Ultimate Guide To Buddhist Karuna Meditation For Compassion

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Many of my students ask me what the best compassion meditation techniques and scripts are. Karuna meditation (Buddhist compassion meditation) is one of the best options.

Of course, there are many types of meditation for compassion:

But the best compassion meditation is Buddhist Karuna. Indeed, the very word Karuna is a Pali and Sanskrit word meaning compassion according to Sir Monier Monier-Williams (the second Boden Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University). 

We can use this method to develop compassion for others and for ourselves. And this is vital because of the importance of compassion in life. 

Let’s look at the practice and benefits of Karuna meditation technique.

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How To Do Buddhist Karuna Meditation for Compassion [script]

It is advised that before doing Karuna you practice Loving Kindness Meditation.

Loving-kindness is like the soil on top of which we plant the flowers of love. It can take time to feel genuinely compassionate. The more you practice the following Buddhist compassion meditation script, the more compassion you will cultivate. 

Note that the script below will also boost your empathy.

Karuna Meditation Script for Compassion

  1. Find somewhere quiet where you will not be disturbed. Sit with a good, comfortable posture. Place your feet shoulder-width apart. Sit with a straight but relaxed spine.  
  2. Close your eyes and spend a few minutes mindful breathing. This will promote relaxation and focus.  
  3. Bring to mind a person who has or currently is suffering. Begin with the people for whom you feel the most sympathy. Sincerity is everything in the Karuna meditation technique. Therefore, start with someone you love.
  4. Consider the struggles this person is facing.
  5. Wish the individual freedom from suffering. Wish for them to be happier, healthier, more fortunate, and more successful.
  6. You may find it beneficial to speak aloud your wish for this person. For instance, for someone who is ill, you may say, “May they become healthy and strong”. Or for someone unfortunate with money, “May they find financial security, richness and prosperity.” 
  7. 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.
  8. Observe the feeling of compassion. Be mindful of it. How does it feel in the body and mind? Are there any obstacles in the way to genuine compassion? Be aware of all that is happening within. Compassion is a feeling. And a feeling is an energy. Connect with the inner energy of compassion. Meditate on it. This will develop your compassion. Before long, you may feel like a Bodhisatva!
  9. Repeat the script meditating on different people.
  10. Finish with a wish to free all sentient beings from suffering. You might like to do Tonglen meditation next.
  11. An important note. You might struggle to develop compassion for some people, including yourself. This is often because we need to forgive them for something. If that is the case, use my meditation for forgiveness.

Self-Compassion Meditation Script

The self-compassion meditation script is the same as the one above but with more focus on the self. Just repeat the process focusing on yourself.

If you feel selfish when you do this, don’t. 

We ourselves deserve as much compassion as anyone else. As the Dalai Lama quote goes: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

That’s why we should use Karuna meditation for self-compassion as well. 

 

Benefits of Buddhist Compassion Meditation (Karuna) 

Science shows that Buddhist meditations for compassion (karuna) do work. And that’s great news because of the huge importance of compassion in life.  

Compassion, according to the University of California: Berkeley, is “to suffer together”.

Researchers define compassion as a feeling that arises when we witness another person’s suffering. Note that this includes both people and animals.

Importantly, compassion includes the desire to stop others from suffering. This is related to Buddhism, a religion largely based on ending suffering.   

In Theravāda Buddhism, karuṇā is one of the four brahmavihāra, or “divine abodes”. The others are equanimity (upekkha) sympathetic joy (mudita) and loving kindness (Pāli: mettā).

In the Pali Canon and the Kālāmā Sutta, Buddha advocates cultivating compassion for all. And indeed, science shows that this is important. In fact, compassion has been vital for the survival of our species according to Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley in an article for Greater Good.

There are many health benefits of compassion:

  • Slows the heart rate
  • Increases secretion of oxytocin
  • Strengthens brain regions associated with empathy (which, according to the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York is the anterior insular cortex).
  • Improves interpersonal relations.

Compassion Meditation Works

According to research by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, compassion meditation techniques work. 

A study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) showed that meditation can make you more compassionate and more empathetic.

Richard Davidson [professor of psychiatry and psychology at UW-Madison] states that this could help people with social anxiety. For instance, people who have been bullied.

The research was mostly based on one of the Buddhist meditations for compassion: Loving Kindness (Metta Bhavana). Brain scans showed increased activity in the insula. This is a region of the brain in the frontal portion that is related to emotions.

Dr Davidson, who is also co-director of the Health-Emotions Research Institute, states that “The insula is extremely important in detecting emotions in general and specifically in mapping bodily responses to emotion.”

Note that Loving Kindness is not the main method for compassion. The best Buddhist meditation for compassion is Karuna Bhavana meditation, which we looked at above. 

Karuna & Buddhism

Traditionally, both Karuna meditation and Loving Kindness are designed to increase compassion and empathy. Obviously, Loving Kindness is about love and kindness. Karuna, on the other hand, is about cultivating sympathy for those who are suffering.   

In particular, we develop Karuna to liberate sentient beings from the suffering of samsara. That is, the perpetual cycle of life and death.

Buddhist texts state that we cannot achieve enlightenment without Karuna (compassion). And it isn’t just Buddhism that says this. Jainism does too.

Jainists use the “four reflections” to stop the influx of karma. The four reflections of universal friendship are:

  • Amity (Sanskrit: maitri)
  • Loving kindness (metta)
  • Compassion (karuna)
  • Appreciation (pramod)

And of course, there are many other spiritual texts on compassion, not least The Bible. 

Overall, all spiritual individuals need compassion. We can’t spiritually awaken without compassion. And more than this, we need it for our health. Research shows that compassion is essential for both mental and physical health. 

Practise the Karuna meditation script above once a week and you will massively increase your compassion. And if you would like to learn more, book an online meditation lesson with me today.

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By Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a qualified meditation teacher and writer with more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential through mindfulness, yoga and meditation.

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