Clearly, empathy is necessary to form healthy relationships with other beings.
To understand how another is feeling is the first step.  To act upon that knowledge is the second.  That means we have a choice.  Compassion would dictate a positive action.  This principle is recognized throughout written history, throughout humanity.  It has been called the “Golden Rule”.

According to Greg M. Epstein, a Humanist chaplain at Harvard University, " 'do unto others' ... is a concept that essentially no religion misses entirely. But not a single one of these versions of the golden rule requires a God"  It is the single greatest, simplest, and most important moral axiom humanity has ever invented, one which reappears in the writings of almost every culture and religion throughout history.

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
—Leviticus 19:18[

"Zi Gong asked, saying, "Is there one word that may serve as a rule of practice for all one's life?" The Master said, "Is not RECIPROCITY such a word?" – Confucius

Ancient Egyptian concept of Maat appears in the story of The Eloquent Peasant, which dates to the Middle Kingdom (c. 2040–1650 BCE): "Now this is the command: Do to the doer to cause that he do thus to you."

Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.
—Udanavarga 5:18  (Buddhism)

And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.
Luke 6:31

One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. Other behavior is due to selfish desires.
—Brihaspati, Mahabharata (Anusasana Parva, Section CXIII, Verse 8) (Hinduism)

From the hadith, the collected oral and written accounts of Muhammad and his teachings during his lifetime:

A Bedouin came to the prophet, grabbed the stirrup of his camel and said: O the messenger of God! Teach me something to go to heaven with it. Prophet said: “As you would have people do to you, do to them; and what you dislike to be done to you, don't do to them. Now let the stirrup go! [This maxim is enough for you; go and act in accordance with it!]”
—Kitab al-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 146

Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss.
—T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien


Last night was the violin recital.  After 45 years of not playing, I am playing again.
I shared a stage with students of all ages.  Dr. Kolchanova, our teacher, was there being encouraging to all.  Prior to the recital, she said that she wanted the students to introduce the piece they were playing.  You can probably imagine the small children shyly and quickly announcing what they would play.  I decided to tell a story of our prior teacher, Mr. Racz, who had died in a very untimely way last spring.   I am very familiar with talking in front of crowds and it was a good way for me to focus.  The story was short, funny, touching, and very in the character of Mr. Racz.  The crowd gently laughed as they all shared the mutual familiarity.  I then played a lament, Ashokan Farewell, accompanied on the piano by Dr. Kolchanova.  After the concert many people told me that they had tears in their eyes while that was being played.  I am not a virtuoso, at least not yet, but tuning them to a shared feeling and then having music resonate the same feeling that i had was an amazing connection that I have never experienced before.  It was palpable. One man told me that it had him thinking of his mother and as he told me he hesitated, holding back tears.  One of the moms thanked me for bringing in a way to mourn for our lost teacher.  Music has great power.


A great actor is that human being who is willing to exchange his or her personal interpretive framework for an alternative interpretive framework, to walk a mile in another person’s shoes. We learn and experience more about ourselves from accepting other people’s stories as a possibility for us.  The art of acting is living from imagined possibility and so is the art of empathy.  The other essential element for a stage actor to to pay attention to the reactions of the audience and understand their perspective.

Acting training has been shown to increase empathy in health care providers.


In the 1990s, neurophysiological research led to the discovery of “mirror neurons” in the brain: cell assemblies that were active when an animal engaged in some voluntary action AND also when that animal watched in another engaging in the same action. This built-in simulation capacity was also observed in functional brain imaging studies of persons seeing images of another in pain. Those same brain regions active in the personal experience of pain, particularly the emotional aspects of pain, are active when seeing another’s suffering. There is additional research evidence to suggest that such empathic responses are relatively automatic and do not require some sort of volitional intent. Thus, the interpretation of relevant brain research converges with the first-person experience of long-term meditators.

Then why does compassion (empathy for another’s suffering, plus the desire to alleviate it) so often seem in short supply? The answer to this question given by Buddhist contemplative practitioners is that the delusion of being a separate self that must be protected and satisfied gives rise to a self-focus in which aversion and attraction derail the natural inclination toward altruistic action.  Recent scientific investigation provides a converging perspective. Studies that have an experimentally manipulated self-versus-other focus have shown a self-focused perspective arouses more intense physiologic responses to another’s suffering, along with an aversive conscious experience, termed “empathic distress.” Perhaps this phenomenon occurs because a self-focused perspective is more likely to give rise to associations concerning painful and distressing events in one’s own past experience.  In related research, it has been found that children who show greater physiologic emotional response to others’ distress tend to be more self-focused and less likely to respond altruistically.

Experienced Buddhist meditators report that the practice of calmly and mindfully observing the mental continuum results in a shift in the sense of self, and what was once thought to comprise a stable, permanent self is eventually seen to be impermanent and interdependent. Self-focus is said to fall away as this realization deepens. Very recently, neuroscientists have conducted functional brain imaging studies relevant to these contemplative descriptions. For example, mindfulness training (alert, nonjudgmental maintenance of attention to the present moment of experience) has been shown to decrease activity, during particular task instructions, in those midline brain regions thought to participate in the narrative self-reference that maintains the sense of identity continuity across time. In other functional brain imaging research, the activation of these midline brain regions by visually presented words was found to return to baseline more rapidly in experienced Zen Buddhist meditators than in meditation naïve persons. These and other recent brain imaging observations have been interpreted as consistent with the hypothesis that meditation practice reduces the amount of time to disengage from the brain activity associated with self-focus. But what of the claim that this enhances empathy and compassion? In another experiment, “expert” Buddhist meditators (i.e., those with more than 10,000 hours of meditation practice) showed greater activation than meditation novices in those previously described empathy-related brain regions when distressed emotional vocalizations were heard while the meditators engaged in what is termed “non-referential compassion meditation.”


A study just published from Michigan State University showed patients that had a relationship with their doctor based on empathy were much more tolerant of pain.  It was demonstrated convincingly by MRI studies that directly demonstrated how the brain responded to painful stimuli.  The sample size was small, thus the study will be repeated to learn more.  In my own experience with patients, I would have to say that this is a simple truth.


Issidoros Sarinopoulos, Ashley M. Hesson, Chelsea Gordon, Seungcheol A. Lee, Lu Wang, Francesca Dwamena, Robert C. Smith. Patient-centered interviewing is associated with decreased responses to painful stimuli: An initial fMRI study. Patient Education and Counseling, 2012
An old Cherokee is telling his granddaughter about a fight that is going on inside himself. He said it is between two wolves. One is evil: Anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.  The other is good: Joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. The granddaughter thought about it for a minute and then asked her grandfather, "Which wolf wins?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one I feed."

-Unknown Author- Native American Story

   There was a cowherd boy who took his cows to the meadows every morning and brought them back to the cowshed at the end of the day. One evening, as he was tying the cows up for the night, the boy found that one of them was missing her rope. He feared that she might run away, but it was too late to go and buy a new rope. The boy didn't know what to do, so he went to a wise man who lived nearby and sought his advice. The wise man told the boy to pretend to tie the cow, and make sure that the cow saw him doing it. The boy did as the wise man suggested and pretended to tie the cow. The next morning the boy discovered that the cow had remained still throughout the night. He untied all the cows as usual, and they all went outside. He was about to go to the meadows when he noticed that the cow with the missing rope was still in the cowshed. She was standing on the same spot where she had been all night. He tried to coax her to join the herd, but she wouldn't budge. The boy was perplexed. He went back to the wise man who said, "The cow still thinks she is tied up. Go back and pretend to untie her." The boy did as he was told, and the cow happily left the cowshed. This is what the guru does with the ego of the disciple. The guru helps untie that which was never there. Like the cow, due to our ignorance, we believe that we are bound by the ego when, in fact, we are completely free. We need to be convinced of this, however.

-Mother Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi)