The poem “Compassion”, (published in the collection of Miller Williams’ poems, “The Ways We Touch: Poems”) has these profound lines:
Have compassion for everyone you meet,
even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit,
bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign
of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on
down there where the spirit meets the bone.
In a section of the “Mahabharata” (translated by Bibek Debroy) titled “Markandeya Samasya Parva”, we read an illuminating conversation between a meat seller and a Brahmin (who, owing to his conceit, is asked by a lady to learn from the meat seller). Speaking about dharma, the meat seller says: “The virtuous are those who are compassionate towards everything.”
In “Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul”, a moving book inspired by correspondence between Albert Einstein and a grieving Rabbi, Naomi Levy introduces us to the Hebrew word “husa” — “a word that appears repeatedly in Jewish prayers.”
“What is husa? What does it mean?”, the Rabbi Naomi asks. She answers: “It’s not pity, not mercy….Husa is the special kind of love that an artist has for his or her own creation, even when it’s imperfect. That’s the key to husa. It’s a compassion for something that’s flawed. Husa involves the absence of judgement. That’s why Jews turn to God and ask for husa in their prayers: “The soul is Yours, the body is Your creation, husa, have compassion for Your work.””
And what the person in such prayer hears is “a voice of compassion that says: Try again, it’s okay, pick yourself up.”