My spiritual framework is mindfulness. In terms of compassion, mindfulness involves bringing into my awareness my own needs as well as the needs of the “other” in the context of Divinity. Typically, our “needs” boil down to the relief of suffering. My spiritual framework is becoming mindful of the root causes of suffering and eliminating them through letting go of attachment.
I have been involved for many years with Hinduism. I do not consider myself a Hindu, but I am attracted to the complexity of the deities. The deities are very approachable, as they are imbued with human-like qualities. There is one Hindu image that to me represents the gist of compassion. It is an image of Kali. In this image, she is standing over Shiva with her tongue sticking out.
Here is one story behind the image.
Vishnu, the sustainer aspect of the Hindu trinity, had created Kali to destroy a group of demons that were terrorizing the earth. Kali traditionally has been the described as the destroyer of ego. She was doing a great job, as testified by the symbolic skulls and forearms that she wears as jewelry. But then in the heat of battle, something came over her. She herself became captivated by her power, and lost control. She was destroying everything in sight. At this point, many things could have happened. Vishnu could have zapped her with his third eye and stopped her rampage, but this did not happen. Instead, Shiva (an aspect of the “destroyer” of the Hindu trinity, and Kali’s male counterpart) laid down along her path in a submissive way. When Kali came to him, she recognized her “other half” and was awakened to her state of being. Her tongue is sticking out in astonishment that she had become so lost. Shiva, instead of using power to fight power, used love, with the recognition that underneath egotistical exploits there is a river of love that is our core foundation from which we are able to source awakening. In effect, he offered himself as a sacrifice, and allowed her to maintain her freedom. Does this story sound familiar? It should, it is the Hindu equivalent of Christ on the cross, and represents the ultimate compassionate act; to offer up one’s life for the salvation of another.
If we were alive in a strictly material world where the only rule is survival of the fittest, and there are only separate individuals, compassion would be an illness to be avoided. Compassion makes “sense” only insofar as there is a recognition that we share a spiritual commonality that bonds us together. If we are “one”, then your suffering becomes my own, and mine is yours; there is only suffering, and the aspect of my awareness that sees myself in you, wants to relieve the suffering, because I know how much it hurts. At the same time, I recognize your separateness, and honor that as well. I do not believe there is a spiritual “purpose” of compassion. To suggest that compassion has “purpose” is to imply that compassion is something less than Divine itself; a feeling implanted by Divine into our framework. Instead of saying that compassion is a purpose, I would suggest that compassion is recognition of Divine itself, as it walks and breathes along with us in this physical incarnation. Compassion is an acknowledgement by our divided nature, of that which would bring us back together.