Edited by Marco Ferrini
Compassion (kripa) is the first virtue mentioned by Shri Caitanya to Sanatana Gosvami, and meaningfully so, because it is probably the most important. In fact the genuine spiritual researcher, the sadhu, is by definition kripalu, merciful. From the psychological point of view, what does it mean being merciful? It means being benevolently disposed towards all living entities, willing to give everyone a benefit of a higher nature.
Due to his merciful attitude, the sage is always willing to solve the problems of other people, to relieve the sufferings of others, if possible by offering not just a temporary "cure" but a remedy that can cut sufferings from the root. For this reason traditionally the most merciful person is one who offers others instruments to regain the awareness of their own spiritual nature, so that they can become free from the mire of conditionings. The sadhu who carries such quality does not manifest it only towards those who are of his own kind, the human beings, but also towards all sentient beings, including animals and plant. If this was not the case, we would not be able to speak of true compassion. One who does not show benevolence and empathy towards other creatures cannot perceive the happiness of others like his own, and consequently cannot be merciful.
In Brihadaranyaka Upanishad1, we read that one who does good becomes good, while one who does bad becomes evil. If we reflect on these statements and try to understand them deeply, also getting help from our personal experience, it will not be difficult to come to the conclusion that there is a connection between the actions we perform and the character we develop. Thus one who acts in a bad way becomes bad, insensitive, degraded, while one who does good becomes good, sensitive and virtuous. The merciful person, kripalu, is undoubtedly one who did good for a long time, until the action shaped by compassion became a habit that structured his character and destiny, giving him a new birth with that particular tendency.
In other words, compassion is not something that can be improvised on the spot, but it is structured by performing the corresponding actions. This explains why individuals are born with specific tendencies or vasanas, why they are born with natural disposition - for example to music, dancing, singing, painting, and even to compassion. There is a famous anecdote regarding a child who was asked to draw a circle, and he designed a perfect circle. Why? Because obviously geometric knowledge was already part of his luggage. Similarly who is born a kripalu, compassionate, is inclined to be merciful and cannot conceive life without helping other creatures, getting into empathy with them, and feeling that their good corresponds to one's own.
Kripa means feeling, even before understanding, that others need us, it is informing our interlocutors about the reality of things. One who "sees" can understand if those who are around are blind, victims of illusion. Illusion and confusion are caused by the anarthas2 that are the direct opposite of the virtues, and seriously compromise the development of virtues. Nobody should think they do not belong to the category of the good people; even if this were true, such truth would have a relative and temporary value. There is a scientific method to develop any virtue, and any individual can apply it. To increase kripa, the proper strategy is to look at others as we look at ourselves, to think of other people's good as we think of our own.
"One who judges pleasure or suffering, that manifest in all beings, with the same consideration he would use for himself, o Arjuna, that yogi is known as perfect" 3.
There is still a difference between ourselves and the others: while we can impose something to ourselves, but we cannot impose anything to others, we can only propose, and the best proposal is our personal example, that is often the most effective communication.
1B.Up. IV 4.5 2Traditionally considered as the greatest enemies of man, the six anarthas, (obstacles to the realization of the goal) are: kama (lust, desire), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), moha (illusion, confusion), mada (arrogance) and matsara (envy, jealousy). 3Bg. VI 31