Karuna is one of the traditional Buddhist practices for compassion. 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).
This meditation is a wonderful way to develop sympathy and empathy. And without these qualities, we can never achieve spiritual enlightenment.
So, let me show you how to do Karuna meditation. And note that it is best to do this meditation alongside Loving Kindness Meditation.
How To Do Buddhist Compassion Meditation [Karuna]
- Find somewhere quiet where you will not be disturbed. Sit with good posture. Place your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Close your eyes and spend a few minutes mindful breathing. This will promote relaxation and focus.
- 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.
- Consider the struggles this person is facing.
- Wish the individual freedom from suffering. Wish for them to be happier, healthier, more fortunate, and more successful.
- 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 and prosperity.”
- 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.
- Observe the feeling of sympathy. 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 sympathy. Meditate on it. This will develop your compassion. Before long, you may feel like a Bodhisatva!
- Repeat the script meditating on different people.
- Finish with a wish to free all sentient beings from suffering. You might like to do Tonglen meditation next.
- An important note. You might struggle to develop empathy 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.
Buddhist Meditation for Self Compassion Script
The Buddhist meditation for self compassion is the same as the one above but with more focus on the self. Just repeat the process focusing on yourself.
And by the way, if you feel selfish when you do this, don’t. We ourselves deserve as much love and kindness 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.
Science shows that Buddhist meditations for compassion (karuna) do work. And that’s great news because of the huge importance of empathy in life.
To be compassionate, 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, it 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, it 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.
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.
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 practise for compassion is Karuna Bhavana meditation, which we looked at above.
Karuna & Buddhism
Traditionally, both Karuna meditation and Loving Kindness are designed to increase sympathy and empathy. Obviously, Loving Kindness is about love and kindness. Karuna, on the other hand, is about cultivating compassion 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 empathy . We can’t spiritually awaken without empathy. 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.
Giving Is Caring
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison