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Avalokiteshvara, embodiment of compassion (courtesy of Lama Tsondru Sangpo)

Compassion (Skt. karuṇā; Pal. karuṇā; Tib. སྙིང་རྗེ་, nyingjé, Wyl. snying rje[1]) — one of the four immeasurables. It is defined as the wish that others may be free from suffering and its causes.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama says:

"When I speak of ‘basic human feeling’, I refer to the capacity we all have to empathize with one another. This is what enables us to enter into the pain of others and, to some extent, participate in the pain of others.
Our innate capacity for empathy is the source of that most precious of all human qualities, which in Tibetan we call nyingjé. The term nyingjé has a wealth of meaning that includes: love, affection, kindness, gentleness, generosity of spirit, and warm-heartedness. It does not imply pity; on the contrary, nyingjé denotes a feeling of connection with others. Also, it belongs to that category of emotions which have a more developed cognitive component. So we can understand nyingjé as a combination of empathy and reason.
We can think of empathy as the characteristic of a very warm-hearted or well-meaning person; reason as that of someone who is very practical (and truly intelligent and wise). When the two are put together, the combination is highly effective."[2]


  1. compassion focused on sentient beings,
  2. compassion focused on phenomena, and
  3. compassion without focus.

These distinctions are made purely in terms of focus (དམིགས་པ་, dmigs pa), whilst in all three cases the attitude of mind (རྣམ་པ་, rnam pa) is the same, i.e. the wish that there may be freedom from suffering. For more see three kinds of compassion

Oral Teachings on Compassion Given to the Rigpa Sangha


  1. And also in the honorific form, Tib. ཐུགས་རྗེ་, tukjé, Wyl. thugs rje
  2. Adapted from Ethics for the New Millenium, Riverhead Press, 1999

Further Reading

  • Luis O. Gómez, 'Karuṇābhāvanā: Notes on the Meaning of Buddhist Compassion'. Tibet Journal, vol. 3 no 2, pages 33-59.
  • Newland, Guy. Compassion, a Tibetan Analysis: A Buddhist Monastic Textbook. Boston: Wisdom, 1985.

External Links