Lord Buddha was born a prince in the Shakya clan, in Lumbini, Nepal, about twenty-six hundred years ago from today. He was consciously protected from any suffering in the world for 29 years of his life by his parents. For 29 years he did not encounter a single depressing experience. Life for him was pleasure in abundance. The first time he got out in the real world, at the age of 29, and saw people who were in pain and suffering, the first time he was introduced to concept of death, he was upset, he was curious. He immediately renounced his royal responsibilities and left his family for seeking enlightenment. He spent a long time understanding the true nature of mind. Thereafter, he spent his life teaching and helping others towards ending their suffering.
Buddha had never seen or experienced suffering in his entire life as a prince. But his curiosity, compassion and courage led him to attain awakening and help the ones in need.
I share this story because it intrinsically answers the question – Is intense suffering necessary for compassion? In my opinion and experience, suffering may or may not lead to compassion but when it does, it’s the most powerful. Having said that, it’s not necessary for one to feel compassionate or one to develop ‘compassion courage’ in herself/himself.
Compassion is a trait that evokes the need to understanding the causes of suffering and putting an end to it. Compassion is a courageous trait; it demands feelings and efforts to help a living being feel better. A lot of times we confuse it with empathy, which in the most basic terms, is mirroring of one’s feelings.
Let’s analyse the question from a different angle – If someone has gone through intense suffering, does that mean he will emerge out as a compassionate person? If that were true, God would ask humans for advice! Sometimes suffering leads to feeling of revenge, of mistrust, of hopelessness.
It indeed takes courage to be compassionate, to be willing and be proactively engaged to finding answers and solutions and spend time in service of others.
Experiencing suffering is harsh, is unbearable and is inevitable, but the variations differ from person to person, from community to community, from geography to geography. Compassion can be developed, can be practiced, but can not be expected out of everybody, out of everyone who has suffered enough or more than enough in life. In my perspective, it’s to an extent in-fact unfair to expect that happening too.
But I do believe that compassion is an essential trait that holds this world in balance. In the absence of it, life won’t exist.