Karuna Meditation Technique: The Ultimate Guide

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

Karuna meditation is a type of meditation that Buddhists use to develop compassion.

In our Ultimate Guide To Meditation we looked at more than 30 meditations, many of them Buddhist. And we revealed how different meditations create different benefits.
Karuna meditation is a Buddhist type of meditation that is used to increase compassion. The Buddhist word “karuna”literally translates to mean “compassion”.

Compassion is, of course, an especially important trait to Buddhists.

As the Dalai Lama said:

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

Simply put, Karuna meditation develops compassion, and compassion leads to happiness.

There’s more to this meditation than simply think kind thoughts, though.

Let’s take a look at precisely what Karuna meditation is, beginning with its meaning.


What does Karuna meditation mean?

Buddhist meditations are ultimately about achieving enlightenment (read our guide to achieving enlightenment for more on this).

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 (or living through compassion) is seen as the key to attaining great happiness in life.

Kruna is one of the four “divine abodes” (brahmavihāra).

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 important of Karuna (compassion)

  • Science has proven that compassion is very important and beneficial to your 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. 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). You can read more about this research on Psychological Science.
  • Kindness has been proven to make you live longer.
  • 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.




 Introduction to the practice of Karuuna meditation

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 Meditaiton


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 and Mindfulness very 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!

The Dalai Lama one of the most compassionate people in the world. I wonder how much the Dalai Lama practices Karuna meditation for compassion?

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