After Metta, the practice of loving kindness, the second of the four Brahma Viharas or Divine Abodes is Compassion, known as Karuna in the Pali language of the Buddha’s teachings.
Compassion practice directs loving kindness towards suffering and develops an attitude of nonjudgmental caring.
Compassion goes beyond our like or dislikes for a person who is suffering and for the causes that have led to that suffering.
It entails opening to the universal nature of suffering itself, recognizing that all human beings suffer from wanting reality to be different from what it is.
We naturally feel compassion when the heart trembles in resonance with someone else’s pain and suffering.
Many young children are intuitively drawn to help a wounded animal or to hug a person who is crying.
Ideally, we’d like to care for all beings on our path, as a mother nurtures her beloved child.
Kuan Yin or Avalokiteshvara is an archetypal figure, “who hears the cries of all those suffering in the world” with unconditional acceptance and equilibrium. Not caught in identification or attachment, she neither turns away nor tries to fix anything. She listens intuitively to sense wise ways to ease the burden of suffering, reminding us that bearing witness can be as effective as taking action.
There is no need to compare ourselves with Kuan Yin.
She is a model to inspire our patient and gradual practice over a lifetime.
We start compassion practice wherever we are, even if our hearts feel closed to our own suffering and that of others.
Compassion helps us understand that pain and loss are part of everyone’s experience.
Even though all human beings experience the pain of sickness, aging and death, suffering is optional.
Instead of reacting habitually by fleeing or struggling against our own inner or outer pain, we can learn to accept it compassionately, noting how it changes in intensity and form.
With gentle mindfulness, the discomfort often diminishes or seems more bearable.
This inner practice prepares us to stay with the pain of other beings, and our mere presence often provides more comfort than anything we do or say.
The “near enemy” of compassion is pity, because it contains aversion towards pain in our own life and because it separates us from others:
Most of us don’t welcome hearing, “You poor thing, I feel sorry for you.”
Sometimes we have a tendency towards co-dependence when we are motivated to be a caregiver in order to feel loved or worthy of respect.
Co-dependence may manifest as a compulsion to give too much to others, without nurturing ourselves.
Karuna implies including oneself in compassionate impulses and gestures.
In compassion practice, we usually repeat two or three phrases.
There is a passive stage, during which we tune in and feel the suffering of other beings, and an active stage, when we send them compassion.
1. Close your eyes and try to visualize–in or in front of your heart–someone who is suffering in this moment. If no image comes, simply sense a caring connection resonating in your heart.
Notice when pity, sorrow, sympathy, detachment or irritation arise, and try to let these mental states pass away without judging yourself.
In a minute, I’ll read some short phrases to repeat silently.
Whenever you catch your mind wandering, reconnect with the heartfelt meaning of the phrases, and continue concentrating on the recipient.
I care about your pain.
May you be free of suffering (sadness, fear, loss, illness).
May you find peace.
2. Now visualize yourself dealing with a painful situation.
You may repeat the following phrases silently:
I care about my pain.
May I be free of suffering (sadness, fear, loss, illness).
May I find peace.
3. A Benefactor
4. A Dear Friend
5. A Neutral Person
6. A Difficult Person