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Karuṇā is being compassionate when seeing others suffer.
Compassionate deeds are crucial to attain perfect enlightenment. In his previous lives as a bodhisattva the Buddha sometimes sacrificed himself to relieve the suffering of others. This can be seen in, for example, the Theravāda Jātakas, recounting previous lives of the Buddha [1, 5]. Many Sarvāstivāda stories (avadānas) illustrate compassion. In the Mūlasarvāstivādavinaya one finds the stories of Śibi, Viśvantara, Śyāma, Araṇemi, etc.
Buddhaghosa’s (ca. 370–450 A.D.) Visuddhimagga, which is based on a Vimuktimārga of probably Mahīśāsaka affiliation, says that compassion causes good people to be moved when they see the suffering of others. It combats the suffering of others. In this text and also in Vasubandhu’s (ca. 350–430 A.D.) Abhidharmakośabhāṣya, and in Sarvāstivāda meditation manuals in general, karuṇā is the second of four immeasurable qualities, apramāṇas.