All beings, everywhere, suffer; let your heart go out to them all in spontaneous
and immeasurable compassion, and direct that compassion, along with the blessing of all
the Buddhas, to the alleviation of suffering everywhere.
Compassion is a far greater and nobler thing than pity. Pity has its roots in
fear, and a sense of arrogance and condescension, sometimes even a smug
feeling of “I’m glad it’s not me.” As Stephen Levine says: “When your fear
touches someone’s pain it becomes pity; when your love touches someone’s
pain, it becomes compassion.”4 To train in compassion, then, is to know all
beings are the same and suffer in similar ways, to honor all those who suffer,
and lo know you are neither separate from nor superior to anyone.
So your first response on seeing someone suffer becomes not mere pity,
but deep compassion. You feel for that person respect and even gratitude,
because you now know that whoever prompts you to develop compassion by
their suffering is in fact giving you one of the greatest gifts of all, because they
are helping you to develop that very quality you need most in your progress
toward enlightenment. That is why we say in Tibet that the beggar who is
asking you for money, or the sick old woman wringing your heart, may be the
buddhas in disguise, manifesting on your path to help you grow in
compassion and so move towards buddhahood.
Tibetan Book of Living and Dying