The Practice of Compassion

Our second of the Four Immeasurables is compassion, karuna.

“We fly to enlightenment on the wings of wisdom and compassion.” ~ Jetsumna Tenzin Palmo

When we can really see the ignorance that blinds us, compassion naturally arises. Seeing our own suffering clearly, we can use it as a springboard to understand the suffering of others.

The practice to help us skillfully use suffering as a means for compassion is similar to the one we used to develop loving kindness.

1.     Step One: Our own suffering

Sit comfortably and allow your attention to come to your breath in your lower belly. Let your mind focus on your own most obvious suffering. The suffering might be physical, mental or emotional.  As you become aware of your suffering, imagine yourself like a mother holding a child.  Let your hands be turned up, open and soft. Hold the suffering without trying to make it go away.  Let the suffering know its seen and held.  If it helps, offer the mantra of, “I see/feel your suffering.” 

Be here 5 minutes.

2.     Step Two: A loved one’s suffering

Still sitting comfortably, let your breath be steady and even, continuing to let the lower belly be a physical focal point.  Once at ease, begin to focus on the known suffering of a loved one.  Hold them in your being.  In this meditation, you are not trying to make it go away.  (We will look at the practice of Tonglen in a subsequent blog).  You are developing your skills of empathy and feeling with another.  Again, if it helps you focus, offer the mantra of, “I see/feel your suffering.”

Be here 5 minutes.

3.     Step Three: A neutral person’s suffering

Just like in our practice of Loving Kindness, pick a person with whom you have consistent but uninvolved relationship.  You might know exactly what their suffering is, so simply offer your emotional embrace.  Still sitting comfortably, let your breath be steady, even and relaxed.  Again, if it helps you focus, offer the mantra of, “I see/feel your suffering.”

Be here 5 minutes.

4.     Step 4: A difficult person’s suffering

Again, just like in our practice of Loving Kindness, once you are comfortable and steady, choose someone with whom you are having difficulty or just don’t like.  Allow yourself to embrace them as you sit comfortably with an even breath.  Let the mantra help you, changing it if it wants to be refined.  Maybe something like, “I know you suffer too,” to help create a relationship.

Be here 5 minutes

5.     Step 5: The whole planet

The whole world is suffering.  For the close of the meditation, allow your embrace to extend and open.  If you jump into your head about the world’s problems, you’ve lost it.  Drop back down into your belly and stay with your breath as you simply offer a spacious openness and a mantra if helpful.

This one can be more complex than the practice of Loving Kindness.  Many for thousands of years have been successful with this practice.  You can be too.  To help create success, develop stamina where it is easy for you, lengthening the time in the steps where you are finding success and shortening the time where you are struggling.  Slowly increase your time as appropriate.