Overcoming “Sentimental Compassion”: How Buddhists Cope with Compassion Fatigue

Fung Kei Cheng


Compassion fatigue demolishes productivity and the mental health of helping professionals. And yet, very little research has investigated it from the Buddhist perspective. The following mixed-method research explores how Buddhists overcome and prevent compassion fatigue during their caring services. With reference to the Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra (維摩詰所說經), this project has examined the experiences of 35 interviewees. It then proposes the bodhisattva spirit as a potential solution, for it involves interaction between bodhicitta (enlightened mind 菩提⼼), prajñā (wisdom般若) and upāya (skilful means ⽅便). The enlightened mind is the basis for the latter two qualities. Wisdom enables helping practitioners to free themselves from “sentimental compassion” and reduce stress when serving clients. Having applied skilful means to caregiving, practitioners flexibly cater to the individual needs of the service recipients. Through this process, practitioners both help others and take care of their own emotional reactions towards clients’ distress, resulting in tackling compassion fatigue, enhancing personal growth and achieving self-benefiting altruism.

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