Is empathy the current that brings about the awareness of our each and every relatedness, and vice versa?
The experience of empathy is very rare. You know what sympathy means, you also know what apathy means; but empathy you do not know.
Sympathy and apathy are opposed to each other. Empathy is beyond both. To help you understand it, let me tell you an incident in Ramakrishna’s life.
He was in a boat, going to the other shore of the Ganges near Calcutta. And just out of nowhere – he was surrounded by his disciples – he started screaming, “Don’t beat me!” Tears started flowing from his eyes, and one could see that his body was getting distorted as if somebody was beating him badly. The disciples could see nobody there, but he was in immense torture.
When they reached to the other shore, they found a fisherman with a big crowd surrounding him. He had been beaten by a few people. And the strangest thing was that the same bruises and scratches that had come up on his back, had come up on Ramakrishna’s back too – exactly the same.
It was a very mysterious phenomenon. They asked Ramakrishna what it was. He said, “This is empathy. You feel so one with the other that your separate identities lose their boundaries. The other’s thirst becomes your thirst, the other’s hunger becomes your hunger, the other’s joy becomes your joy. The other is no longer other: some secret passage has opened between two beings, a deep connectedness.”
Man has forgotten about empathy completely, but he knows about sympathy. Sympathy is not something great. When somebody is in misery you sympathize; but if you look inside you will find you are feeling great because you are not in misery, somebody else is. At least in this situation you are superior. You can sympathize – you can afford it.
Apathy is your everyday experience. You pass people as if they don’t exist. The servant comes in your room – you don’t wave at him, you don’t smile at him. You don’t even take any note that somebody has come in the room. You remain exactly the same as you were before – no recognition of the other’s existence. This is your everyday experience.
Sympathy once in a while – when somebody goes bankrupt, when somebody’s house is burned, the whole neighborhood is sympathetic. And these are the same people who were jealous of his beautiful house. How can it be? The same people who were jealous of his beautiful house suddenly have become so sympathetic because his house is burned. It is a mask; underneath they are feeling great joy, this was the day they were waiting for. His beautiful house was continuously a torture for their heart. Now, sympathizing with the man, they are in a higher position. They are really feeling good.