Week 46 - The Noble Eightfold Path - Right Thought III: Compassion

In teaching about Right Thought, the second step of the Noble Eightfold Path, Joseph has so far described thoughts of renunciation and thoughts of goodwill or lovingkindness. This week, he concludes the discussion of Right Thought by describing thoughts of compassion, free of cruelty. “Compassion is the strong wish of the mind and heart to alleviate all suffering.”

Joseph instructs us in how to awaken our own compassion, saying this involves a willingness to come close to suffering. He elucidates the question of how to stay open to the great suffering there is in this world without sinking into indifference. We must learn to simply be with the truth of things as they are.

A beginning place is empathy and Joseph tells a moving story of Dr. Tenzin Choedrak, a Tibetan who was imprisoned and tortured by the Chinese for 17 years. It is important to take appropriate action in the face of suffering, and Joseph cautions us to be aware of the motivation for our action. The Buddha taught, “Hatred never ceases by hatred; it only ceases by love.”

In describing the practice of compassion, we must purify our own hearts and minds, and we must learn to put others before ourselves. He concludes by speaking of the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, that our lives and practice be for the benefit of all. “So each of us, in our own way, can plant and water the seeds of right thought and a kind heart, and slowly they will grow and become the guiding principles of our lives.”

Questions (each relates to practice of corresponding number below).

1. Joseph mentions that we don't want to be with the pain of others sometimes; have you noticed withdrawing or being numb so as not to let this in?

2. Given the magnitude of suffering in the world, what can we do to keep our hearts open?

3. A larger context is suggested for overcoming our judgment and righteous feelings about people behaving badly. Are you aware of such judgments obscuring your view at times?

4. How and when does compassion arise for you, and then continue into acts of kindness?


1. Reflect on a place in your daily life where you find yourself in need of putting yourself first, in order to then be able to more effectively put someone else first.

2. Take time to come a little closer to a difficult situation.  Perhaps there is a story in the daily news where the first step of empathy might motivate you easily.  Though you can't save the world, try any technique of meditation or breath as a response to stay with it a few moments.

3. Look around this week to recognize the same desire as yours to be happy; try to discern it in a stranger.  Internally you could say "just like me."  Try also the suggestion from the talk, "May this person be free from the cause of suffering." Notice how this feels.

4. Remember to make allowance for compassionate acceptance for yourself this week. Ask gently if now would be a good opportunity, and check within for your answer.