A young disciple asked his master: “Master, what is compassion?”
The Master explained his answer to the disciple. “An old man was begging at the corner of a busy street. First, an old lady passed by him and without looking at him, gave him a gold coin. Then a merchant, noticing that a small group of men were talking about him, gave 5 gold coins to the beggar, walking away with his head held high. Later, a young boy collecting some flowers for his mom, passed by the beggar, smiled at him and gave him a flower.”
The master asked his disciple: “Which one of these do you think felt the most compassion toward the beggar?” “The merchant”, said the disciple.
The master, smiling, continued. “The merchant acted out of pride, the old lady acted out of pity; but the boy felt real compassion.
Compassion is a far nobler thing than pity. Pity has its roots in fear, and a sense of arrogance and condescension, sometimes even a smug feeling of “I’m glad it’s not me.” When your fear touches someone’s pain it becomes pity. When your love touches someone’s pain, it becomes compassion. Feeling compassion is more essential than showing compassion. To train in compassion, then, is to know all beings are the same and suffer in similar ways. It is to honor all those who suffer, and to know you are neither separate from, nor superior to, anyone.”