AskDefine | Define compassionate

Dictionary Definition

compassionate adj
1 showing merciful compassion; "sparing the child's mother was a compassionate act"
2 showing or having compassion; "heard the soft and compassionate voices of women" [ant: uncompassionate]
3 showing recognition of unusually distressful circumstances; "compassionate leave"; "considered for a compassionate discharge because of domestic difficulties" v : share the suffering of [syn: feel for, pity, condole with, sympathize with]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. having, feeling of showing compassion; sympathetic
  2. given to someone because of a domestic emergency, especially in the phrase compassionate leave


Extensive Definition

Compassion is an understanding of the emotional state of another or oneself. Not to be confused with empathy, compassion is often combined with a desire to alleviate or reduce the suffering of another or to show special kindness to those who suffer. However, compassion may lead an individual to feel empathy with another person.
Compassion is often characterized through actions, wherein a person acting with compassion will seek to aid those they feel compassionate for. Acts of compassion are generally considered those which take into account the pain of others and attempt to alleviate that pain. In this sense, the various forms of the Golden Rule are in part based on the concept of compassion, if also on the concept of empathy.
Compassion differs from other forms of helpful or humane behavior in that its focus is primarily on the alleviation of pain and suffering. Acts of kindness which seek primarily to confer benefit rather than relieve existing pain and suffering are better classified as acts of altruism, although, in this sense, compassion itself can be seen as a subset of altruism, it being defined as the type of behavior which seeks to benefit others by reducing their suffering.
The cultivation of compassion is considered a virtue in many philosophies and in all major religious traditions.


"Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and destroys the pain of others; thus, it is called compassion. It is called compassion because it shelters and embraces the distressed." - The Buddha
At the core of Buddhism is the idea that "unenlightened life is suffering" (the first of Four Noble Truths). Thus from statement the fundamental basis of Buddhism is the concept of compassion.
In the words of Dalai Lama: "Compassion makes one see the picture clearly; when emotions overtake us, the lack of seeing clearly clouds our perception of reality and hence the cause of many misunderstandings leading to quarrels (even wars)."
American Buddhist monk Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote: “Compassion supplies the complement to loving-kindness. Whereas loving-kindness has the characteristic of wishing for the happiness and welfare of others, compassion has the characteristic of wishing that others be free from suffering, a wish to be extended without limits to all living beings. Like metta, compassion arises by entering into the subjectivity of others, by sharing their interiority in a deep and total way. It springs up by considering that all beings, like ourselves, wish to be free from suffering, yet despite their wishes continue to be harassed by pain, fear, sorrow, and other forms of dukkha.
To increase the breadth and intensity of compassion it is helpful to contemplate the various sufferings to which living beings are susceptible. A useful guideline to this extension is provided by the Buddha’s first noble truth, with its enumeration of the different aspects of dukkha (suffering). One contemplates beings as subject to old age, then as subject to sickness, then to death, then to sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair, and so forth.” Source


(originally a Pali word; also regarded as a Sanskrit word) is the Jainist concept of love. In Tibetan, it is "snying-rje". It is also translated as "compassion," a key concept of Mahayana Buddhism (see Bodhisattva and Avalokitesvara). As mercy, it is the special kindness shown to those who suffer. It is considered the indispensable complement to enlightened wisdom or Prajña. Compassion is important in all schools of Buddhism.
Karuna is commonly summed up as wisdom tempered with compassion. Yet more commonly, especially in Mahāyāna Buddhism, karuna is one of the two qualities, along with wisdom (prajña), to be cultivated on the bodhisattva path.
In Theravāda Buddhism, karuna represents one of the four Brahmavihāras, along with (Pali): metta, mudita, and upekkha. Karuna is aptly described as compassion; the hope that a person's sufferings will diminish; compassion is the "wish for all sentient beings to be free from suffering."


The example of Christ has also inspired Christians throughout history to fund hospitals and other such institutions. It is also Christ's example that challenges Christians to forsake their own desires and act compassionately towards others, especially, but not exclusively, towards those in some type of distress or need. This is typified in Jesus' statement from the sermon on the mount:
  • "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy."
Compassion can also be kindness towards a stranger that is unexpected in most situations. Compassion can be linked to generosity, empathy, sympathy, and mercy. The life of Christ reflects for Christians the very essence of the meaning of compassion. It has inspired many Christians throughout the centuries to care for the lame, deformed, broken-hearted, sick, dying and those who are in need. Christian compassion extends to all, even to placing a primacy on loving one's own enemies.
In the Bible, 2 Corinthians also talks about God as "the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort" (1.3). Hebrews 4:15 also talks about Christ as One who completely understands: who is able to sympathize, and have compassion in the fullest sense of the word. It says "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin."


The prayers of Vasudeva Datta, a Vaishnava holy man (sadhu) from the 1500s, exemplify compassion within Gaudiya Vaishnavism and Hinduism. He prayed to his Lord (Krishna) as follows:
''"My dear Lord, You incarnate just to deliver all conditioned souls. I now have one petition, which I wish You would accept. My Lord, You are certainly able to do whatever You like, and You are indeed merciful. If You so desire, You can very easily do whatever You want. My Lord, my heart breaks to see the sufferings of all the conditioned souls; therefore I request You to transfer the karma of their sinful lives upon my head. My dear Lord, let me suffer perpetually in a hellish condition, accepting all the sinful reactions of all living entities. Please finish their diseased material life [through awarding them liberation from suffering]."'' (from the Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya-lila, Chapter 15)


Among Allah’s attributes are Rahman and Rahim (compassionate and Merciful). The Arabic word for compassion is Rahmah. Rahmah (compassion, mercy) and its roots abound in the Koran. A Muslim begins everything by reciting Bi Ism-i-Allah al-Rahman al-Rahim (i.e. begin in the name of Allah Who is Compassionate and Merciful). Thus a Muslim is supposed to invoke Allah the Compassionate and Merciful at every step.
Muhammad is also referred to in the Koran as the Mercy of the World (21:107). Thus the final prophet of Islam also represents universal mercy.
The Koran shows great compassion to orphans, widows, the poor and captives. It wants to liberate these poorer and oppressed sections from their situation. Zakah, a toll tax, has been made obligatory on all believing Muslims, men or women to help these sections. “(Zakat) charity is only for the poor and the needy...and (to free) the captives, and those in debt, and in the way of Allah and for the wayfarer – an ordinance from Allah. And Allah is Knowing, Wise.” (9:60)
Fasting [Arabic: sawm] during the month of Ramadan helps make one sensitive to other’s pangs of hunger and develop sensitivity to others suffering and this develops compassion towards the poor and destitute.
compassionate in Danish: Medlidenhed
compassionate in German: Mitleid
compassionate in Esperanto: Kompato
compassionate in Spanish: Compasión
compassionate in French: Compassion
compassionate in Hebrew: חמלה
compassionate in Maori: Aroha
compassionate in Dutch: Compassie
compassionate in Norwegian: Medlidenhet
compassionate in Portuguese: Compaixão
compassionate in Slovak: Ľútosť
compassionate in Swedish: Medkänsla
compassionate in Russian: Сочувствие
compassionate in Ukrainian: Співчуття

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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