Many of my students ask me what the best compassion meditation technique and scripts are. Karuna meditation (Buddhist compassion meditation) is one of the best options. And there others including Loving Kindness, mantras, mudra, affirmations, and guided meditation for compassion.
According to traditional philosophy, the best Buddhist compassion meditation is Karuna, Indeed, the very word itself is a Pali and Sanskrit word meaning compassion according to Sir Monier Monier-Williams (the second Boden Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University).
Let’s take a look at the science, techniques, and benefits of using meditation for compassion (Karuna).
How To Do Buddhist Compassion Meditation [Karuna] (Script)
It is generally advised that before doing Karuna you practice Loving Kindness Meditation.
Loving-kindness is like the soil on top of which we build 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.
Here’s how to do Karuna Meditation in the Buddhist tradition. Follow this compassion meditation script to boost your levels of compassion and empathy.
- Find somewhere quiet where you will not be disturbed. Sit with good posture in a comfortable position. Place your feet shoulder-width apart and sit with a straight but relaxed spine.
- Close your eyes and spend a few minutes observing the breath moving through your body. This will relax your mind and help you to focus, ready for the next part of our compassion meditation script.
- Bring to mind unfortunate people. Begin with the people for whom you feel the most sympathy. Remember that sincerity is everything in the Karuna meditation technique. Consider the struggles that they are facing in their lives.
- Wish the individual freedom from their suffering. Wish for them to be happier, healthier, more fortunate and more successful.
- You may find it beneficial to speak out loud 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.” These lines are just examples—express your sincere compassion in whatever words feel right to you.
- 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.
- 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 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. 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!
- Finish with a wish to free all sentient beings from suffering.
Self-Compassion Meditation Script
The self-compassion meditation script is the same as the one above but with more focus on the self. While practising Karuna, remember to use the meditation for self-compassion as well as for other people. Sure, everyone deserves compassion, and as loving people, we want to give loving-kindness to others. But we deserve that same warm regard ourselves. That’s why we should use Karuna as a meditation for self-compassion as well.
Science And Benefits of Buddhist Compassion Meditation (Karuna)
Science shows that Buddhist meditations for compassion (karuna) do indeed 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”. Which doesn’t sound very positive at face-value but is in fact incredibly important. Researchers define compassion as a feeling that arises when we witness another’s suffering (this includes people and animals). In particular, compassion includes the desire to stop others from suffering (which is directly 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.
Interestingly, there is a biological root of compassion. Indeed, compassion is and always has been imperative to the survival of our species, according to Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley in an article for Greater Good.
There are many health benefits of compassion. It slows the heart rate, leads to the 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), and strengthens interpersonal relations.
According to research by University of Wisconsin-Madison, compassion meditation technique do 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, such as people who have been bullied.
The research was mostly based on one of the Buddhist meditations for compassion: Loving Kindness (Metta Bhavana). The brain scans showed increased activity in the insula, 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. There are also other types of meditation for compassion: Buddhist methods, mantras, mudras, visualizations, and of course, there are guided meditations for compassion on apps like Headspace, Calm, and Buddhify. Arguably the two best types of meditation for compassion are Karuna Bhavana (Compassion Meditation) and Metta Bhavana (Loving Kindness).
Traditionally, both Karuna and Loving Kindness are designed to increase compassion and empathy [which is why you might not need to do them if you are an empath]. In particular, we develop Karuna to liberate sentient beings from the suffering of samsara, the perpetual cycle of life and death. But where Loving Kindness is all about, well, love and kindness, Karuna is about meditating on the suffering of others and of ourselves and developing sympathy for those who are suffering.
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
Compassion meditation, or Karuna, is essential when we are trying to achieve enlightenment.
Karuna is also important to Jainists. 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).
As well as the spiritual significance of compassion there are also considerable health benefits.
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.
- If you spend a lot of money shopping for yourself, you might as well quit and start shopping for other people instead. A study by searchers at the University of British Columbia and the Harvard Business School showed that people are on average happier when they spend their money on someone else than when they spend it on themselves
- If you’re single, you might also like to show kindness, as science has proven that we are naturally attracted to kind people, and not just people who are sympathetic to us but people who are kind in general.
- Acts of kindness make other people happy too. Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia researched the effect of kindness on group mentality. He showed that people feel happier when they see other people being kind.
- A subsequent study by UC San Diego showed that kindness is contagious. When people see someone being kind, they’re more likely to be kind themselves. So, your one act of kindness will make you and others happy, and it will also make other people more compassionate 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).
- 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 makes you feel as though you have more time, not less.
- Promotes compassion and massively increases empathy [whether this is a benefit or not will depend on your point of view because many people struggle with empathy]
- Improves happiness
- Heightens connections to other people
- Reduces the symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression
- Promotes oneness
- Increases longevity
- Makes you more attractive (science has shown that kindness is an attractive trait)
- Leads to reciprocal kindness
- Reduces the risk of developing illnesses associated with stress
- Improves your social life (we feel more connected to others, which promotes pro-social behaviour)
- Helps to increase our ability to forgive
When you try to cultivate compassion you might find it hard to forgive certain people. If this occurs, I recommend reading my article about using meditation for forgiveness.
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