Compassion feels great!
The two major Spiritual landmarks
The spiritual path progresses across two main landmarks (the third is too abstract in nature and not 'hubbable' - well, not by me anyway!)
First of all, morality or a sense of ethics and right or wrong is developed - most major religions are fairly good at instilling a sense of right and wrong, that is, establishing a conscience. At this stage, this sense of right and wrong is also aspected to basic dualities: us and them, the saved/not saved, heaven and hell. This sense of right and wrong is also a very insecure state of mind, because anything that contravenes a belief is seen as a hostile activity or somehow wrong - a real 'us and them' mindset.
Next, and secondly, this concept of right and wrong is extended wider, such that the conscience becomes the fertile ground in which deeper understanding can develop, through the vehicles of intuition, empathy and compassion. Here, adherents to certain spiritual paths or practices begin to see the non-divisibility of all that is around them, and how everything they do has an immediate effect. Thus, evolving a sense of empathy toward other people and creatures becomes the norm, and previous held beliefs which resided in judgement become weaker.
At this point, the person is really starting to awaken and beginning to empathize with the plight of other beings, human or animal, and realizes that compassion is not selective.
There is no spiritual evolution without realizing the intrinsic connection between all things. Without compassion and empathy, the path toward God, or the highest personal ideal, becomes greatly slowed.
The Sleeper must Awaken - a scene from the classic film Dune, based on Frank Herbert's book Dune
“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” Dalai Lama
Who is Asleep?
No matter how spiritual someone seems, and no matter what religion they're from, the amount they've managed to incorporate empathy and compassion into their everyday lives is a clear indicator of how asleep or otherwise they are.
To see the whole of creation as God's own and to feel compassion toward all creatures that inhabit it comes with the natural evolution of intuition and empathy. Without putting oneself aside and truly empathizing with the plight of other beings, we are still gently sleeping. Perhaps, even. we've had life too easy and can't relate to those who suffer.
Also, possibly we believe that someone or some figurehead will suddenly save us from ourselves without a need to truly refine ourselves, that there is some external solution to our lives, and that we can just continue doing what we do, without a thought. That is the easy thing to do and certainly socially acceptable. We don't ultimately have to account for ourselves and our behaviour isn't challenging to others, on a subconscious level.
Evolution and Child-Like Being
Buddha's search for Enlightenment was intrinsically bound with witnessing the suffering of all incarnate beings. Jesus' mission on Earth was bound with absorbing mankind's debts out of love, to spiritualize the world. In both of these cases, empathy and compassion were the key.
In the Buddhist tradition, the requirement to unlearn our ways of thinking, so that all held beliefs disintegrate into a state of pure mind, is also reflected by the words of Jesus:
And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:3 NIV
There are many anecdotes of Buddhist masters, Indian yogis and other Adepts, who confound people by appearing child-like, and yet who seem to have intimate knowledge of the world, and world affairs.
This child-like approach to life allows the natural ability to empathize and love other people. Children are quick to sense injustices in the world, whether it be against humans or animals, before the world of confused adult logic steps in.
Vegetarianism is a core practice in Buddhist and Hindu tradition because killing an animal to eat it is not a kind nor a compassionate act (nor a healthy one, for that matter). All beings experience fear and pain.
There are many justifications used to kill humans being and animals. With humans the death penalty is such an example, where vengeance is confused with justice. In terms of the animal kingdom, there are many arguments at hand that support meat eating, but these are mostly contrived and are best left in the last ice-age!
For reasons to stop eating meat, read my hub Reasons to stop eating meat!
Compassion feels great!
A key point about having compassion in one's heart, is that for some reason, it just feels great. How fantastic to have a caring attitude toward another human being or an animal! It isn't just some self-congratulatory feeling from having performed a good turn, but rather, a wave of positivity that overtakes individuals that practice compassion. It's a natural state of happiness that has to be tried to be believed.
The Dalai Lama has said: