Lama Ole’s answer:
I can tell you about an experience I had that may help give an answer. It was in 1976 at the Ararat in Turkey, close to the border with Iran. We were driving a bus with fifty or sixty friends through the Middle East, then on to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, when we had to stop all of a sudden because there was a dead man lying in the road.
I went over to him to help, and it was a completely naked experience, pure and radiant! It happened on several levels of consciousness simultaneously. On the one hand, there was the bright blue sky and an impressive mountain with perennial snow in the background, and at the same time there was this dead man lying there with people standing around: all of them malnourished, with stubbly beards, and completely shocked. The man lay there with open eyes, his mouth full of blood, and right beside him was a piece of his hipbone that had been broken off.
Everything was there in the same moment: compassion for the man, who certainly had fifteen kids who would now have to work in the salt mines; compassion for his wife and for the people who were just standing there, unable to understand or do anything; the fantastic mountain; the glistening blood on this bone and in his mouth. In some way it was pure—merely because it happened. It was completely beyond liking or disliking. It was an experience of nakedly, directly seeing what was happening.
And when those experiences come, one thinks, “Where has my compassion gone?” and “You should have done something!” But in fact, despite those thoughts, one has reacted five times better and more authentically than if one had approached the situation with all kinds of sentimental feelings and fixed ideas about compassion. Since I was able to see the situation on a pure level in the moment, I could react well. That way we do our best—a lot better than with fixed ideas.