THE BLOG
07/24/2015 08:19 pm ET Updated Jul 24, 2016

Lessons of Compassion From the Dalai Lama

"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion." -- Dalai Lama

I attended the Dalai Lama's talk at the University of California, Irvine, recently for a celebration of his 80th birthday. He said that all he wanted for his birthday was compassion; a trait he believes can conquer almost anything. This was intriguing to me. With all the turmoil taking place in the world and problems that could be solved if there were more compassion, I thought it would be enlightening to research the Dalai Lama's views on it.

He bases his teachings of compassion on Tibetan Buddhism. The Tibetan term for compassion is nying je, which the Dalai Lama states, "connotes love, affection, kindness, gentleness, generosity of spirit and warm-heartedness." People with these traits want to help others who suffer. If you look at the Latin roots of the word compassion, they are com, which means with, and pati, which means suffer. So, the word compassion literally means to suffer with.

When the Dalai Lama was at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN for a routine medical checkup, he discussed the importance of utilizing compassion to regulate stress. He told several doctors and other health professionals, "Compassion...opens our heart. Fear, anger, hatred narrow your mind." He claims that having compassion for others is a way to help people gain strength when facing issues with health and anxieties.

He preaches that compassion and inner peace are important and that one leads to the other. When you do acts of compassion, you are also helping yourself. It is important to have your own inner peace before you help others. It is also important to take care of yourself before you help others. Once you have an inner peace, then you can start helping others, and when you help others, you continue to make your inner peace stronger. Compassionate acts help people better relate to each other. We need to make an effort to see how the world really is instead of how it is fixed in our minds. There is a great deal of pain in the world that we ignore. If we open our eyes to it, we will become closer to a reality in which people have compassion and understanding. I am a member of the board of directors of the Blind Children's Learning Center in North Tustin, CA. Sometimes parents enroll their fully sighted children with visually impaired children at this school. This is the best type of education a child can have. When children are exposed to other children who are less fortunate then them, this makes them that much stronger. There is a difference between pity and compassion. When the sighted children get to know the visually impaired children better, then they are more likely to have compassion for them.

The Dalai Lama says that compassion "belongs to that category of emotions which have a more developed cognitive component." Compassion is a blend of empathy and reason. When we practice compassion, we will have more strength, peace, and joy and this will transfer to everyone with whom we associate. The more compassion we have for others, the more kindness and affection we will obtain. Compassion spreads from one person to another. When you are compassionate to others, they are more willing to be compassionate. For example, one of my good friends unexpectedly bought me dinner the other night. When I came home to my family that evening, I was that much sweeter to them.

The Dalai Lama states that there are three levels of compassion. The first level is empathy: imagining how you would feel if you were in someone else's shoes. The second stage is putting inspiration to practice. This stage requires that one put compassion before living a life of pleasure. An example of this is, recently my friend, Fred, was enjoying himself at home when his friend called and said he was stranded in the middle of the desert four hours away. Fred went out of his way to assist him. It is necessary to practice constantly this stage, and it is the most difficult of all three stages because it is involves unremitting determination. The person practicing compassion in this stage might become worn out and discouraged, as Fred could have become on his drive to the desert. Perseverance through this will increase compassion. The third stage is the "continual presence of great compassion." People in this stage continuously feel others suffering as their own suffering.

The Dalai Lama states that we should even practice compassion with those who would do us harm. He says that you should not label people as friends or enemies because someone may have helped you at one time and hurt you at another time. The Dalai Lama says that someone you consider an enemy might help you to practice compassion. He says that they also help us to practice tolerance and patience. We cannot practice tolerance with people we respect. If thinking this way does not work, then we can imagine the other person doing nice things for us until the feelings of hatred dissipate.

It is essential to love ourselves. If we do not love ourselves, how can we extend that love to others? The compassion we have for others is an extension of the compassion that we have for ourselves. When we give the gift of compassion to others, this is a step toward changing the world.

"Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive." -- Dalai Lama