I ran across a story in the San Francisco Chronicle , in which scientists are studying the brains of Buddhist nuns and monks in order to see what “compassion” looks like. But Buddhism isn’t about compassion, properly understood. Buddhists seek to become detached from, that is non reactive to, the dualities of pleasure and pain, good and bad, etc., in order to escape suffering. In contrast, the root meaning of compassion is to “suffer with.” To experience compassion is to become profoundly reactive by taking another’s suffering into yourself in order ease the other’s load.
In this sense, Mother Teresa was compassionate and Buddha was not. More thoughts on this over at Secondhand Smoke .