Great Compassion

This page is devoted to posting inspirations related to the cultivation of “great compassion” the qualities of universal compassion that extend beyond the more conventional scope in natural compassion that we feel for the small circle of beloved friends, family and pets that we are close to.  Great compassion is an innate human resource that is realized through cultivation, and through awakening to an ever more intimate sense of relatedness and empathic resonance with widening circle of living beings.

We will continue to develop and add resources and inspirations to this page, so please bookmark this and come back often.

A wealth of contemporary research has affirmed the value and potentials for individuals, communities, and humanity in awakening great compassion.  Some of the most inspiring work along these lines comes from:

The spirit of Great Compassion is beautifully conveyed in Einstein’s wisdom when he wrote:

“A human being is part of the whole called by us ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space.
We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings  as something separate from the rest –  a kind of optical delusion of consciousness.
This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.
Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison
by widening our circle of compassion
to embrace all living creatures
and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Great Compassion is also the awakening spirit of the Bodhisattva ideal conveyed in the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism, as an “awakening spirit of enlightenment” dedicated to awakening fully to ones’ own True Nature and Highest Potentials – in-order-to inspire this awakening within all living beings.

In the word of the 13th Dalai Lama:

“The Bodhisattva is like the mightiest of warriors; but her enemies are not common foes of flesh and bone.
His fight is with the inner delusions,the afflictions of self-cherishing and ego grasping, those most terrible of demons that catch living beings in the snares of confusion and cause them forever to wander in pain, frustration and sorrow. Her mission is to harm ignorance and delusion, never living beings. These he looks upon with kindness, patience, and empathy, Cherishing them like a mother cherishes her only child. She is the real hero, calmly facing any hardship in order to bring peace, happiness and liberation to the world.”

His Holiness the current Dalai Lama has said: “No matter how important an individual is, the interest of that individual is the interest of only one being, whereas the interest of others is the interest of an infinite number of beings. Others are vital to our well- being and survival, and are the source of all our happiness.”   

TONGLEN MEDITATION: Embracing and Transforming Uncertainty & Suffering: Compassion on Every Breath Meditation 

An inspiring written narrative of the Tonglen meditation from Joel & Michelle posted at:

http://WisdomAtWork.com/EssentialPractices/   

NEW! Guided Audio Meditation from Michelle & Joel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfjSmvDUewY&feature=youtu.be

••Also see brilliant explanation of Tonglen by our friend Lama Willa Miller – athttp://www.academia.edu/9119205/Compassion_and_Resilience_Slide_Show_for_Presentation_at_International_Symposium_for_Contemplative_Studies_Boston_2014

Also – Lama Palden’s inspiring book – Love on Every Breath – https://www.google.com/books/edition/Love_on_Every_Breath/LBWUDwAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&printsec=frontcover
Also – see: http://WisdomAtWork.com/EssentialPractices/  for some guided audio and other links and readings

Click image below to listen to this guided meditation:

“Suffering is not enough. Life is both dreadful and wonderful. To practice meditation is to be in touch with both aspects. Smiling means that we are ourselves, that we have sovereignty over ourselves, that we are not drowned in forgetfulness. How can I smile when I am filled with so much sorrow? It is natural—you need to smile to your sorrow because you are more than your sorrow.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

“This is a dark time, filled with suffering and uncertainty. Like living cells in a larger body, it is natural that we feel the trauma of our world. So don’t be afraid of the anguish you feel, or the anger or fear, because these responses arise from the depth of your caring and the truth of your interconnectedness with all beings…. Our sorrow is the other face of love, for we only mourn what we deeply care for. The sorrow, grief, and rage you feel is a measure of your humanity and your evolutionary maturity. As your heart breaks open there will be room for the world to heal.”
~ Joanna Macy

There is no such thing as “Compassion Fatigue”!

A Vital Distinction

Regarding Mindfulness, Empathic Overwhelm, and Compassionate Responsiveness

Useful guidance and insight for our Deep Adaptation community can also be found in a wealth of recent research that shows that the notion of “compassion fatigue” is actually a misnomer. According to the research, this would be more accurately described as “empathy fatigue.” As sensitive social beings, our lives are interwoven with all other living beings and our natural environment. The parts of our brains that light up when we are in pain are closely intertwined with the parts of our brains that are activated when we encounter the pain of others. We are neurologically wired to empathically register and resonate with the suffering in our world. It touches us deeply, so deeply that if we don’t know how to manage it properly, we can become empathically overwhelmed and fall into empathic distress that leads to burnout. (See: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4040103/ )

The remedy and protection from empathic overwhelm is actually to move toward compassion. Compassion is engaged responsiveness – i.e. “compassion in action.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu reflects this wisdom saying, “Compassion is not just feeling with someone, but seeking to change the situation. Frequently people think compassion and love are merely sentimental. No! They are very demanding. If you are going to be compassionate, be prepared for action!”

Reseach on compassion speaks of three elements of compassion:
1. noticing others’ suffering (Mindfulness)
2. empathically registering the person’s pain as a feeling within us (Empathic Resonance), and
3. acting to ease the suffering (Compassionate Responsiveness)

As compassion is engaged and embodied in action, it may be expressed by reaching out from our hearts with kindness… offering food, shelter, protection… speaking kind and helpful words… or reaching out from our hearts with lovingkindess, compassionate or healing thoughts/prayers/energies such as in the meditative practice of “tonglen” – a profound practice from the Mahayana Buddhist tradition of gathering and transforming the experience of suffering and radiating compassion and healing… (See notes on this practice in the latter portion of this page: http://www.wisdomatwork.com/wp-content/uploads/Leveys-Essential-Practices-for-Daily-Life.pdf ) All of these are examples of being moved into responsive compassionate engagement that can protect us from the dangers of being empathically overwhelmed by the suffering in our lives and world.

There are also the practices of “self-compassion” which can be very helpful to turn to in moments of overwhelm or distress. Kristen Neff offers a 4 fold formula for self-compassion that blends mindfulness and caring toward ourselves:

1) Ah, this is a moment of suffering…

2) Suffering is a natural part of life…

3) May I be kind to myself…

4) May I give myself the compassion I need…

Three Principles of the Deep Adaptation Forum https://DeepAdaptation.ning.com

Return to compassion.

We shall seek to return to universal compassion in all our work, and remind each other to notice in ourselves when anger, fear, panic, or insecurity may be influencing our thoughts or behaviours. It is also important to remember to take care of ourselves, especially when the urgency of our predicament can easily lead to burnout.

Return to curiosity.

We recognise that we do not have many answers on specific technical or policy matters. Instead, our aim is to provide a space and an invitation to participate in generative dialogue that is founded in kindness and curiosity.

Return to respect.

We respect other people’s situations and however they may be reacting to our alarming predicament, while seeking to build and create nourishing spaces for deep adaptation.

With climate change and compassion in mind..

Here are some suggested questions for your own reflection, take them to your household and communities.

These questions are inspired by Jem Bendell posts and original paper:

  • Resilience: What things, behaviours, patterns, institutions, structures or processes you would need to protect, keep or transform in order to make them more resilient in the face of societal and ecological breakdown? How does this apply to you and the work you do?
  • Relinquishment: What things, behaviours, beliefs, institutions, patterns, etc. do you, your family or community may need to relinquish as we enter more and more into DA and societal and ecological breakdown?
  • Restoration: What things, behaviours,beliefs, structures and/or institutions you, your family or community may need to restore in order to be more ready for DA?
  • Reconciliation: Who or what do you or your community need to reconcile with? Are there special steps you may need to take to forgive or be forgiven, to make peace with?
  • Radical Hope: What does radical hope mean to you, your family or community? How does it influence the work you do or plan to do?

“It appears that the process of unfolding complexity leads to new forms of reflective consciousness. Therefore, I could choose a purpose to reduce suffering, promote joy, enable reflection, and unleash emergence. This does not sound so different from the great wisdom traditions, as well as the common sense knowledge of most people I know, if not deluded by obsessions over race, nation, politics, status, wealth or religious correctness…

Create a positive vision of people sharing compassion, love and play. It may feel that an eco-tragic outlook means you cannot have any meaningful vision of a better future for yourself, your community, or humanity. An absence of something positive to work towards can be destabilising and limiting. Some people will think you are depressed – or depressing – and need some “positive thinking”. For a personal vision, the answer may lie in developing a vision for how you will be approaching life, rather than imagining attributes of a lifestyle. This may parallel the dimensions of a collective vision. A future full of love and learning, rather than flying cars and fancy robots, could be a way to imagine a more beautiful world. And remember, the future will still be beautiful in its own way, no matter what life forms are in it – or if your favourite town is under water!” ~Jem Bendell – https://www.kosmosjournal.org/kj_article/professor-jem-bendell-on-interbeing/  Fourteen Recommendations When Facing Climate Tragedy: What Comes After Climate Dispair – See longer version of his article at: https://jembendell.com/2018/01/14/after-climate-despair-one-tale-of-what-can-emerge/

The Radiance of Love

A very simple yet potent practice you can do on a daily basis to revitalize your interconnectedness at a deep level is the practice of lovingkindness. The essence of this prayer and meditation is the wish that we and all beings enjoy happiness and well-being. Here’s how it goes:

Begin by touching your heart, if you like, breathe deeply, and smile to yourself a smile of tender appreciation and care. Holding the sincere wish to be of benefit to yourself and others, heartfully repeat the following phrases mentally, first to yourself,  several times, and then expand the radius of your loving kindness successively out to wider and wider circles. Go for the meaning and the feeling behind the words:

May I be happy and peaceful.

                  May I be free from fear and pain.

                  May I live with love and compassion.

                  And may I fully awaken and be free.

Next, reach out with your heart/mind to embrace your loved ones and friends with the energy of loving kindness in the same way and radiate these thoughts of well-being to them :

May you be happy and peaceful.

                  May you be free from fear and pain.

                  May you live with love and compassion.

                  And may you fully awaken and be free.

As you hold the image of your beloved ones and repeat these phrases, sense or imagine that they are actually touched by the love radiating out from your heart and that it is truly helpful for them.  Next, hold in mind someone or some group of people toward whom you feel neutral, perhaps some of the neighbors whom you really don’t know, or folks you see on the way to work. As you repeat these phrases bring these people into your heart and wish for them:

May you be happy and peaceful.

                  May you be free from fear and pain.

                  May you live with love and compassion.

                  And may you fully awaken and be free.

Sense or imagine that these wishes and prayers really do support them.

Now, having primed your heart pump, turn your attention toward someone, or ones, toward whom your heart is closed with pain, resentment, or negativity. Reflecting that this person or group of people may in the past have actually been kind to you, and that, in their own way, they too are searching for happiness and hoping to avoid suffering in their own lives, let your heart open to them. As best as you are able, wish for them:

May you be happy and peaceful.

                  May you be free from fear and pain.

                  May you live with love and compassion.

May you fully awaken to your greatest potentials, and be free of any ignorance and confusion that leads you to act in unskillful ways.

As you hold them in mind and radiate these thoughts of loving kindness, be merciful with yourself. Let your own heart open to free you from the prison of imbalance that you may have created for yourself out of your own anger, fear, or resentment toward this person or persons with whom you are having a hard time, or whose relationship you would like to heal.

Visualize yourself surrounded now by all your circles of supportive relationships, and invite into your loving awareness as well all the networks of support, visible and invisible, known and unknown, near and far, that make up the circle of living beings, the web of life.  Expand your love and care equally to this larger field as the sun shines its life-giving rays equally to all.  In this same way—with great equanimity to all living beings—extend the radius of your loving kindness to all your loved ones and friends; to all the strangers or neutral people in your life; to all the people toward whom your heart has been closed; to all the humans and non-humans who search for happiness, harmony, and balance on their fleeting journey through life. And, imagining that this vast circle of relations joins you as you open your heart to include and embrace all beings, extend the waves of loving kindness out now in all directions:

May all beings be happy and peaceful.

                  May all beings be free from fear and pain.

                  May all beings live with love and compassion.

And may all beings awaken to the light of their True Nature and potentials and be free!

Let these wishes radiate to all the  beings to the east. To all beings to the west, to all beings to the south, to all beings to the north. Let these wishes reach out to all beings above you and below you. To all beings in this world, or in all worlds. In this time and in all times. Then, with your hands, imagine that you can gather the energy and the light you have generated through this series of contemplations. Imagine that you can bring this all to focus as one intensely bright light of love and compassion like a clear shining jewel. Bring this light of loving kindness and compassion into your heart. Let it shine there like a luminous loving sun that bathes the world and all beings within it in the light of love that radiates through you as a blessing for the world. Carry the natural radiance of this love with you wherever you go. When your awareness of it fades, re-energize it by using the phrases and images offered here, and let the light of your love light up your world.

(Excerpted from Joel Levey & Michelle Levey, Living in Balance: A Dynamic Approach for Creating Harmony & Wholeness in a Chaotic World)

Metta Chant – by Imee Ooi (a jewel!) from the Buddha’s teachings on the practice of lovingkindness (metta) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCT4xGZR3_o
The Four Immeasurables
 
May all beings have happiness
and create the causes of happiness.
 
May they all be free from suffering
and from creating
the causes of suffering.
 
May they find that noble happiness
that can never be tainted by suffering.
 
May they attain universal impartial compassion,
beyond worldly bias towards friends and enemies.
🌎
”May all who are sick and ill
Quickly be freed from their ailments.
May whatever diseases there are in the world
Never occur again.
 
May the frightened cease to be afraid
And those bound be freed.
May the powerless find power
And may people think to benefit each other.”
 
~ Shantideva

Dedication Prayer

from Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche & Dudjom Rinpoche

Throughout my many lives and until this moment

Whatever virtue I have accomplished

Including the merit generated by this practice and all that I will ever attain

this I offer for the welfare of sentient beings.

May sickness, war, famine and suffering be decreased for every being

While their wisdom and compassion increase in this and every future life.

May I clearly perceive all experiences to be as insubstantial as the dream fabric of the night and instantly awaken to perceive the pure wisdom display in the arising of every phenomena.

May I quickly attain enlightenment in order to work ceaselessly for the liberation of all sentient beings.

 

Buddhas and Bodhisattvas all together

Whatever kind of motivation you have

whatever kind of beneficial action whatever kind of wishing prayers

Whatever kind of omniscience

Whatever kind of life accomplishment

Whatever kind of benevolent power and

Whatever kind of immense wisdom you have

then similarly may I who have come in the same way to benefit beings

pray to attain these qualities.

 

At this very moment for the people and the nations of the earth

May not even the names disease, famine, war and suffering be heard

Rather may their moral conduct, merit, wealth and prosperity increase

And may supreme good fortune and well being always arise for them.

 

Utilizing the Ordinary To Awaken ExtraOrdinary Wisdom and Compassion

Guidelines Offered by Longchenpa

When entering a doorway, practice Bodhicitta by wishing that all sentient beings

attain enlightenment.

At night before going to sleep, wish that all sentient beings attain Buddhahood.

When dreaming, wish that all sentient beings realize the nature of reality.

When seated, wish that all sentient beings attain

the indestructible seat of Buddhahood.

When lighting a fire, wish that this fire might burn through the mental

afflictions of all sentient beings.

When the fire is burning, wish that the wisdom of all sentient beings might burn

like the roaring flames.

When eating, wish that your food might become the “food” of meditative

concentration that can be eaten by all sentient beings.

When going outside, wish that all sentient beings be freed from samsara. When

opening a door, imagine that you are opening the door to realization for all

sentient beings.

When closing a door, imagine that you are closing he door to the lower realms.

When walking down a road, wish that all sentient beings

enter the noble path of the Bodhisattvas.

When climbing a mountain, imagine that all sentient beings

are climbing to the pure lands.

When meeting someone, imagine that this meeting is like the meeting between

ordinary beings and a Buddha.

When walking, imagine that each step you take

is the steady work of benefiting others.

When encountering someone adorned with necklaces and jewels, wish that all

beings attain the major and minor marks of a Buddha.

When encountering someone living in poverty, wish that all sentient beings

become like yogis who care nothing for worldly life

and devote themselves solely to the Dharma.

When seeing a cup or a bowl that is full to the brim, imagine that it is the

completion of all good qualities.

When seeing an empty cup or bowl, imagine that all faults have been abandoned.

When seeing a being who is rejoicing, imagine that it is the happiness of all

beings who have received the precious Teachings.

“Full Acceptance of the Awakening Mind”:

A Bodhicitta Prayer

by Shantideva

May I be the doctor and the medicine

And may I be the nurse

For all sick beings in the world

Until everyone is healed.

May a rain of food and drink descend

To clear away the pain of thirst and hunger

And during the aeon of famine

May I myself change into food and drink.

May I become an inexhaustible treasure

For those who are poor and destitute;

May I turn into all things they could need,

And may these be placed close beside them.

Without any sense of loss

I shall give up my body and enjoyments

As well as my virtues of the three times

For the sake of benefiting all.

By giving up all, sorrow is transcended

And my mind will realize the sorrowless state.

It is best that I now give everything to all beings

In the same way as I shall at death . . .

When anyone encounters me

May it never be meaningless for him or her.

If in those who encounter us

A faithful or angry thought arises,

May that eternally become the source

for fulfilling all their wishes.

May all who say bad things to me

Or cause me any other harm,

And those who mock & insult me

Have the fortune to fully awaken.

May I be a protector for those without one,

A guide for all travelers on the way;

May I be a bridge, a boat & a ship

For all those who wish to cross.

May I be an island for those who seek one,

A lamp for those desiring light.

And may I be a bed for all who wish to rest.

May I be a wishing jewel, a magic vase,

Powerful mantras & great medicine,

May I become a wish-fulfilling tree

And a cow of plenty for the world.

Just like space and all the great elements such as earth,

May I always support the life

Of all the boundless creatures.

And until they pass away from pain

May I also be the source of life

For all the realms of varied beings

That reach unto the ends of space.

Just as the previous Sugatas

Gave birth to an Awakening Mind,

And just as they successively dwelt

in the bodhisattva practices;

Likewise for the sake of all that lives

Do I give birth to an Awakening Mind

And likewise shall I too

Successively follow the practices.

In order to further increase it from now on,

Those with discernment who have lucidly seized

An Awakening Mind in this way,

Should highly praise it in the following manner:

Today my life has borne fruit:

Having well obtained this human existence,

I’ve been born in the family of Buddha

And now am one of Buddha’s children.

Thus whatever actions I do from now on

Must be in accord with the Family.

Never shall I disgrace or pollute

This noble & unsullied race.

Just like a blind person

Discovering a jewel in a heap of rubbish,

Likewise by some coincidence

An Awakening Mind has been born within me.

It is the supreme ambrosia

That overcomes the sovereignty of death,

It is the inexhaustible treasure

That eliminates all poverty in the world.

It is the supreme medicine

That quells the world’s disease.

It is the tree that shelters all beings

Wandering & tired on the path of conditioned existence.

It is the universal bridge

That leads to freedom from unhappy states of birth

It is the dawning moon of the mind

That dispels the torment of disturbing conceptions.

It is the great sun that finally removes

The misty ignorance of the world.

It is the quintessential butter

From the churning of the milk of Dharma.

For all those guests traveling on the path

of conditioned existence

who wish to experience the bounties of happiness,

this will satisfy them with joy

and actually place them in Supreme bliss.

Today in the presence of all the Protectors

We invite the world to be guests

At a festival of temporary and ultimate delight.

May gods, anti-gods & all be joyful.

Forgiveness Meditation

From Joel & Michelle Levey

(Excerpted from our book – Mindfulness, Meditation, and Mind Fitness)

NOTE: Traditionally this kind of forgiveness meditation would be done as a precursor to doing meditations on lovingkindness and compassion.)

The practice of a forgiveness meditation is a wonderful way to heal the pain of the old hurts that block our hearts and prevent us from trusting and loving ourselves and others. Forgiveness is the key to opening our hearts, to learning from the painful lessons of the past in order to move into the future unhindered.

Begin by sitting quietly, relaxing your body and focusing your mind with the breath. Allow memories and images and emotions to float freely in your mind—things you have done, said, and thought that you have not forgiven yourself for, no matter how painful they are.

From your heart say to yourself, “I forgive myself for whatever I have done in the past, intentionally or unintentionally, my actions, my words, and my thoughts. I have suffered enough! I have learned and grown and I am ready now to open my heart to myself. May I be happy, may I be free from confusion, may I know the job of truly understanding myself, others, and the world. May I come to know my own wholeness and fullness and help others to do the same.”

Now, the space in front of you, imagine a person you love whom you want to forgive or whose forgiveness you need. From your heart to theirs directly communicate the following: “With all my heart I forgive you for whatever you may have done, intentionally or unintentionally, by your actions, your words, or thoughts that have caused me pain. I forgive you, and I ask that you forgive me for whatever I have done, intentionally or unintentionally to you, by my actions, my words, or my thoughts. I ask your forgiveness. may you be happy, free, and joyful. May we both open our hearts and minds to meet in love and understanding as we grow into wholeness.” Imagine that this message is received and accepted, and affirm the feeling of healing between you. Then let the image melt into space.

Now, in the space in front of you imagine someone toward whom you feel great resentment or negativity. To the best of  your ability and from your heart to theirs, communicate the essence of the following: “From my heart I forgive you for whatever you have done, intentionally or unintentionally, that has caused me pain. I forgive you for the actions and words and thoughts that you have expressed from your own pain, confusion, insensitivity, and fear of me. I forgive you, and I ask that you forgive me for the way in which I have, intentionally or unintentionally, closed my heart to you. I ask your forgiveness for causing you suffering. May you be happy. May you be free from suffering and confusion. May we both open our hearts to meet in love and understanding as we grow into our wholeness.” Imagine that this message has been received and accepted, and affirm the healing that has taken place within you and between the two of you. Then allow the image to melt into space.

Next, think about the countless people toward whom you have closed your heart. Remember how you felt and what you did when people abused you, spoke harshly, took “your” parking space, crowded in front of you in line, ad infinitum . . . Consider how many people you have hurt in some way, by your own conscious or unconscious actions, words, and thoughts. How many times have youbeen the abuser, the one who crowded in, the one who spoke harshly? Imagine these countless beings standing before you. From your heart to theirs generate the essence of the following: “I forgive you for whatever you have done, intentionally or unintentionally that has caused me to suffer. I forgive you and ask you to forgive me for whatever I have done, intentionally or unintentionally, that has hurt you. May you and I and all of us create the causes for happiness in our lives. May we outgrow and transform the causes of our suffering. May we all come to know the joy of truly understanding and experiencing our interrelationship. May we open our hearts and minds to each other and meet in harmony.

Repeat this reflective meditation as often as you like. At the conclusion, imagine and feel as vividly and wholeheartedly as you are able that you have actually released all guilt and blame toward yourself. In this present moment, allow yourself to feel forgiveness and a patient acceptance of your past actions.

This is a really beautiful and inspiring audio recording
in English of the Sutra
On Entering the City of Vaisali
Invited to visit the city of Vaiśālī, which has been ravaged by a terrible epidemic, the Buddha instructs Ānanda to stand at the city’s gate and recite a proclamation, a long mantra, and some verses that powerfully evoke spiritual well-being.
Ānanda does so, and the epidemic comes to an end.
One of the mahāsūtras related to the literature of the Vinaya,
this text, like other accounts of the incident, has traditionally been recited during times of personal or collective illness, bereavement, and other difficulties.
Download the chant at:
Download the Text of the Chant at:

Related chants:

From ‘The Joy of Living’ by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

“Compassion is a spontaneous feeling of connection with all living beings. What you feel, I feel; what I feel; you feel. There’s no difference between us… When I began to practice meditation on compassion, however, I found that my sense of isolation began to diminish, while at the same time my personal sense of empowerment began to grow. Where once I saw only problems, I started to see solutions. Where once I viewed my own happiness as more important than the happiness of others, I began to see the well-being of others as the foundation of my own peace of mind.” 

The following meditation from Mattieu Ricard was posted at: http://moonpointer.com/new/2010/07/meditations-on-altruistic-love-compassion-joy-impartiality/ 

“We have all, to varying degrees, had the experience of profound altruistic love, of a feeling of all-encompassing benevolence, of intense compassion for those who are suffering. Some of us are naturally more altruistic than others, sometimes to the point of heroism. Others are more turned in on themselves and find it hard to consider the welfare of others as an essential goal, and even harder to put the welfare of others before their own. Whichever the case may be, it is essential to cultivate altruism. Being altruistic not only helps us to benefit others, but it is also the most satisfying way to live. This is the opposite of a heightened feeling of self-importance that only brings pain to oneself and others.

In general, even when altruistic thoughts arise in our mind, they are fairly quickly replaced by other less wholesome thoughts such as those of anger or jealousy. That is why, if we want altruism to play a major role in our being, we must spend some time cultivating it, because just wishing is not enough.

As we discussed earlier, meditation is a means of familiarizing ourselves with a new way of being. Now, how can we meditate on altruism? First of all, we must realize that in the deepest part of ourselves, we do not want to suffer, we want to aspire to happiness. Once we have recognized this aspiration, the next thing we have to do is to realize that all beings share it. We also need to realize that the right not to suffer, though often ignored, is without a doubt the most fundamental right of all beings. Finally, we must realize that there are causes and conditions to suffering and therefore remedies to it.

Unfortunately, when it comes to choosing the means of creating happiness and preventing more suffering, we are often unskillful or altogether off the mark. Some people get lost on the wrong track by blindly seeking to achieve their own happiness at the price of others’ suffering. Generally speaking, we should unreservedly wish for all sentient beings to be delivered from the causes of suffering. To this end, the Buddhist texts advise us to cultivate four particular thoughts or attitudes and to expand them without limit. These are altruistic love, compassion, joy in the happiness of others, and impartiality.

Meditation One: Altruistic Love

Imagine a young child approaches you and gives you a look that is joyous, confident and full of innocence. You stroke his head, look at him with tenderness, and take him in your arms. You feel a sense of unconditional benevolence and love. Let yourself be entirely pervaded by this love that wishes for nothing more than his well-being. Then, cultivate, sustain and nourish this feeling of loving kindness. When it declines, revive it. At the end of the session, rest for a few moments in the mindful awareness of love.

You could choose someone else towards whom you feel great tenderness and deep gratitude. Wish with all your heart that this person will find happiness and the causes of happiness, and then extend this wish to all those you are close to, then to those you know less well, then progressively to all beings.

Finally, extend this wish to your personal enemies and to the enemies of all humanity. This last case obviously does not mean you wish them success in their deadly plans. You are simply formulating a strong wish that they will give up their hatred, greed, cruelty and indifference and that benevolence and care for the happiness of others will be born in their minds. The worse an illness is, the more need the sick person has for care, attention and goodwill. In this way, embrace the totality of beings with a feeling of limitless love.

Meditation Two: Compassion

Now imagine that someone dear to you has been the victim of a terrible accident. It is night time, and she is lying covered in blood on the roadside, suffering from terrible pain. Help is late in arriving and you don’t know what to do. You feel this dear person’s suffering intensely, as though it was your own, and this is mixed with a growing sense of distress and helplessness. This pain strikes you in the deepest part of your being, to the point where it becomes nearly intolerable. What should you do?

At this moment, let yourself go into an immense feeling of love towards this person. Imagine taking her gently in your arms. Imagine that waves of love stream forth from you and pour over her. Imagine that each atom of her suffering is replaced by an atom of love. Wish from the bottom of your heart for her to survive, be healed and cease to suffer.

This feeling of compassion comes from the same place in you as altruistic love and is nothing else than love applied to suffering. Now extend this compassion to other people who are close to you, then, little by little, to all beings, making the following wish deep in your heart: ‘May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.’

 Meditation Three: Rejoicing in the Happiness of Others
There are people in this world who have tremendously good qualities and others who lavish benefits on humanity and whose humanitarian projects have been crowned with success. There are also people who have realized their aspirations through great effort and steadfast perseverance, and still others who possess many talents.

Rejoice from the bottom of your heart in their accomplishments. Wish for their good qualities not to wane, but on the contrary to continue and flourish. The ability to feel joy in the most positive qualities of others is the best antidote there is to discouragement and to a dim and desperate view of the world and of human beings. It is also the remedy for envy and jealousy, which are reflections of the inability to rejoice in the happiness of others.

Meditation Four: Impartiality

Impartiality is an essential element in the three preceding meditations, because the wish for all beings to be delivered from suffering and its causes has to be universal and not dependent in our personal bias or on the way others treat us. Take the point of view of a doctor, who takes it on himself to heal sick people no matter who they are or how serious they are.

Realize that all beings, whether they are close to you, strangers or enemies, want to avoid suffering. Also reflect on the fundamental interdependence of all phenomena of the universe and of the beings that inhabit it. Interdependence is the very basis of altruism. Like the sun that shines equally on good people and evil ones, on beautiful landscapes or dung heaps, do your best to extend the altruistic love, compassion and joy you cultivated in the three preceding meditations to all beings without distinction.

Recall again that when it comes to your own and others’ enemies, you do not intend to encourage or passively tolerate their attitudes and harmful acts, but you look at them as very sick or mad people. So with the same goodwill that you feel towards those who are close to you, wish for the ignorance and destructive feelings that rule them to be eradicated from their consciousness.

Combining the Four Meditations
Begin with altruistic love, the strong wish for others to find happiness and the causes of happiness. If after a while, this love drifts towards self-centred attachment, move on to the meditation on impartiality in order to extend your love and compassion equally to all beings – dear ones, strangers or enemies.

If your impartiality turns to indifference, it is time to think of people who are suffering and arouse intense compassion within you with the wish to relieve these beings from all their suffering. But it can happen that, as a result of being continually concerned with the endless misfortunes of others, you may be overcome by the immensity of the task and lose heart. At that point, meditate on your joy in the happiness of others, thinking of those people who possess great human qualities and of those people whose altruistic aspirations have been successful. Rejoice fully in that.

If that joy turns into blind euphoria and distraction, go back again to altruistic love – and so on. Develop the four thoughts in this way while avoiding the pitfalls possible in each of them. At the end of your meditation, contemplate the interdependence of all things for a few moments and their lack of autonomous, intrinsic existence. Understand that, just as a bird needs two wings to fly, you must develop wisdom and compassion simultaneously. Wisdom is a better understanding of reality and compassion is the desire for all beings to be liberated from the causes of suffering.”

The Metta Sutra from the Buddha on Lovingkindness:

May I be free from enmity & danger,

May I be free from mental suffering,

May I be free from physical suffering,

May I take care of myself happily.

 

May my parents, teachers, relatives & friends, fellow dharma-farers,

May they be free from enmity & danger,

May they be free from mental suffering,

May they be free from physical suffering,

May they take care of themselves happily.

 

May all yogis in this compound,

Be free from enmity & danger,

Be free from mental suffering,

Be free from physical suffering,

May they take care of themselves happily.

 

May all monks in this compound, novice monks, laymen & laywomen disciples,

May they be free from enmity & danger,

May they be free from mental suffering,

May they be free from physical suffering,

May they take care of themselves happily.

 

May all donors of the four supports – clothing, food, medicine, and lodging,

Be free from enmity & danger,

Be free from mental suffering,

Be free from physical suffering,

May they take care of themselves happily.

 

May all guardian devas in this monastery, in this dwelling, in this compound,

May the guardian devas be free from enmity & danger,

Be free from mental suffering, be free from physical suffering,

May they take care of themselves happily.

 

May all beings, all breathing things, all creatures, all individuals, all personalities,

May all females, all males, all Noble ones, all worldlings, all deities, all humans,

All those in the four woeful planes,

 

May they be free from enmity & danger,

May they be free from mental suffering,

May they be free from physical suffering,

May they take care of themselves happily.

 

May all beings be free from suffering, May whatever they have gained not be lost,

All beings are owners of their karma.

In the eastern direction, in the western direction,

In the northern direction, in the southern direction,

In the southeast direction, in the northwest direction,

In the northeast direction, in the southwest direction,

In the direction below, in the direction above.

 

May all beings, all breathing things, all creatures, all individuals, all personalities,

All females, all males, all Noble ones, all worldlings, all deities, all humans,

All those in the four woeful planes.

 

May they be free from enmity & danger,

May they be free from mental suffering,

May they be free from physical suffering,

May they take care of themselves happily.

 

May all beings be free from suffering.

May whatever they have gained not be lost.

 

All beings are owners of their karma.

As far as the highest plane of existence to as far down as the lowest plane,

In the entire universe,

Whatever beings that move on earth,

May they be free from mental suffering & enmity,

May they be free from physical suffering & danger.

 

As far as the highest plane of existence to as far down as the lowest plane

In the entire universe,

Whatever beings that move on water,

May they be free from mental suffering & enmity,

May they be free from physical suffering & danger.

 

As far as the highest plane of existence to as far down as the lowest plane,

In the entire universe,

Whatever beings that move in air,

May they be free from mental suffering & enmity,

May they be free from physical suffering & danger.

 

May I be free from enmity & danger,

May I be free from mental suffering,

May I be free from physical suffering,

May I take care of myself happily…

Variation:

May I/you/all beings be free from enmity, May I/you/all beings be free from danger,

May I/you/all beings be free from disease, May I/you/all beings be happy,

May I/you/all beings be free from suffering …