Empathy: Relating through Heart

Osho on Empathy



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 neighbourhood 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.

So, remember perfectly well, whenever you sympathize with somebody. Watch the inner workings of your mind; it is not friendly. It is not out of your goodness, out of your compassion, but just the opposite. It is your hate, your jealousy, your violence – but now there is no need to show it, the man is finished on his own. Now you can have this beautiful experience and a good night’s sleep by sympathizing with him, by being a real Catholic. Sympathy is not a great quality. It is phony. Apathy is inhuman. And remember, when you are apathetic towards anybody, your heart is becoming harder. You are not doing any harm to the person; you are simply being self-destructive. The more apathetic you are, the more your heart will lose its great qualities. It will become just a pumping mechanism for breathing, but not a bridge for feeling.

Empathy has almost disappeared from human beings. It is certainly the only quality that joins you with the life current within other human beings, animals, trees – with the whole existence. It is pure religiousness. But no religion teaches empathy. All religions teach is sympathy, and sympathy is not the real thing….

Man thinks he has evolved. In certain ways, yes, but in certain other ways he has lost much. His evolution is only of reason, intellect, but he has lost, on the way, his heart. And the heart is the most significant thing. A thousand and one rationalities cannot give you that which a single heart full of sensitivity can give you. Empathy is relating to people through the heart. But this is possible only if the mind is silent, if there are no thoughts in the mind and it gives way, opens the door to the heart. But ordinarily you are so full of thoughts there is no way to be sensitive.

Even when you love someone, you say, “I think I have fallen in love.” That too, is a thought: you think. Your love is also dependent on your thinking. You cannot do anything directly from the heart. Your mind has been trained, educated, conditioned in every possible way and your heart has been ignored in every possible way. By and by, you have forgotten that the heart is far more valuable than the mind. Your mind has become everything….

Your question is significant, but I don’t think you understand what you have asked; empathy is not your experience. Once in a while lovers, great lovers, have felt it. Once in a while great disciples and masters have felt it.

Gautam Buddha had a disciple, Ananda, who remained with him till his very last breath – almost forty-two years without a single break, day in, day out, twenty-four hours a day. His relationship with Gautam Buddha was not of the mind. The relationship between the master and the disciple has not to be of the mind. If it is of the mind, then it is the relationship between teacher and student. If it is of the heart, then it is the relationship of master and disciple.

Slowly slowly their hearts came closer, became almost one. It is said that before Buddha asked for water, Ananda was ready. Before Buddha said that he was feeling cold, Ananda was already bringing the blanket. A very underground way had opened – no need to say anything. Many times, Buddha would say, “Ananda, why have you brought this water? I had not asked you.” Ananda said, “It does not matter whether you ask or not, I felt the thirst, that my master is thirsty; I felt my master is cold. I don’t know how, because it is not a question of my mind. Just the feeling – and so strong a feeling that I cannot go against it. If you are not thirsty, don’t drink.” Buddha laughed and he said, “No. I was just inquiring how you managed to know it. I was feeling thirsty, I was just going to say. I was feeling cold, and I was just going to say – but you don’t allow me even to say a thing!” Even in the night – if Gautam Buddha was not able to sleep because there were mosquitoes, Ananda could not sleep either. The moment Buddha awoke in the morning – exactly, simultaneously, immediately, Ananda awoke.

With lovers it has happened that before your beloved says something you know it. It is already heard by you, although it has not been said. So only in very rare cases is empathy still alive. But it has been a great loss to humanity. It is because of the loss of empathy that we have become unspiritual beings. It has to be regained. Getting it back will give you a totally new, luminous existence. And then you will not feel as an island apart from everybody else, but just part of an infinite continent. And just to feel it is so relaxing, to feel that you are one with the trees, and one with the rivers, and one with the stars. Then for the first time you will know what beauty is, what bliss is, what life is. All that you have to do is to behead yourself.

Meditation is nothing but a subtle way of beheading! Your head remains in its place, but loses all its content, becomes hollow. When the head is empty, the heart is full. When the head is full, the heart is empty, because you have only that much energy. You can’t have both. Up to now, humanity has chosen the head. And you can see the consequence: the whole earth has become a madhouse. My sannyasins have to change the whole direction of their life force towards the heart. And then you will see a new intensity, a new totality – something that was so close and yet of which you were unaware. Empathy is an experience of the heart. Yes, it is the life current, it is life itself.


Listen to complete discourse at mentioned below link.

Discourse series: From Bondage to Freedom Chapter #33

Chapter title: Dismantle the ego

17 October 1985 am in Rajneesh Mandir


Osho has spoken on ‘empathy, heart, mind, love, religiousness, master-disciple relationship’ in His discourses. Some of these can be referred to in the following books/discourses:

  1. Ah This!
  2. And the Flowers Showered
  3. The Dhammapada: The Way of the Buddha
  4. Guida Spirituale
  5. The Osho Upanishad
  6. The Sword and The Lotus
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