What’s the difference between sympathy and compassion?
Anger, ill-will and ill-feelings might co-exist with sympathy and empathy. While anger or any forms of ill-will or ill-feelings are absent in compassion.
One might be able to feel empathy for other’s sorrow and suffering, or show sympathy towards others who are less fortunate or are suffering, but it’s not necessarily that one is also compassionate. One who doesn’t have compassion might not be able to show sympathy or empathy towards other’s suffering when oneself is under difficult condition or critical situation. Out of self-righteousness, one might show sympathy or empathy towards others whom one thinks and believes are ‘the victim’ of suffering, but at the same time, one can be disturbed by others’ suffering and be angry with the cause of suffering and ‘the one’ who is responsible for the suffering, and one might generate actions and speech that would hurt oneself and others out of anger. One also might not show sympathy or empathy towards others whom one thinks and believes that they don’t deserve sympathy or empathy from others.
If compassion is present, there’s neither suffering nor the cause of suffering in oneself. It’s knowing the truth of suffering. It’s not about feeling sorry or feeling bad for others whom our minds think and believe they are experiencing something terribly bad or sad. It’s nothing to do with self-righteousness which based on what the mind believes what is good and bad, what is right and wrong, what is should and shouldn’t, and who deserve or don’t deserve non-discrimination and loving kindness. One who has compassion will be able to show sympathy or empathy towards others’ suffering even when oneself is under difficult condition or critical situation. One is undetermined, undisturbed or uninfluenced by the presence of suffering or the cause of suffering in others, and will not generate actions and speech that would hurt others, whether intentionally or unintentionally. One is free from anger, hatred, ill-thinking, ill-will and ill-feelings.
If compassion is absent, there will be perception of suffering, the victim who suffers, the cause of suffering, and the one who is to be blamed, who is responsible for the cause of suffering. There will be anger and hatred towards something that is contradicted with one’s social, cultural and religious thinking and belief. There will be expectation or anticipation that others should react with sympathy and empathy towards the existence of suffering and the victim of suffering.
For example –
Conflict broke up between A and B, and B generated actions and speech that were hurtful towards A, while C came to know about this.
A might or might not be hurt or suffered because of B’s behavior. While C might think that A should or shouldn’t feel hurt by such behavior, or C might assume that A was or wasn’t hurt by B’s behavior.
In worldly conditioned thinking and reaction – A is a victim, B is responsible for inflicting suffering onto A, while C should get involve by either showing sympathy, or empathy, out of humanity. Or else C is selfish or inhuman, if C choose to be care less and not getting involve at all.
Out of worldly conditioned thinking and reaction, A might feel itself as a victim of other’s bad behavior and feels sympathy towards oneself, and also expects sympathy and empathy from others. Or, out of compassion, A didn’t feel hurt by B and wasn’t angry with B’s behavior, and didn’t think itself as a victim of other’s bad behavior, knowing that B is also a victim of the ignorance and suffering in oneself to behave in such way.
Meanwhile, B might be aware or unaware of it’s behavior could be hurtful and cause suffering onto others. B might be regretful and apologetic, or not. But A and C have the freedom on whether they want to react, or not, and how they would react if they chose to react.
Everyone is free to act and react in their own way. Everyone also takes responsibility for the consequences of their own actions and reactions.
If compassion is absent in C, C might feel empathy for A, or show sympathy towards A standing from the point of view of a third party thinking that A is a victim and deserves empathy and sympathy from others, and C might be disturbed and angry with B’s behavior, even when A wasn’t disturbed or didn’t feel hurt by B’s behavior, not to say if A was disturbed and felt hurt by B’s behavior. Or, C might ignore the situation and be care less and not getting involve at all, thinking that ‘It’s not my problem.” There’s nothing wrong in either these reactions. But, neither these reactions have anything to do with compassion.
If compassion exists in C, C is aware of the truth. C is aware of A’s reaction, whether sympathy from others is needed or not, coming from A’s reaction and it’s not coming from C’s assumption of how A should react. A is also under the influence of ignorance if A feels disturbed and hurt by B’s behavior and expects sympathy or empathy coming from others. C is also aware of B’s behavior is out of ignorance and is also a victim of suffering. There’s no need to be angry with B or B’s behavior at all.
All are the victims of ignorance and suffering except the one who is compassionate.