heard Einstein used to walk the streets very early in the morning to get fresh air while going unnoticed and so being the precocious boy that he was he snuck out of the house very early one morning, took the public transportation out into the area where Einstein lived, and looked for him.
After some looking he bumped into a man in a hat and large coat and on confronting him found indeed, it was Einstein out taking a pre-sunrise walk. Einstein, without missing a beat, befriended him and they spent the early morning hours sitting on the sidewalk talking about mathematics.
Descriptions of Einstein's friendly and compassionate nature are not limited to my old friend but are rather ubiquitous. Sure, his head was in mathematics, but his heart was with the average man. And so I listen.
Einstein once said, "A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."
I saw a lot of Einstein's compassionate nature come through my friend who'd sent me a plane ticket to visit him. I'd never traveled to the East Coast, much less traveled on my own before, and when I arrived he treated me with a kindness I've rarely experienced in my short life.
The Dalai Lama once said, "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."
Wow. Can you imagine a life where you're being compassionate towards all other sentient beings around you whether their existence triggers attraction, repulsion, or neutrality in yourself? Could you imaging being compassionate with yourself when you'd rather avoid your issues, ignore your mistakes, or drown your fears in whatever vice is readily available? Can you imagine a world where compassion moves us to treat others with kindness and moves them to treat others with kindness and moves them to treat others with kindness and moves them to treat others with kindness?
Maybe you can't imagine that. It's hard to see how compassion can heal ourselves and others. Sometimes even Buddhist teacher's will throw aside the logical rhetoric and simply throw out the slogan, "Just do it!" And for some that works. For others?
Helen Keller once wrote, "Although the world is very full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it."
So which role will you fulfill: The cause of suffering, the one experiencing suffering, or the cessation of suffering?
What if being part of the solution isn't big enough for you?
Consider the words of Molleen Matsumura who said, "Reason guides our attempt to understand the world about us. Both reason and compassion guide our efforts to apply that knowledge ethically, to understand other people, and have ethical relationships with other people."
Not convinced yet?"When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it's bottomless, that it doesn't have any resolution, that this heart is huge, vast, and limitless. You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there, as well as how much space." - Pema Chodron