Daya: Showing compassion to everyone and everywhere


By Nithin Sridhar

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 8

One of the most basic themes or tenets that is dealt with again and again in various Hindu scriptures, is the tenet of “Daya”. Shandilya Upanishad (1.1) describes Daya as:

(Translation: Daya means showing compassion and kindliness to every object, every creature present everywhere)


But Daya is not just a simple compassion. It is not a simple show of empathy. It involves showing compassion to every object, every being from the lowest plants to the highest gods. Secondly, this compassion should be shown always and everywhere. It is not just a momentary feeling generated from an external stimulation, it should be ingrained in the very nature, so as to remain compassionate always and everywhere.

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This Daya, in-fact, is the very root of Ahimsa (non-violence) and Asteya (non-stealing). One does not cause harm to another person or creature, when one recognizes that he/she are all part of this universe, this big family. This ideology is the very essence of Daya. Compassion stems from the recognition that we are all sparks of the same divine fire. This compassion then manifests as Ahimsa and Asteya.

Daya is another name for detached love. Love as we normally understand is simply an attachment with someone or something. A mother loves her son, a husband loves his wife, or a brother loves his sister. These are all worldly loves, love that is rooted in worldly attachments. Why are these forms of love defined as attachments? Because, such love is shown towards only a few specific people. Hence, it is not universal. Secondly, such a love is associated with expectation of reciprocation. As a result such love is limited and hence cannot be called as compassion.

On the other hand, the love generated out of vairagyam (dispassion), wherein the person views everyone with an equal sight (sama-dristi) and always thinks and acts for the welfare of everyone, is considered as a truly compassionate person.

Practicing Daya does not mean a person will practice pacifism or will ignore the crimes of society. Instead, a person with Daya will do his best for the betterment of the society including punishing the criminals if needed. Few illustrations would help in understanding the concept better.


  1. A person who renounces eating meat or has never eaten meat because of the realization that meat is associated with too much violence against animals. Such an act is Daya. On the other hand, if a person does not eat meat simply because he has been taught so right from his childhood, or because a person is forced to abstain from meat due to health issues, is not asserted as Daya.
  2. A King punishing a murderer is Daya, because without punishment, the criminals would create havoc in the city and harm people.
  3. Living life in an ecologically harmonious manner is also an act of Daya.
  4. Giving charity, feeding people, taking care of animals, they are all actions borne out of compassion.
  5. Speaking truth in a pleasant way is Daya. On the other hand, speaking falsehood, or speaking harshly shows lack of compassion.


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Daya is not to be understood as a conception of the mind, it is a dharmic tenet that must be lived and practiced in mind, body and speech. It is said that, when the rishis used to roam in India, in the places where they stayed, even the wild animals used to become calm and non-aggressive. That is the power of Daya. Just as the fragrance of flowers spread everywhere, so does the compassion of a person spreads and engulfs everything and everyone in his vicinity.

Practicing Daya means performing only those actions which are beneficial to everyone including one’s own self. Such a performance is only possible, when one gets rid of selfishness. There is a difference between wishing personal happiness and wishing personal happiness at the cost of harming others. The former is not contradictory to Daya, the latter is.

A person practicing Daya will do his best to help others, to do those actions that are beneficial to everyone. He would be kind to everyone and would never play politics or be a part of gossiping.

Such a person who sincerely practices Daya would slowly be able to wipe out human weaknesses like jealousy, selfishness, anger, hate etc. Therefore, Daya is very vital for leading a fulfilling life.

It is for this reason that the Hindu scriptures advice every person to practice Daya in his/her life.

More in this segment:
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 1
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 2
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 3
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 4
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 5
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 6

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 7