The Difference Between Sympathy and Empathy


What is the difference between sympathy and empathy? And which is the more important quality to develop on the spiritual path?

—melanya, usa


A simple way to understand the difference is that sympathy is when we feel pity or sorrow for someone else’s misfortunes, whereas empathy is when we understand and share the feelings of someone else.

Empathy is more important to develop on the spiritual path since one is able to feel the connection with someone who is suffering rather than just feel sorry for someone. Of course we also need to emphasize non-attachment so we are not caught in the potential whirlpool of emotions.

Perhaps a better quality to emphasize than empathy or sympathy is “compassion.” If someone shows kindness, caring, and a willingness to help others, they’re showing compassion. This is a much more active engagement of our energy in supporting others.

Nayaswami Pranaba