Updated: Oct 12, 2020
Compassion is defined in the dictionary as "a strong feeling of sympathy and sadness for the suffering or bad luck of others and a wish to help them". On the other hand, Buddhism defines compassion as "wishing to free sentient beings from suffering". It is also a display of loving-kindness in the face of suffering. Loving-kindness is the wish that sentient beings be happy. True loving-kindness requires wisdom, and is a kind of purified and refined love, and constitutes service and assistance that is selfless and wise. Loving-kindness is given without seeking anything in return and tries to fulfill the wishes of others. Loving-kindness is a combination of love, wisdom, vows, and generosity.
While many often think of compassionate actions as being "kind-hearted", "docile", "sweet", or "soft", that is not the full spectrum of compassion. This is the only spectrum that is limited by our own perceptions of "compassion". Hence if we think of compassion only in this way, this form "compassion" only decays and deforms like a mud if we do not truly understand compassion and its strengths. Therefore, I would like to share a perspective, that when one truly gives rise to compassion, fear will turn into strength, and one will break through multitudes of obstacles.
One gives rise to true compassion when one understands the sufferings of others, and is determined to make a change to ease their suffering (vow + action) in any way they can with wisdom. One also does that with principles and is not shaken spiritually by their suffering. Without any of these elements, one is just like clay that has not been heated to the right temperature; it will melt in its adversity: water. Without these elements, one is only speaking of superficial compassion.
For example, if a person comes begging you for food, but you know that this person has the aptitude to learn a new skill so that he or she can fend for themselves, yet you keep giving this person food, on the surface you might look like you are being compassionate. However, in reality, you are harming this person's life, as this person will start to depend on you even though he or she can depend on themselves in time with learning.
On the other hand, knowing that someone is being bullied in school, yet you only consoled this person but not reporting the bully to the authorities, you are harming two people: the bully and the bullied. The bullied will face fear later in life even when encountering anybody. Just consoling and not doing anything (inaction) will harm the bullied. The bullied will continue to be bullied, and you are only fixing a leaking pipe with paper. This will not help the victim. If one justifies that reporting the bully is not compassionate to the bully, one does not truly understand compassion. The bully will continue to bully people until he or she becomes worse. At the point where the bully commits a heinous act, past offenses will not be able to save the bully in court. This also damages society as a whole.
With true compassion, you will have the strength and will to help both parties. Even if reporting the bully will get you scolded by the teacher or bullied back instead, you will be able to face that consequence as your mind only contains the safety and freedom of the suffering of others. Even if you get bullied, understanding time changes and impermanence strikes, this will not last long as you will continue to help those in need and sacrifice in any way you can. This is because one would have understood equality in compassion; you see others as yourself and yourself as others. Like Venerable Master Hsing Yun said, "I Am Among the Multitude; Among the Multitude There I Am". There is no differentiation between you or the society, or whether you are superior to those you show compassion towards.
Therefore, with true compassion, inaction may not be an option sometimes as you understood the pain and fear from both parties. Fear from being chased down, and fear of the unknown on the other hand. Just like Prince Siddhartha saw the suffering of people in India due to discrimination due to the caste system, he gave rise to true compassion and wanted to alleviate those sufferings. He did not sit idly and accept it as it is (inaction) nor did he say it is due to their karma. He renounced laity and eventually become the Buddha as we know today. The Buddha's wisdom and compassion are unparalleled. Like the Buddha and his disciples who but themselves between two parties at war, we can also put ourselves in the middle to bridge the understanding between people and their suffering.
Hands symbolize action. The mudras of many statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas depicts dispelling fear and showing compassion. In the same way, as we join palms and we place them at the center of our chests, we are putting our actions and minds into one as we greet one another; greeting with both body and mind respectfully and wholeheartedly. It is no wonder that Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva has a thousand hands, to reach out to those who need to receive the action of compassion to dispel fear.
In summary, true compassion gives you strength and determination to overcome difficulties and obstacles you face. Even though time and time again you may not succeed, when the time comes, everything will fall naturally in place. Therefore Buddhism is for us to use and solve problems, not to package it in a pleasant form for display.