Compassion. It is the heart of Bodhisattva Path. Great compassion also gives rise to the Bodhi Mind, the mind that vows to achieve the unexcelled complete Enlightenment (anuttara-samyak-sambodhi). This compassion is unequaled because we see the suffering of all sentient beings that we vow to become Buddhas, to complete enlightenment in order to enlighten others. Hence compassion is a very important in the Bodhisattva path. We see the practice of giving as the first paramita to develop compassion. However, have you felt that on some occasion, when you are helping someone, you felt so tired mentally and emotionally after helping? This is because you are not practicing compassion. You are actually practicing empathy, pity, or sympathy. It is false compassion.
Why do I say this? Isn't compassion supposed to be feeling their suffering and helping others when they need? In false compassion, we put too much feelings into it that we get caught up in them. This is also called empathy burnout. Take for example a medical professional like a nurse or doctor. It is very easy for them to be emotionally drained at work, especially if they are taking care of patients who have terminal illness, neurodegeneration, fatal disease, or dementia.
Why is this so? When they see and care for a patient, they may invest a lot of emotion into the patient, hence being caught up emotionally. We think that we are compassionate by investing more feelings when we help, but it is not. Rather, it is pity. Why? We are driven by our negative emotions, feeling the state they are in. This thus becomes pity instead of compassion. Those are OUR emotions which are generated by our ego. In this situation, we lose our wisdom and we cannot bring forth the genuine compassionate mind. We cannot find the best way for them. We also lose our tranquil mind to see the true nature of their suffering. In the end, we even break our own principles and morality to help them.
What is true compassion then? True compassion does not have "I". The ego is not there. You do not feel suffering by being in their suffering. Because you don't suffer while being in suffering, you are able to generate the bright wisdom that is able to help them relieve off their suffering. You are able to manifest expedient means to give them an opportunity to regain their confidence. You respect them., that they can make their decision. This is wisdom. You don't render them helpless. You give them hope. Furthermore, with true compassion, you are not turned by inner or outer states. By that, I mean your and their emotions. This requires substantial meditative concentration, mindfulness and awareness. Listen, hear their pain, but do not be involved emotionally. This is concentration. Finally, don't break your principles and morality. On some occasions, people misunderstood compassion until it becomes empathy, sympathy, and pity. For example, when you see a friend becomes depressed due to a break up, you wanted to help the person. However, after some time, you become too involved emotionally until you went into a "relationship" that you become a rebound. This applies to all situations. Here, you lose your principle and morality. You should be the third person, not being involved emotionally, mentally, or physically. This is precept.
So how do we develop true compassion? First, do not try to be compassionate with your feelings. Your feelings are not real in this context. The feelings you feel at that time are a result of different causes and conditions (e.g. experience, imagination). Compassion is the natural state of the human mind. You cannot try to be compassionate. You cannot try to breathe. If you try to breathe, you are not letting your breathe flow naturally. You are trying to restrict it. It is the same with compassion. Trying to do something that is natural will self-destruct.
Second, do not use the thinking mind. The thinking mind is a result of the five senses and their objects. When we use our thinking mind, there is always an "I, me, mine, my". The ego is present. If you do that, you will fall into false compassion, and create trouble for yourself. So, all you have to do, is to listen first. Just listen to the other person. Listen without knowing that you are listening. This does not mean you can daydream. It means that your mind is clear contrary to muddled or drowsy. You are listening with a pure mind. You listen with the mind that gives rise to anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. You don't listen with your thinking mind. You don't even comment "okay" in your mind when you are listening. That is already the thinking mind. Just listen. two words.
There is no next step after listening. Listening is the important step. Practice that, and the answer to your next step will come naturally. Why? There is no formula to develop true compassion because if there is a formula, it is trying to become compassion, and you fall into false compassion. Only with a pure mind that listens, can one then manifest many solutions to the problems one sees.