The 17th Karmapa has said that :
A lack of love can cause people to have no help when they need help, no friends when they need a friend. So, in a sense, the most dangerous thing in the world is apathy. We think of weapons, violence, warfare, disease as terrible dangers, and indeed they are, but we can take measures to avoid them. But once our apathy takes hold of us, we can no longer avoid it.
By definition, empathy is the opposite of apathy. Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. In contrast, apathy is defined as a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern.
When we stop caring for each other, the earth, and life at large, we are in deep troubled waters. No matter what is going on in our lives, we need to hold on to every little straw of compassion that we can accumulate.
Plant the seeds of compassion in your life and water them with your tears of carrying until they blossom into a field of empathy.
Empathy is coming into play when our actions are based on our wise heart-mind understanding—being aware of, staying present, not shutting down, not lashing out—being sensitive to one’s own needs as well as others, sharing our resources wisely. Dare to deeply experience different feelings and thoughts from a place of radical acceptance. No two people think the same. So, by being willing never to give up and keep on growing, we can commit to doing better in our empathy cultivation.
Since we are deeply interconnected with others and the environment, we are caring for ourselves through caring for others and the earth. For instance, we can not become nature. We are nature.
If that’s hard to relate to, think of the breath you are taking each moment. Where did the air come from? Who did you share it with? Where did your exhalation go? Why do you get thirsty? How much of your body is water? What’s the difference between the water in your body and that in the lake and rivers?
Reflecting on interdependence, both Buddhism and science agree that we all have an automatic built-in empathic response. We are born with and weird with this inbuilt system of deeply caring! This innate system becomes covered over by habitual tendencies based on ignorance and comes to obscure our natural kind-loving-caring response system.
So, while being aware of this inner Buddha that we all have, then why does empathy seem in such short supply? Well, the delusion of being a separate self, lonely and cut-off from the rest of the world, easily gives rise to self-centredness. This self-created state wherein aversion and attraction” I want/ I don’t want” hinders us from acting upon our natural inclination toward altruistic action.
Be kind to others. Give, and you shall receive. Walk in other’s shoes because whatever you are feeling today, others feel too. Whatever needs you have to be happy and joyful; others wish for that too. As long as we can’t hug each other, at least look others in the eyes with lovingkindness. If this were a video blog, I would look at you with lovingkindness right now. We can all give each other that care.
Yes, genuine empathy hurts since it involves sharing the discomfort, pain, and distress of others. When setting out to strip ourselves from the apathetic tendencies that we have developed, we will reach the rawness of our innate compassion that genuinely hurts. And that’s a good thing. Why? Because that’s how you know it’s for real.
We are not talking about pity here. Not for ourselves or others. That is a very ego-centered standpoint. It’s coming from a place of looking down at” the poor others” and makes us feel superior. Developing compassion can be tricky since we are embarking on a discovery journey where we are about to learn when we are truly capable of equalizing ourselves with others and not. This embarrassing journey of detecting our ego-centeredness is based on the understanding that we are in this together and need each other. By engaging in this journey, we will arrive at the heart that knows.
Developing empathy is not a cute thing that solely some Buddhists engage in. It’s a means of survival as well as a way to living fully!