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Chapter 5: Beyond the Ego

Seeing Arjuna filled with pity, tears, and grief,
Krishna spoke thus.

“O Arjuna, how did such a misconception occur to you
at such a difficult time?
For it neither befits the way
the noble ones conduct themselves,
nor does it bring heaven or glory.

“O Arjuna, do not yield to impotence; it does not befit you.
Cast off this mean weakness of your heart and arise!”

Sanjay describes Arjuna as “filled with pity, tears and grief.” Let us understand this word pity. Sanjay does not say “full of compassion.” He says “filled with pity.”

Pity and compassion seem to be synonymous in the dictionary, and we are also usually found to be using both words in the same way. This creates a big misunderstanding. Pity is circumstantial, and compassion is the outcome of a psychological state. They are fundamentally different.

Compassion means coming from within the heart of the person, having nothing to do with outer circumstances. Compassion will go on emanating from the heart of a compassionate person even if he is sitting alone. It is like a flower blossoming in solitude; it will go on spreading its fragrance. It has nothing to do with any passerby. The fragrance of a flower is not concerned whether somebody is passing by or not. Even if nobody passes by, the fragrance will still permeate that solitary space. If somebody happens to pass by and is enchanted with the fragrance, that is a different matter, but the flower has not blossomed for that person.

Inner consciousness is the fountainhead of compassion. Compassion arises from it like a fragrance. Hence it is wrong to call Buddha or Mahavira “full of pity.” They are full of compassion; they are supremely compassionate.

Sanjay calls Arjuna “full of pity.” Pity is born in those who don’t have compassion in their hearts. Pity is born under the pressure of circumstances. Compassion is born out of the evolution of the heart. What arises in you when you see a beggar on the streets is pity; it is not compassion.

It is good to understand one more point here: pity strengthens the ego whereas compassion dissolves it. Compassion arises only in those who have become egoless. Pity is a means of nourishing the ego. It is a good means, used by good people, but all the same it is used to nourish the ego.

If you search deep inside yourself in those moments when you are giving something to somebody - when pity arises in you upon seeing a beggar, when you get pleasure from being a giver, from being in the position of being a giver - you will hear the murmuring voice of your ego.

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