Many of my students ask me what the best compassion meditation technique and scripts are. Karuna meditation (Compassion meditation) is one of the best options. And there others including Loving Kindness, mantras, mudra, affirmations, and guided meditation for compassion.
Traditionally, according to Buddhist philosophy, the number one meditation for compassion is Karuna (Karuna is the Buddhist word for Compassion). This method is used to cultivate benevolence and self-love, as well as love for others.
Let’s take a look at the science, techniques, and benefits of using meditation for compassion (Karuna).
Link Between Karuna (Compassion), Meditation, And Buddhism
There is a direct link between karuna (compassion) and meditation.
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 included 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).
Compassion is closely related to altruism and empathy The difference with compassion, however, is that it specifically includes the desire not just to be kind, but to stop other people from suffering. Self compassion is the same thing applied to ourselves: the desire to stop ourselves from suffering.
Interestingly, there is a biological root of compassion and the trait has been imperative to the survival of our species. And this is why 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.
There are many different types of meditation for compassion: Buddhis 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).
Does meditation make you more compassionate? According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison the answer is yes.
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 HealthEmotions 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.
What Is The Buddhist Compassion Meditation [Karuna] Script?
Karuna meditation / Buddhist compassion meditation is one of the top 31 methods in use today, which I included in my big guide to meditation (see our front page).
It is a traditional Buddhist technique used to cultivate the quality of compassion, which in Pali is the word “karuna”. .
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 the 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
Buddhist significance of compassion
Compassion meditation, or Karuna, is essential when we are trying to achieve enlightenment.
In Theravada Buddhism, living through Karuna is the key to attaining great happiness in life.
It is one of the four brahmavihārās.
The four divine abodes (brahmavihārās)
Karuna, Buddhism says, is one of the four “divine abodes” (brahmavihārās), which are the four main virtues taught in Buddhism. These are:
- 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 also important to Jainists.
Jainists use the “four reflections” to stop the influx of karma.
The four reflections of universal friendship are:
- Loving kindness (metta)
- Compassion (karuna)
- Appreciation (pramod)
Health Benefits of Compassion Meditation Technique (Karuna)
Science has proven that compassion is important in life for health and happiness.
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 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).
- 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 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
How To Do Buddhist Karuna Meditation For Compassion (Script)
Karuna meditation is best practised after loving-kindness.
Loving-kindness is like the soil on top of which we build the flowers of love.
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 Buddha on your first try. Give yourself time. When you try the Karuna technique below, be patient with yourself. When you’re compassionate to yourself, you will naturally start to be sympathetic to others too.
Here’s how to do Karuna Meditation in the Buddhist tradition.
Compassion Meditation Script
Follow this compassion meditation script to boost your levels of compassion and empathy.
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 unfortunate people. 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 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.
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 genuine compassion? Be aware 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!
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.
That’s why we should use Karuna as a meditation for self-compassion as well.
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