Loving yourself: is it necessary for developing compassion?

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The Buddhist and other 'wisdom' traditions emphasise the primary importance of compassion--empathic concern for another's suffering and a wish, ideally followed by action, to relieve that suffering. But what about love and compassion for oneself?

The Dalai Lama often stresses that 'healthy' self-love--as opposed to self-centredness --is a prerequisite for the development of compassion, for example in this commentary on the Eight Verses of Mind Training:

"In the Buddhist teachings on altruism and compassion, certain expressions are used such as "One should disregard one's own well-being and cherish other's well-being." It is important to understand these statements regarding the practice of voluntarily sharing someone else's pain and suffering in their proper context. The fundamental point is that if you do not have the capacity to love yourself, then there is simply no basis on which to build a sense of caring toward others. Love for yourself does not mean that you are indebted to yourself. Rather, the capacity to love oneself or be kind to oneself should be based on a very fundamental fact of human existence: that we all have a natural tendency to desire happiness and avoid suffering. Once this basis exists in relation to oneself, one can extend it to other sentient beings." (http://dalailama.com/teachings/training-the-mind/verse-1)

This inwardly directed component of compassion has attracted much attention recently, aided by the work of University of Texas researcher Dr. Kristin Neff, who coined the term 'self-compassion':



Daniel Goleman's book Destructive Emotions gives an account of the 2000 Mind & Life discussion between The Dalai Lama and Western scientists and philosophers. When it came to the topic of compassion (Chapter 3, 'Compassion: Only for Others?', and following subchapters), it became clear that the Tibetan term tsewa--commonly translated as 'compassion'--applies equally to self and other, but that the English 'compassion'--and its equivalents in other 'Western' languages--may not capture this meaning accurately, instead equating self-compassion with self-pity.

It makes me wonder whether people actually get the right message when we talk about developing compassion?

If you have found useful ways of communicating this dual aspect of compassion to your 'audiences', maybe you could share these here. Many thanks.

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