The Practice of Compassion

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Approaches to enhancing compassion

Start with yourself

Does the ideal of developing unconditional compassionate kindness mean that we must forsake our own interests altogether?

The best way of helping others, the Dalai Lama says, is to cultivate happiness in ourselves.

There is a sense to compassion of its being a state of mind that can include a wish for good things for oneself. In developing compassion, perhaps one could begin with the wish that oneself be free of suffering, and then take that natural feeling towards oneself and cultivate it, enhance it, and extend it out to include and embrace others.

We have learned that an understanding of reality and of suffering are tools to our inner contentment and freedom from afflictive emotions. Ultimately, our greatest inner peace comes from our connection with others.

If it is correct that those qualities such as love, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness are what happiness consists in, and if it is also correct that nyingje, or compassion, as I have defined it, is both the source and the fruit of these qualities, then the more we are compassionate, the more we provide for our own happiness.

Beyond the boundary of our self

When we move beyond ourselves, we come up against our partiality, who we are inclined to love.

Where do you draw the boundary of your sense of empathy and compassion? Family? Extended family? Close friends? Acquaintances?  Colleagues? Company? Town? Nation? Poor people?

Who do you think of as legitimately outside your circle of empathy and compassion?  Strangers? Democrats?  Republicans? People of a different race? Abortionists? Murderers? Pedophiles? Hitler?

Meditation on compassion

There are many visualizations or meditations you can do to connect with the suffering of others. We will offer many of these in future courses. Here, for now, is a simple meditation the Dalai Lama recommends:

Begin by visualizing a person who is acutely suffering, someone who is in pain or is in a very unfortunate situation. For the first three minutes of the meditation, reflect on that individual's suffering in an analytic way — think about their intense suffering and the unfortunate state of that person's existence.

After thinking about that person's suffering for a few minutes, next try to relate that to yourself, thinking, "that individual has the same capacity for experiencing pain, joy, happiness, and suffering that I do."

Then, try to allow your natural response to arise — a natural feeling of compassion towards that person. Try to arrive at a conclusion: thinking how strongly you wish for that person to be free from that suffering. And resolve that you will help that person to be relieved from their suffering.

Finally, place your mind single-pointedly on that kind of conclusion or resolution, and for the last few minutes of the meditation try to simply generate your mind in a compassionate or loving state.

See the Ashoka course Cultivating Compassion, taught by Prof. Jeffrey Hopkins, long-time translator for and collaborator with the Dalai Lama. >>>