In the book The Heart of Meditation, the Dalai Lama describes a method for developing empathy into one’s meditation practice. A meditation exercise is given below. The thesis of this book is that the thing that brings meditation truly alive is compassion. This makes perfect sense, especially in today’s day and age! We can’t deny a connection with others and a need to in some way help alleviate the suffering of those around us.
In the beginning, the main emphasis is simply not to harm others. This is much harder than it seems! Are we hurting others with thoughts or words? In stressful, busy, or crowded circumstances an unconscious negativity takes over. Guarding against this sleep-based negativity is a great practice!
The practice then evolves to expand one’s perspective to actually serve others, to help others, based on restraining selfishness. The Buddhist principle is that our innate nature is happiness and that everyone has the right to gain happiness and avoid suffering. We can learn to help others if we can get ourselves out of the way.
The Dalai Lama says:
“Now a question is to be posed. I am just a single person, whereas others are infinite in nature. Our condition is the same in that we all want happiness. The only difference between us is in number. Our condition is the same in that we all want happiness. The only difference between us is in number – I am single whereas others are limitless. Thus the question is: Should everyone be used for my attainment of happiness, or should I work to gain happiness for others?
Therefore, the simplest method for generating compassion is this:
Visualize yourself in the middle as a neutral person. On the left side, visualize other beings, at least ten or fifteen or even a hundred: imagine needy people in poor condition. On your right side, visualize yourself again but as selfish, overly proud, and never thinking of other’s welfare but only of your own welfare. In the middle, you remain as a third person evaluating. Both the single selfish person on the right and the group of destitute people on the left want happiness and do not want suffering; both have an equal right to be happy and get rid of suffering. Which side would you as the evaluator, choose? This is one way to change our attitude toward others.”
We will talk more about this subject in our next post where we introduce the practice of doing readings for the benefit of others into the compassion meditations.