Compassion [karuna]

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Karuna meditation practice

Now that you have explored karuna, its obstacles and its allies, use these meditations to practice.

Guidance for meditating on the brahma-viharas

In these meditations you imagine different people (including yourself), directing phrases to them that will help uncover thoughts, attitudes and emotions.

Remember: you are not trying to will yourself to feel and act more "compassionately." The goal of these meditations is to create a shift in your attitudes and emotions towards yourself and others.

The reflections you did during this lesson help affect this shift by focusing awareness on how you habitually think and feel in various situations with other people.

The phrases of these meditations then help reveal the compassion already inside of you.

The phrases

In doing meditation specifically designed to nurture compassion, we usually use just one or two phrases. The two phrases traditionally used are:

"May you be free of your pain and sorrow"

Because inevitably everyone will not be free of pain and sorrow, you may encounter difficulty with this phrase. If you do, try using this traditional phrase knowing that it is meant to suggest you are going to make it all OK. Rether, it’s a way of coming close, a way of wishing well. Ot you can change the phrase to something like “I care about your pain or sorrow.”

"May you find peace."

Or you can keep on using your metta phrases

It is important that the phrase be meaningful to you. You may feel more comfortable using a phrase that implies the wish for a more loving acceptance of pain, rather than freedom from pain. Experiment with different phrases, seeing which ones support a compassionate opening to pain and which ones seem to lead you more in the direction of aversion or grief.

The sequence

The order of recipients of your karuna meditation is different than the metta meditations you did in Lesson 1. For compassion the sequence we use is:

  • A friend in distress. This should be a real person, not just a symbolic aggregate of all suffering beings.
  • Someone who has helped you
  • A neutral person
  • Yourself
  • All beings

Follow the procedure you are using for each of the brahma-vihara meditations:

  • Get into a comfortable posture. Your physical comfort is important.
  • Move if necessary, but do so mindfully.
  • Close your eyes and relax.
  • Arrive on the cushion.
  • Sense the body sitting. (Scan your body.)
  • Gently, and with kindness, bring your attention to the heart center (at the chest). Keep your attention there.
  • Notice any sensations that you feel there.
  • Breath in/out as if from your chest. Take several deep breaths.

Compassion for Those Who Cause Pain

Here's a challenging extension of your compassion meditation — directing compassion to those who inflict pain.

Why might you do this?

Compassion compels us to reach out to all living beings, including our so-called enemies, those people who upset or hurt us. Irrespective of what they do to you, if you remember that all beings like you are only trying to be happy, you will find it much easier to develop compassion towards them.
Dalai Lama

This meditation asks us to understand that causing harm to others inevitably means creating harm for oneself, both now and in the future. Seeing someone lie, steal, or hurt beings in some other way is therefore the ground out of which compassion for them can arise.

People on retreats I've taught often choose their least favorite political leader as the object. It is not necessarily an easy practice, but it can revolutionize our understanding.

If you are filled with judgment or condemnation of yourself or others, can you revise your perceptions to see the world in terms of suffering and the end of suffering, instead of good and bad? To see the world in terms of suffering and the end of suffering is buddha-mind, and will lead us away from righteousness and anger. Get in touch with your own buddha-mind, and you will uncover a healing force of compassion.

Direct the phrase "May you be free of your pain and sorrow," toward someone who is causing harm in the world.

You can move from directing compassion to someone creating harm, through the cycle of beings (self, benefactor, etc.). Notice particularly whether this meditation, over time, creates a different relationship to yourself, and to your enemy. Remember that compassion doesn't need to justify itself—it is its own reason for being.