Generally, compassion is described as kindness. Kindness is relevant only when a person is in some kind of helpless state. Most human beings, when they are standing on their feet, wouldn’t want kindness. They want acceptance, they want respect, they want to be loved; they don’t want kindness.
Compassion is an all-encompassing passion. When I say all-encompassing, passion is essentially an exclusive process. When two people are passionate, the world disappears. That is the beauty of passion, that it is exclusive, the world evaporates in your passion.
To understand the difference between passionate and compassionate, let us first have a look at the two words, passion and compassion. Passion and compassion can be identified as two different emotions that a person experiences.
Passion refers to a very intense feeling whereas compassion refers to the concern that is felt for another. Else, even being empathetic toward the suffering of another can be known as compassion. This highlights that while passion stems from within an individual, compassion comes from the outside. This can be considered one of the significant differences between the two terms.
First, when paying attention to the term passion, it can be defined as an intense emotion or else a great enthusiasm. A person can be passionate about another individual or else about a specific activity.
When we speak of passionate love, the emphasis is on the first. In this case, the two individuals, who are in the relationship, are very passionate about one another. This does not guarantee mutual trust, understanding, or caring. It is usually associated with the attraction felt by the individuals, which transforms into a passion. However, when passion is connected with an activity, it highlights great enthusiasm.
For example, an individual who is passionate about dancing would carry on several activities related to dancing. She would enjoy dancing at all times since she is passionate about it. Also, she might attend classes to improve her skill in dancing, watch programs related to dancing, and would love to talk about dancing with others. This once again highlights that passion comes from within. It is a strong emotion that motivates an individual to a commitment.
On the other hand, the term compassionate carries a different meaning. It can be defined as the concern felt for another. When an individual is compassionate towards another, he or she attempts to be of assistance to that person.
For example, after noticing a student who continuously fails in the class, another student volunteers to assist the weak student. This is due to compassion. He understands the suffering of the other and tries to alleviate the individual from that condition by helping him with his studies. A person can be enthusiastic towards the object of compassion, but this is different from that of passion.
The intensity and commitment are lower than in passion. Also, to be compassionate, a person needs an external trigger, unlike in the case of passion. However, when speaking of compassionate love, it is built on mutual understanding, trust so on and so forth. This can also be considered as a difference between the two.
"Compassion is not a dry state of kindness, that you are standing above everybody and being kind to everyone, this is not it."
So compassion is not that which is bereft of passion, it’s a larger dimension of passion.
The difference between passionate and compassionate
- Being passionate comes from within whereas compassion comes from the outer world.
- When an individual is passionate, the intensity is relatively high in comparison to being compassionate.
- Being passionate requires much more commitment than is constant. However, when one is compassionate, it is usually not so.
A little story about passion and compassion
There was an old woman in China who had supported a monk for over 20 years. She had built a little hut for him and fed him while he spent his time meditating. Finally, she wondered just what progress he had made in 20 years. To find out, she obtained the help of a girl rich in desire.“Go and embrace him”, she told her, and then ask him suddenly: "What now?" The girl called upon the monk and without much ado caressed him, asking him what he was going to do about it. “An old tree grows on a cold rock in winter,” replied the monk somewhat poetically. “Nowhere is there any warmth?”
The girl returned and related what he had said. “To think I fed that fellow for 20 years!” exclaimed the old woman in anger: “He showed no consideration for your need, no disposition to explain your condition. He need not have responded to passion, but at least he could have shown some compassion.” She at once went to the hut of the monk and burned it down. In the story, how advanced do you think this monk was in his spiritual life? He had been in meditation for 20 years and when a young woman comes and unexpectedly embraces him, he responds poetically — An old tree (an old man) grows on a cold rock in winter (has no emotions/cold as in winter). Nowhere is there any warmth (everything is gone, I am totally dispassionate). Is this a spiritual goal? The old woman judges him correctly and remarks ‘to think I fed that good-for-nothing fellow for 20 years’ and exposes his pretension: “you need not have responded to passion, but you should have shown compassion.” Passion and compassion — go together, you cannot separate them. If you do not have passion, you do not have compassion. The young girl comes to the monk and he talks to her about his own attainment.
“I have become dispassionate, I have become free, I have no more desires, I have no more emotional needs, nothing!’ He is not listening to the young woman; does not acknowledge her or her needs. He does not respond to her at all. This is why the old woman considers that he hasn’t grown spiritually in all his meditating. You are practicing meditation and trying to live a spiritual life, so ask yourself: what is the goal of spending your time this way? Why do you do it? The goal should be in Zen terms: enlightenment and compassion. Put in more general terms, it would be the fullness of life. Jesus said; “I came so that they may have life and have it more abundantly. Life in this sense does not mean just a biological life; it means the fullness of life. It means love, freedom, joy, peace, and justice. Meditation should lead there, to fullness and not simply to the destruction of your passions and emotions. One major problem with some of the Buddhist meditations is that they discard, ignore and even deny emotions and the body.
I hear people talk about themselves and others as “passionate” as if it is a trait to have. I read advice on how to find and pursue your passion. In the same way that they used to say “sex sells”, passion also sells.
But for all of this passion we’re buying and selling — I wonder sometimes; have we lost sight of something more important? It’s a word that is closely related to passion — in fact, you just need to add three letters at the beginning of it. I’m talking about compassion. Yes, there is something called self-compassion and that is also very important for you. But if self-compassion is an egoistic way of living your passion with no compassion for others then it is a bad path you are on. Passion, self-compassion, and compassion go together in a harmonious balance.
Why do I believe we might have sacrificed compassion as we have adopted passion? Primarily, compassion involves patience. Those who are truly compassionate are extremely patient. But when we lose patience — with people, processes, or things, we lose compassion. It happens slowly at first, but once it begins, it becomes an avalanche.
If you don’t believe me? Then try this experiment!
Tomorrow, when you wake up, give meditation an honest go for 5–10 minutes. Really just sit and observe your thoughts, but do your best to keep yourself from grabbing on to them.
It’s helpful to think of thoughts and feelings as taxis driving by, and stopping to pick up fares. You don’t have to jump in them if you don’t want to. So try not to jump in. Stay where you are — just watching the taxis come and go.
Once you’re finished, venture outside into the world and go about your regular day. Drive-in traffic, get a coffee during the coffee shop’s peak breakfast hour. Go into work and check your email. But all the while, pay attention to one thing in particular: how quickly you form expectations, and how much your feelings — both physical and psychological become hooked to those expectations.
Once you venture into the world, expectations fly fast and furious. They can and do become part of your everyday mental processes. In traffic, you expect people to move quickly, you expect lights to change. When they don’t you get frustrated. At the coffee shop, you expect some level of service, you expect people to move in line, and you expect hot coffee if that’s what you ordered. When those expectations aren’t met, you get frustrated.
Every day we form a thousand expectations, and every day, a thousand more are not met. So every day, we feel the building frustration of a thousand let-downs. Sure, there is always the pleasure of all of the expectations that are met, but when those don’t outweigh the pain of unmet ones — we feel uneasy and tense. We withdraw or lash out. We become less patient and thus less compassionate.
Each time we take on another goal, another project, and develop a passion for it, we pin more of our happiness to expectations being met, progress being made, and whittle away even more patience — even more compassion. We sacrifice compassion for passion. We work hard and play hard, but we also become hardened.
I am not saying that we shouldn’t pursue projects and goals passionately. What I am saying is that we need to temper our passion with compassion. We need to temper our expectations with patience. Things will routinely not turn out how we expect or desire. We need to not only get used to that but learn to accept it — and roll with it.
The crazy thing is that in the long run, compassion may actually be more helpful to you than passion. Compassion requires patience, restraint, and open-mindedness. It requires that as many views and facts as possible be taken into consideration. Talk to any entrepreneur who has been in the game for longer than a few booms and busts, and they will tell you: that those three traits are key to long-term success.
Passion is fine, but as this world keeps turning, let’s not overlook compassion. Aside from helping you to be a good person, it might just make you a great one, as well.
Passion and compassion make your life colorful. Especially when you find a good cosmic balance between them.