What is difference between pity and compassion?

Frankly, i was not able to distinguish pity from compassion till i read from a book which explains the difference.

Pity is sad, anxious feeling we often experience when we see or hear about other’s pain. Pity is fear and ego-based and wants to keep a distance from the person who is suffering.

Compassion is based on love, it empathizes, or feels with, others’ suffering and is willing to get close and help them. Compassion involves wisdom that understands how and why suffering occurs, and enables us to deal calmly and realistically with people and their problems. We do what we can to help but we also understand our limitations and don’t feel upset about what we cannot do.

With this clarification, it helps me better understand if i am helping others out of pity or compassion.

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thank you @SharonLim for highlighting the difference!

I have not thought about the distinction all this while - guess I didn’t reflect on my thinking enough…heh.

Exploring more on this, I found a discourse by Master Sheng Yen in which he explains that many of our actions have some degree of compassion.

could we say then that whether helping out of pity or compassion, it is more a manner of the degree of vexation/affliction present?

A quote from the description in the video describes this quite well

The more we reduce our afflictions the stronger our kindness towards this world, and the greater our compassion, which takes spiritual practice.

For example, we may start with pity but by studying Buddhism and engaging in reflection and practice, we move towards countering our afflictions like fear and ego and grow our compassion (paired with wisdom).

Again, really grateful to have you pointing out such fine and crucial points of explanation. :smile:

Here’s a video by Ven. Yuttadhammo that you might find useful. It’s called “Ask A Monk: Compassion vs. Pity”.

A little summary of it is as follows:

  • The question was, “It’s easy to feel compassion for someone who’s worse off than I am; but how can I feel compassion for someone who’s better off, who I don’t pity?”
  • The answer started by saying that the brahma viharas are meditations in their own right which you can practice if you feel yourself lacking in them; but that according to the tradition which he follows they are not considered to be crucial or essential because the more important thing is wisdom: if you have wisdom then you’ll naturally be compassionate.
  • Compassion manifests as “non cruelty”
  • When someone else does evil things then you feel compassion because you know they’re suffering or are going to suffer
  • Compassion has no bearing on whether someone people is badly off or someone is well off: it’s a state of non-cruelty, it’s a state of wishing to help people who are in suffering and not wishing to hurt people; it’s a state that’s in harmony, that’s free from the evil where we do hurt other people and try to get the better of them.
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Hi Adrian, Jereme

Thank you very much for sharing the videos on what is pity, what is compassion. It definitely helps to broaden the perspectives for better understanding.

The wider perspectives shared also helps reinforce the learning and that the practice is in the right direction.


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