Karuna Meditation Technique: Develop Your Compassion Like Buddha

Two hands hld together in compassion, a piece of artwork used for Karuna meditation

Karuna meditation is one of the traditional forms of Buddhist meditations.

It is a classical meditation style that Buddha created as a way of developing compassion. The word itself “karuna” literally translates from Pali to mean “compassion’.

However, this meditation is often confused with another technique: loving kindness (Metta) [TUTORIAL].

Loving Kindness Meditation is a very important technique in Mahayana Buddhism.

Karuna and Loving Kindness are two of the 31 top meditation techniques.

Traditionally, both Karuna and Loving Kindness are designed to increase compassion and empathy, specifically with regards to liberating sentient beings from the suffering of samsara, the perpetual cycle of life and death.

As the Dalai Lama quote goes:

   If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. – Dalai Lama Click To Tweet  


What does Karuna meditation mean?

Buddhist meditations are ultimately about achieving enlightenment (Read:  Guide to achieving enlightenment).

To become enlightened we need a very high level of karuna.

Karuna is the Pali term for compassion, and it is a very important word in both Buddhism and Jainism.

In Theravada Buddhism, living through Karuna (living through compassion) is the key to attaining great happiness in life. for more on this you might like to read our Ultimate Guide To Happiness.

The four divine abodes (brahmavihāra)

Karuna is one of the four “divine abodes” (brahmavihāra):

  • Loving kindness (Pāli: mettā),
  • Compassion (Karuna)
  • Sympathetic joy (mudita)
  • Equanimity (upekkha).

It is considered impossible to become a bodhisattva (one who has achieved enlightenment) without achieving a high level of Karuna.

Karuna is important to Jainists, too.

Jainists uses the “four reflections” to stop the influx of karma. (Read: How To Stop Bad Karma).

The four reflections of universal friendship are:

  • Loving kindness (metta)
  • Compassion (karuna)
  • Appreciation  (pramoda)
  • equanimity (madhyastha).



 Science proves the importance of Karuna (compassion)

Science has proven that compassion is very important and beneficial to our health.

Here are some fascinating facts about compassion:

  • Research conducted by the National Institute of Health shows that the brain’s pleasure centres are activated when we perform acts of kindness [1].
  • If you spend a lot of money shopping for yourself you might as well quit and start shopping for other people instead. A study published in Science showed that people are on average happier when they spend their money on someone else than they are when they spend money on themselves [2].
  • If you’re single you might also like to show compassion, as science has proven that we are naturally attract to people who are kind, and not just people who are kind to us but people who are kind in general. [3]
  • Acts of kindness make other people happy too. Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia conducted research into the affect of kindness on group mentality. He showed that people feel happier when they see other people being kind. [4]
  • A subsequent study by UC San Diego showed that kindness is also contagious. When people see someone being kind they’re more likely to be kind themselves.  So, you’re one act of kindness will make you and others happy, and it will also make other people kinder too. This rising kindness then spreads like wildfire and before you know it we’re all being kind and loving to one another (it isn’t as hard as most people think). [5]
  • Kindness has been proven to make you live longer. [6]
  • Many studies have shown that kindness makes you more resistant to illness and helps you to live a longer life.
  • Compassion eliminates stress and depression.
  • And amazingly,  science has shown that being kind and compassionate actually makes you feel as though you have more time, not less.




Buddhist Karuna meditation Technique

Karuna meditation is best practiced after loving kindness.

Loving kindness is like the soil on top of which we build the flowers of compassion. But before you start being compassionate to others, first be compassionate to yourself.

It can take time to feel genuinely compassionate. Don’t feel bad if you don’t turn into Ghandi on your first try. Give yourself some time. When you try the Karuna technique below, be patient with yourself. When you’re compassionate to yourself you will naturally start to be compassionate to others too.

With that in mind let’s take a look at how to do Karuna Meditation in the Buddhist tradition.


How To Do Karuna Meditation Technique

1)      Find somewhere quiet where you will not be disturbed. Sit with good posture in a comfortable position.

2)      Take a few moments to do a body scan meditation, focusing on the sensations in your body. You may also do a breathing meditation before continuing.

3)      Bring to mind people who have been unfortunate.  Begin with the people for whom you feel the most sympathy. Remember that sincerity is everything in the Karuna meditation technique.

4)      Wish the individual freedom from their suffering. Wish for them to be happier, healthier, more fortunate and more successful.

5)      You may find it beneficial to speak out your wish for this person. For instance, for someone who is ill you may say, “May they become healthy and strong” or for someone who has been unfortunate with money, “May they find financial security, richness and prosperity.” These lines are just examples—express your sincere compassion in the words that feel right to you.

6)      If you feel any conflicting emotions—for instance if you feel judgmental of the person—be mindful of your feelings but do not dwell on them. Simply observe them (if you struggle to do this, you’ll find Vipassana helpful).

8)      Get in touch with the feeling of compassion. Be mindful of it. How does it feel in the body and the mind? Are there any obstacles in the way to true compassion? Be mindful of all that is happening within.

9) Compassion is a feeling, and a feeling is an energy. Connect with that inner energy of compassion. Meditate on it. The more you meditate on the energy of compassion, the more that energy will grow inside of you, making you more and more compassionate, developing your levels of Karuna one step at a time. Before long you may feel like a Bodhisatva!


Benefits of Karuna Meditation

There are many benefits of Karuna meditation technique.

Karuna meditation benefit us becuse it:

  • Promotes compassion and massively increases empathy
  • Improves happiness
  • Heightens connections to other people
  • Reduces the symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Promotes onenness
  • Increases longevity
  • Makes you more attractive (science has shown that kindness is an attractive trait)
  • Lead to reciprocal kindness
  • Reduces the risk of developing illnesses associate with stress
  • Improve social life (we feel more connected to others, which promotes pro-social behavior)
  • Helps to increase our ability to forgive

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About Paul Martin Harrison 495 Articles
Paul Harrison is a meditation teacher, author and journalist based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential. Don’t miss Paul’s inspirational and enlightening book Journey To The Buddha Within You.

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