Human flow

 
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What is compassion? 

When the Buddha is asked ‘what is compassion?’ he doesn’t give a definition, he answers with a simile–

'Imagine there is a person who becomes sick whilst travelling from one village to another and becomes stuck between the two. A second person sees this and thinks, ‘if he were to get an attendant... if he were to reach the next village, he could get excellent care…then this person’s sickness would subside.’
- From the Anguttara-nikaya and Analayo's excellent 'Compassion and Emptiness in Early Buddhist Meditation'. 

It is the vision of the person being cared for that gives rise to compassion. 

What compassion is not?

Compassion is turning towards suffering, in ourselves and others, and acting to help. Compassion is not dwelling on suffering. That would just be a contemplation of dukkha, suffering. Compassion is the wish for someone to be free from suffering and the image of that person being relieved from suffering, or the act of doing something to relieve their suffering. There are a lot of other emotions that arise in the face of suffering. Despair, anxiety, sadness and so on. But with compassion the mind takes the vision of freedom from affliction as it’s object, creating a positive even joyful state. 

Ai Weiwei

You could say Ai Weiwei is a political artist, or an art activist.

Some of his work is certainly in response to his own suffering, like his work S.A.C.R.E.D. which is a series of lifelike dioramas of a man inside a prison cell. The man is Ai Weiwei who spent 81 days in prison for tax evasion. The Chinese authorities were careful not to cause him any physical harm but instead had two officers stand over him 24 hours a day, while he ate his food, while he sat on the toilet and while he slept. 

Most of his work is about the suffering of others, like his fellow Chinese citizens

His most recent project is a documentary called 'Human Flow' it's about the refugee crisis and follows refugees around the world as they try, mostly in vain, to find a safe place to live. The full documentary has been on in cinemas and is soon to be released. Below is a trailer and a documentary of the making of 'Human Flow', which is in itself very moving. 

This is an urgent, deep soak in the current refugee crisis
— Jordan Hoffman

Watching the documentary with the images of refugees, having left behind their old life and having no new life to go towards, left a strong impression on me. That night in dreams and waking moments images from the documentary went through my mind mixed with those words from the Anguttara-nikaya - 

'Imagine there is a person who becomes sick whilst travelling from one village to another and becomes stuck between the two. A second person sees this and thinks, ‘if he were to get an attendant... if he were to reach the next village, he could get excellent care…then this person’s sickness would subside.’

Compassion meditation 

Below is a short led meditation where we imagine a friend being freed from their suffering, and using that image evoke a positive, even joyful, state of compassion that then radiates outwards like the sun.