What is Compassion?
Compassion is not the doing of charitable acts or social reform; it is free from sentiment, romanticism and emotional enthusiasm. It is as strong as death. It is like a great rock, immovable in the midst of confusion, misery and anxiety. Without this compassion no new culture or society can come into being. Compassion and intelligence walk together; they are not separate. Compassion acts through intelligence. It can never act through the intellect. Compassion is the essence of the wholeness of life.
From the book The Whole Movement of Life Is Learning by J. Krishnamurti — Purchase here
VIDEO: Does compassion spring from observation or thought?
Compassion comes when thought ends at its root
In a world of such violence, hatred and brutality as the present one, a word like compassion has very little meaning. We are all aware of what is going on in the world: the competition, the ambitions and frustrations, the extraordinary brutality, hatred and violence arising from the conflict between political parties, the right against the left and the left against the right. Certain words are twisted to fit expediency and have lost their meaning. There is violence in all of us, conscious or unconscious. There is aggressiveness, the desire to be or to become something, the urge to express oneself, to fulfil oneself sexually, in relationship, in writing, in painting, which are all forms of violence. There is an extraordinary amount of cruelty in a world where a small group of people takes charge of millions of others and directs their lives through tyranny. I wonder to what depth we are aware of our own cruelty, our own aggressive ambitions, our urge to fulfil ourselves at any cost.
Unless there is a complete change, a total mutation in the whole consciousness of the individual, any society built on acquisitive drives and aggression is bound to become more and more cruel, more and more tyrannical, more and more given over to materialistic values, which means that the mind will become constantly more slavish to those values. I do not know if you are aware of all this. Probably most of you read the newspapers and unfortunately you get used to it, used to reading about the cruelties, the murders, the brutalities. Reading it all every day dulls the mind and so one gets accustomed to these things. So, how do we break through the layers of this ugly, stupid, environmental conditioning that has made the mind a slave to words, and also a slave to the social structure in which we live?
Compassion is not sentiment, it is not woolly sympathy or empathy.
I feel that the crisis that has arisen in the world is not an economic or a social crisis, but a crisis in the mind, in consciousness; and there can be no answer to this crisis unless there is a deep, fundamental mutation in each one of us. This mutation can take place only if we understand the whole process of verbalization, which is the psychological structure of the word. Please do not brush it off by saying, ‘Is that all?’ This is not a matter that can be lightly dismissed, because the word, the symbol, the idea has an extraordinary grip on the mind. We are talking of bringing about a mutation in the mind, and for that there must be the cessation of the word. When you hear a statement of that kind for the first time you will probably not know what it means, and you will say, ‘What nonsense!’ But I do not see how the mind can be totally free as long as we have not understood the influence of the word and the interpretation of the word, which means that we have to understand the whole process of our own thinking, because it is all based on the word.
If the word is removed, what have you left? The word represents the past; the innumerable pictures, images, the layers of experience, are all based on the word, on idea, on memory. From memory comes thought, and we give to thought an extraordinary importance; but I question that importance altogether. Thought cannot, by any means whatsoever, cultivate compassion. I am not using that word compassion to mean the opposite, the antithesis of hate or violence. But unless each one of us has a deep sense of compassion, we shall become more and more brutal, inhuman to each other. We shall have mechanical, computer-like minds which have merely been trained to perform certain functions; we shall go on seeking security, both physical and psychological, and we shall miss the extraordinary depth and beauty, the whole significance of life.
By compassion I do not mean a thing to be acquired. Compassion is not the word, which is merely of the past, but something which is of the active present; it is the verb and not the word, the name, or the noun. There is a difference between the verb and the word. The verb is of the active present, whereas the word is always of the past and therefore static. You may give vitality or movement to the name, to the word, but it is not the same as the verb which is actively present.
Now, the mutation must take place in the very seed of thought itself, not in the outward expressions of that seed, and this can happen only if we understand the whole process of thought, which is the word, the idea. Take a word like God. The word God is not God; and one will come upon that immensity, that immeasurable something, whatever it may be, only when the word is not, when the symbol is not, when there is no belief, no idea; when there is complete freedom from security. So we are talking of a mutation at the very source, in the very seed of thought. What we call thought is reaction, it is the response of memory, the response of one’s background, of one’s religious and social conditioning; it reflects the influence of one’s environment and so on. Until there is the decay of that seed, there is no mutation and therefore no compassion. Compassion is not sentiment, it is not woolly sympathy or empathy. Compassion is not something which you can cultivate through thought, through discipline, control, suppression, nor by being kind, polite, gentle, and all the rest of it. Compassion comes into being only when thought has come to an end at its very root.
Krishnamurti in Bombay 1958, Talk 7
VIDEO: On compassion and action
VIDEO: Is there one thing or one quality that will end my seeking and my confusion?
Can you change immediately, without any compulsion?
Technologically the world is advancing with extraordinary rapidity, but inwardly there will be very little change. You may be well fed, clothed and sheltered, but the mind will remain about the same; it will be more capable of dealing with technological matters but inwardly there will be no compassion, no sense of goodness or the flowering of it. So it seems to me that the problem is not merely how to meet the challenge technologically but to find out how the individual is to change – not just you and I, but how the majority of people are to change and be compassionate, or to change so that compassion is.
Any form of compulsion does not bring this beauty, this flowering of goodness, of compassion.
Can compassion, that sense of goodness, that feeling of the sacredness of life, can that feeling be brought into being through compulsion? When there is compulsion in any form, when there is propaganda or moralizing, there is no compassion. So there must be a change without any causation. A change that is brought about through causation is not compassion, it is merely a thing of the market place. If I change, how will it affect society? Society is not some extraordinary mythical entity, it is our relationship with each other; and if two or three of us change, how will it affect the rest of the world? Is there a way of affecting the total mind of man? That is, is there a process by which the individual who is changed can touch the unconscious of man? How am I to change? And if I do change, if I do become an integrated human being – which I must, otherwise I am merely part of the propaganda machine with its various forms of coercion – will it bring about a change in the collective? Or is that an impossibility?
Must the collective be transformed gradually? When we talk about gradualness, obviously it implies compulsion, slow conviction through propaganda, which is educating the individual to think in a certain direction, to be good, kind, gentle, but under pressure. Therefore the mind is like a machine that is being driven by steam, and such a mind is not good, it is not compassionate, it has no appreciation of something sacred. Its action is all the result of being told what to do. More and more people are becoming mere repeaters of tradition, whatever tradition it is, and there is no human being who is thinking totally anew of his relationship to society. If I am concerned with this issue, not verbally or intellectually, not saying that life is one, that we are all brothers, that we must preach brotherhood, because all that is mere wordplay, but if I am concerned with compassion, with love, with the real feeling of something sacred, then how is that feeling to be transmitted? If I transmit it through the microphone, through the machinery of propaganda, and thereby convince another, his heart will still be empty. The flame of ideology will operate and he will merely repeat, as you are all repeating, that we must be kind, good, free – all the nonsense that the politicians and the rest of them talk. So seeing that any form of compulsion, however subtle, does not bring this beauty, this flowering of goodness, of compassion, what is the individual to do?
If the man of compassion is a freak, then obviously he has no value. You may just as well shut him up in a museum. But the action of a freak is not the action of a man who has really thought it all out deeply, who actually feels compassion, the sense of loving, and does not merely enunciate a lot of intellectual ideas. And has such a man no effect on society? If he has not, then the problem will go on as it is. There will be a few freaks and they will be valueless except as a pattern for the collective, who will repeat what they have said and moralize everlastingly about it.
So what is the relationship between the man who has this sense of compassion and the man whose mind is entrenched in the collective, in the traditional? How are we to find the relationship between these two, not theoretically but actually? It is like a man who is hungry: he does not talk about the theory of economics, nor is he satisfied with books that describe the good qualities of food – he must eat. So what is the relationship between the man who is enlightened, not in some mysterious mystical way, but who is not greedy, not envious, who knows what it is to love, to be kind, to be gentle – what is the relationship between such a man and you who are caught in the collective? Can he influence you? If he influences you then you are under his propagandistic compulsion and therefore you have not the real flame, you have only the imitation of it. So what is one to do?
Is there an action which will affect the collective non-thinker, so that he thinks totally anew? Will education do that? That is, can the student be helped to understand the whole variety of influences that exist about him so that he does not conform to any influence, thereby bringing into being a new generation with a totally different approach to life? The old generation is on the way out; they are obviously not going to change. Most of you will sit listening for the next twenty years and change only when it suits you. Is this change to be brought about by beginning with the young, with the child? That means there must be a new kind of teacher, a new kind of mind operating in the teacher so that he helps the child to grow, not in tradition but in freedom. The student must be helped to be free at the very beginning and not ultimately, free to understand the pressures of his home, of his parents, the pressures of propaganda through newspapers, books, ideas, through the whole paraphernalia of compulsion; and he himself must be encouraged to see the importance of not influencing others. And where are such teachers? You are the teachers; the teachers are at home, not in the school, because nobody else is interested in all this. Governments are certainly not interested. On the contrary, they want you to remain within the pattern, because the moment you step out you become a danger to the present society, therefore they push you back. So the problem actually devolves upon you and me, not upon the supposed teacher.
If you don’t change now you will never change.
Now, can you change immediately, without any compulsion? If you don’t change now you will never change. There is no change within the field of time. Change is outside the field of time, because any change within the field of time is merely a modification of the pattern, or a revolt against a particular pattern in order to establish a new one. So I think the problem is not how the enlightened individual will affect society. I am using that word enlightened in the simplest, most ordinary sense, to describe one who thinks clearly and sees the absurdity of all the nonsense that is going on, who has compassion, who loves, but not because it is profitable or good for the State. To ask what effect such a man has on the collective, or of what use he is to society, may be a wrong question altogether, because if we put the question in that way we are still thinking in terms of the collective. So let us put the question differently.
Has the man of enlightenment, the man who is inwardly free of religions, of beliefs, of dogmas, who belongs to no organization that brings in the past, has such a man any reality in this world which is bound to the wheel of tradition? How would you answer that question? To put it again differently: there is sorrow in the world, sorrow arising from various causes. There is not only physical pain but this complex psychological process of engendering and sustaining sorrow. Is there freedom from sorrow? I say there is, but not because someone else has said it, which is merely the traditional way of thinking. I say there is an ending to sorrow. And what relation has the man for whom sorrow has ended to the man of sorrow? Has he any relation at all? We may be trying to establish an impossible relationship between the man who is free of sorrow and the man who is caught in sorrow, and creating thereby a whole series of complex issues. Must not the man of sorrow step out of his world and not look to the man who is free from sorrow? Which means that every human being must cease to depend psychologically. Is that possible?
Dependence in any form creates sorrow. In depending on fulfilment there is frustration. Whether a man seeks fulfilment as a governor, a poet, a writer, a speaker, or tries to fulfil himself in God, it is all essentially the same, because in the shadow of fulfilment there is pain and frustration. How are you and I to meet this problem? I may be free, but has that any value to you? If it has no value, what right have I to exist? And if it has value, then how will you meet such a man? Not how he will meet you, but how will you meet him? He may want to meet you and go with you, not just one mile but a hundred miles, but how will you meet him? And is it possible to change so fundamentally, so radically and deeply, that your whole thinking-feeling process is exploded, made innocent, fresh, new?
Every human being must cease to depend psychologically.
There is no answer to this question; I am only pointing it out. It is for you to expose it, to bite into it, to be tortured by it. It is for you to work hard on it, because if you don’t, your life is over, finished, gone; and your children, the coming generation, will also be finished. You say that the coming generation will create the new world, which is nonsense because you are conditioning that generation right off through your books and newspapers, through your leaders, politicians and organized religions – everything is forcing the child in a particular direction, while you eternally verbalize about nothing. So this is your problem, and I don’t think you are taking it seriously. It is not a thing as vital to you as making money, or going to the office and being caught in the routine of that astonishing boredom which you call your life. Whether you are a lawyer, a judge, a governor or the highest politician, your life for the most part is a dreadful routine that is boring and destructive in the extreme, and you are caught in it; and your children are also going to be caught in it unless you change fundamentally. This is not rhetorical, sirs, it is something that you have to think out, work out, sit together and solve. The world does demand human beings who are thinking anew, not in the same old groove, and who do not revolt against the old pattern only to create a new one.
I think you will find the answer in right relationship when you know what love is. Love has its own action, probably not at the recognizable level. The man who is really compassionate has an action, a something which other men have not. It is those who are serious, who listen, who think, who work at this thing, it is such people who will bring about a different action in the world, not eventually but now. And I think the problem is: how is a human being to change so fundamentally in his way of thinking that his mind is totally unconditioned? If you give your thought to it as much as you do to your office, to your puja, and all the rest of the nonsense, you will find out.
Krishnamurti in New Delhi 1961, Talk 6
AUDIO: Space, love and compassion
What is the relationship between love and compassion, or are they the same movement? When we use the word relationship, it implies a duality, a separation, but we are asking what place has love in compassion, or is love the highest expression of compassion? How can you be compassionate if you belong to any religion, follow any guru, believe your scriptures or are attached to a conclusion? When you accept your guru, you have come to a conclusion; when you strongly believe in God or in a saviour, this or that, can there be compassion? You may do social work, help the poor out of pity, sympathy or charity, but is that love and compassion? In understanding the nature of love, having that quality which is mind in the heart, is intelligence. Intelligence is the understanding or the discovering of what love is. Intelligence has nothing whatsoever to do with thought, with cleverness, with knowledge. You may be very clever in your studies or in your job, able to argue very cleverly, reasonably, but that is not intelligence. Intelligence goes with love and compassion, and you cannot come upon that intelligence as an individual. Compassion is not yours or mine, like thought is not yours or mine. When there is intelligence there is no me and you. And intelligence does not abide in your heart or your mind. That intelligence which is supreme is everywhere. It is that intelligence that moves the earth, the heavens and the stars, because that is compassion.
From the book Mind without Measure, by J, Krishnamurti. Purchase here
VIDEO: What is the relationship of clarity to compassion?
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