“If your compassion does not include yourself it is incomplete.”
This one’s Jack Kornfield, from page 28 of his Buddha’s Little Instruction Book. I’m quite sure it’s not from the Buddhist scriptures because in the Buddha’s way of thinking, compassion for oneself is natural — and our task is to extend that compassion to others.
To be a bit polemical, although we Westerners like to go on about how much self-hatred we have, I see very little sign of ascetic behavior towards oneself in the west, with or without compassion towards others. On an ordinary level, we’re very self-preoccupied. Few people seem to be so caught up in buying wide-screen television sets for other people that they have to be reminded to buy one for themselves.
People act as if they love themselves, but don’t necessarily seem to like themselves or have much genuine compassion for themselves. I suspect they’re simply alienated from their own self-love; it’s there, but unnoticed. However I still don’t see much sign that people are brimming over with compassion for others and neglecting themselves. There does seem to be more general lack of compassion, however — for both self and other.
I find myself wondering whether, when we say we have compassion for others but not ourselves, we’re actually dealing with compassion at all. In the “martyr complex” there’s often the assumption that after our sacrifices, someone (Jesus?) will reward our virtue. Of course the savior generally fails to appear…
The Buddha seems to have talked about people having the impression that they didn’t like themselves, even though they acted as if they did:
“Even though they may say, ‘We aren’t dear to ourselves,’ still they are dear to themselves. Why is that? Of their own accord, they act toward themselves as a dear one would act toward a dear one; thus they are dear to themselves.”
His criterion for saying that someone acted toward themselves as if they were a dear one, however, was that they engaged in “good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct, and good mental conduct.” In other words they’re doing things that lead to their own long-term well-being.
The Buddha encouraged people to exercise empathy as a basis for compassion, as in these two verses from the Dhammapada:
129. All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.
130. All tremble at violence; life is dear to all. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.
The assumption here is that we are dear to ourselves (we want happiness, avoid suffering) and that this needs to be seen as true of others as well. When we do this, we’ll act compassionately.
The general assumption that we are dear to ourselves and need to extend that care to others can be seen very explicitly in this verse that the Buddha uttered to King Pasenadi and Queen Mallikā:
Searching all directions
with your awareness,
you find no one dearer
In the same way, others
are dear to themselves.
So you shouldn’t hurt others
if you love yourself.