The word “karuna” in Sanskrit translates to “compassion” in English. The idea of Karuna is used in Yoga, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. Karuna is to do something to alleviate the suffering of others. It is a selfless compassion, where nothing is expected in return.
Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.33:
maitri karuna muditopeksanam sukha duhkha punyapunya visayanam bhavanatas citta prasadanam
This loosely translates to “by cultivating feelings of love for the happy, compassion for the suffering, delight for the virtuous, and indifference to the non-virtuous, the mind becomes serene.”
I’ve always related especially to the compassion part of this sutra because I noticed that I feel better when I am compassionate.
I’ve always loved animals, and I would say my first consciously compassionate act was becoming a vegetarian when I was 16. Since that time, I’ve tried to live my life with compassion as one of my truths. I’ve mentored disadvantaged youth, helped feed the needy, volunteered in many ways, and just picked up garbage in the street. These are conscious choices to be compassionate toward others and the world around me.
I have found that there is an automatic good feeling that comes with practicing compassion. When I used to volunteer to help feed the homeless at the Hippy Kitchen on skid row in Downtown LA, we prepared everything from scratch. It took all morning, but there were many of us working in community together. Then, when we finally had the opportunity to serve the homeless, I had such a good feeling of accomplishment. I had made this meal that people who really needed it were about to enjoy. Everyone was friendly. A lot of people brought containers to fill up so they would have extra food for the week, and it was encouraged. I met some very kind people. It made homelessness feel very human. No longer were these people that were just living on the street, but people just like me, who happened to be unhoused for one reason or another. I am so grateful for those days, and the joyful feeling of helping those in need lives on inside of me.
It took me years for compassion to become a habit by purposefully choosing the path to ease suffering for others. I still struggle with ego at times, until I remember my beliefs, this sutra, and the joy that comes from practicing compassion.
I believe this sutra also speaks to self-compassion. Releasing the inner critic and being kind to yourself is also important. It’s something I work on, as it seems so easy to be compassionate towards others, but is sometimes difficult to do the same for myself. It is a practice. I practice a little bit everyday. It is one way that I am able to continue my yoga and meditation practice every morning. I view it as a way to be compassionate to myself because I know that I will suffer from my cloudy thoughts and sadness if I don’t do my morning practice. I am not as happy without it. So, I continue as a form of self-compassion.
Think of ways that you can add compassion or “karuna” to your life. How can you live compassionately? How can you practice self-compassion? How do you feel after a compassionate act?
May you feel the joys of compassion today.
May you have peace within.