Author Topic: what is the difference between EMPATHY and COMPASSION?  (Read 9689 times)

hope rainbow

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what is the difference between EMPATHY and COMPASSION?
« on: August 05, 2012, 03:07:31 PM »
what is the difference between EMPATHY and COMPASSION?
Here below is what Wiktionary says. From a Buddhist understanding, what is exactly empathy and what is compassion?

- the intellectual identification of the thoughts, feelings, or state of another person
- the capacity to understand another person's point of view or the result of such understanding

- deep awareness of the suffering of another, coupled with the wish to relieve it


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Re: what is the difference between EMPATHY and COMPASSION?
« Reply #1 on: August 11, 2012, 02:52:35 PM »
I believe that Empathy is an essential component of Compassion. To me, Empathy is best defined as 'the capacity to think and feel like another' .

According to Yongay Mingyur Rinpoche(in his book 'Joy of Living',p.174), the basic meaning of Compassion is ' "feeling with", a recognition that what you feel, I feel. Anything that hurts you, hurts me.....Compassion, in Buddhist terms, is a complete identification with others.....'

It must surely be this great compassion for others  that prompted Mingyur Rinpoche to renounce all - a life of ease and global renown as a great Tibetan Meditation Master and a rising star among the new generation of Tibetan Buddhist Masters - for the life of a wandering yogi and mendicant. 


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Re: what is the difference between EMPATHY and COMPASSION?
« Reply #2 on: August 12, 2012, 02:02:19 AM »
My understanding...

Empathy : Understanding of how the other person’s feeling as we ourselves have experienced them ourselves and we are able to put ourselves in their shoes...Something that we can relate to each other.

Compassion :  Knowing and noting the other person’s suffering, feeling their pain with a spontaneous  genuine, innate and realistic desire to alleviate that person’s suffering without self-aggrandising..a selfless act to help and benefit others.

Be it Buddhist or not, both these components are in everyone of us.  The difference is the degree and level of the two components one has in them and their selfless quality.  Look at Mother Theresa who knows no boundaries to help and benefit so many people irrespective of their creed, races, etc... not thinking of her own comfort or importance but rather the other persons.]([url]

Dorje Pakmo

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Re: what is the difference between EMPATHY and COMPASSION?
« Reply #3 on: August 12, 2012, 08:49:03 AM »
My understanding of EMPATHY and COMPASSION.

(As already mentioned by vajrastorm and biggyboy)
For a person to have compassion toward others, one first must have EMPATHY.
The ability to recognize the feelings of another being, given a certain condition or situation.
To put oneself in another's shoes and feel how that person/being is feeling.
EMPATHY is a kind of understanding of feelings of another being.
By understanding another being's pain and suffering and a DESIRE to help or ease it, is EMPATHY.

COMPASSION, is very similar to EMPATHY I think, but it goes a little deeper than that.
To have COMPASSION, one FEELS the pain and suffering of another being (EMPATHY), and take the extra step forward regardless if it's convenient or not without any personal agenda, to do something to stop, if not lessen the other being's problem.

An example:-

We see a handicapped beggar going around begging for money to survive. We immediately feel very sad and painful for that person. Probably out of kindness and the EMPATHY we give that person a dollar or two, in hope that it will "temporarily" ease his/her problem, and pray for a better tomorrow for him/her after he/she leave us and continue to beg from another person. And then we continue on with our own life soon forgetting this poor beggar.

A person out of COMPASSION and genuine care (not saying EMPATHY is bad or fake but just to show COMPASSION goes a little further), when given the same situation will do a little more. Probably take the extra step to understand how he/she got into such plight, check with the beggar where he/she is living, regularly visit and help that person, try to improve the living condition of that person by getting help from welfare departments or public donations, make sure he/she is provided for and assist him/her to find a job so that he/she can be independent and need not beg anymore in the future. Really going all the way to help another.

I think that is the difference between EMPATHY and COMPASSION. 


Tenzin K

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Re: what is the difference between EMPATHY and COMPASSION?
« Reply #4 on: August 12, 2012, 09:34:37 AM »
Neuroscientist Richard Davidson presented findings suggesting that empathy and compassion correlate to differing neural states.  He found that the circuits engaged by compassion training partially overlap with those activated during empathy, but differ in that they also involve the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, which he suggested might play a role in expressing and enacting aspiration.  Such would accord with the Buddhist definition of compassion—the aspiration that others be free from suffering. 

Matthieu Ricard, western monk, scientist, and author, continued the conversation, considering how the experience of empathy without compassion would induce incredibly unpleasant, even crippling, states.  The following day, Matthieu explained the testing of this hypothesis in the lab, where seasoned meditators were instructed to resonate with others’ suffering without generating compassion or performing cognitive reappraisal until the practice became utterly unbearable—and it did.  When the meditators in the lab then generated compassion, their experience transformed completely.  These meditators had trained extensively in generating compassion in the face of suffering almost immediately, but teasing apart empathy and compassion in the lab proved to be extremely illuminating.

Empathy that resonates with another’s painful condition causes the empathizer to experience that same suffering, which can easily overwhelm. Training in compassion can transform the same empathy that in itself is debilitating into a helpful force.

As HHDL reiterated, we need to take into account the differences between the reaction caused by witnessing pain and the helpful attitude of compassion, which understands the causal conditions that lead to suffering.


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Re: what is the difference between EMPATHY and COMPASSION?
« Reply #5 on: August 12, 2012, 11:55:07 AM »
Empathy is the ability to imagine and share the feelings, problems and experience of another person. To empathize with other person, the element of wisdom is not required. It is just a good quality which can fluctuate because it is not stable. And it is conditional. You may not empathize with people you don't like.

In Buddhism, compassion  has an element of wisdom. Compassion is the ability to benefit others unconditionally. Compassion and wisdom are inseparable. The more wisdom we have, the greater our compassion, i.e. the better our ability to help others. For example, the basic wisdom we need to help others is to recognize them as our mothers. If we can do this, our scope of compassion is limitless. It can extend to all sentient beings in the six realms.  We can also develop compassion by remembering the kindness of others and wishing to repay their kindness. These methods are part of the seven-fold cause and effect approach to generate bodhicitta. When we understand the suffering of sentient beings, we want to liberate them from their suffering by developing the altruistic mind, i.e. a mind which is more concerned with the needs and feelings of others above one's own. It is a mind of great compassion. Universal compassion is one of the four qualities of a Buddha.


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Re: what is the difference between EMPATHY and COMPASSION?
« Reply #6 on: August 12, 2012, 12:03:48 PM »
Compassion is based on equanimity, genuine motivation to alleviate the suffering of others while empathy is acknowledging the suffering of others and lacks the action of alleviating the suffering. In Buddhism, whereas mindfulness is nonjudgmental awareness of the nature of suffering (as the result of resistance to pain), compassion is the nonjudgmental acceptance of ourselves or another while experiencing pain. In this way, compassion actually alleviates much of our unnecessary suffering.


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Re: what is the difference between EMPATHY and COMPASSION?
« Reply #7 on: August 12, 2012, 02:10:55 PM »

Empathy emphasises feeling and emotion while with compassion the emphasis is more on action.Empathy can embrace listening but not going on street march.Compassion is readily compatible with street marches and other forms of organization too.
Empathy is a kind of receptivity while compassion add an element of doing.We may have empathy for someone without doing anything about it.Both empathy and compassion are an openness to the other person,their feeling and situation.With both empathy and compassion,we are "moved" -we respond to the other person's feeling and situation.Empathy is more the respond to the person's feelings and emotion while
compassion is more the respond to their situation.


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Re: what is the difference between EMPATHY and COMPASSION?
« Reply #8 on: August 12, 2012, 02:27:57 PM »
Empathy and Compassion.... basically, there is nothing much or not much difference between the two. The most important and only difference between the two that having one of it brings us to enlightenment while none for the other is... ACTION.

Compassion = empathy + action

simple formula, but so difficult to practice, for most of us at least.

For example, when an animal is being abused physically by a person... people will feel sad to see such cruelty happen, that feeling is empathy. However, very few will step up and do something about it, empathy with action means the person have compassion, they cannot bear to see another person/animal suffer that they have to do something about it. And that feeling is not motivated by things like 'human rights', being offended because the person that was abused is of the same race etc. It is purely, 'I cant take it that this being is suffering, so I have to do something'