The Buddha — known as “the awakened one” — was an ancient sage from Eastern India who is considered to be the primary figure in Buddhism.
The insights gained from the beliefs and philosophies of this fascinating culture are believed to harness the ability to end human suffering. In Buddhist tradition, this is achieved through spiritual understanding and disciplined practice.
Buddha taught that in order for someone to reach enlightenment, wisdom and compassion are the most crucial components. These virtues are the two eyes working harmoniously together to provide a higher vision in life.
In Buddhism, compassion is something that runs deep through each and every being on this planet; something we share as a universal connection.
It is because of this deep-rooted connectedness that we are often touched with an automatic rush of empathy whenever we witness the suffering of another human being. Even though this sensation may be hard to notice at times, it is often accompanied by the desire to help alleviate the pain.
Where Is Compassion Located In The Brain?
Based on recent neurophysiological research, this reaction is activated through what are called “mirror neurons” in the brain. This built-in response, shown through functional brain imaging, becomes active when a person is shown images of another person in pain.
The exact same activity takes place in the same region of the brain when personal pain is experienced. The brain has a very hard time distinguishing the difference between the actual person experiencing the pain — the emotional responses are almost identical — hence the term ‘mirror’.
Research only further reveals what ancient knowledge has known for centuries and what Buddha was aiming to teach us. We seem to be profoundly and necessarily interconnected with others, and this process begins on a cellular level.
This universal connection is the essence of compassion. The human response of empathy, according to Buddhist philosophy, indicates that our personal experience of being individually separate beings is only an illusion.
Understanding Buddhist Compassion Meditation
As one of the most influential practices grounded in the Buddhist tradition, compassion meditation may also be one of the essential tools for the human being. Aside from providing a beautiful story and a fascinating way to practice meditation, if you look closely, Buddhist compassion meditation is also a powerful gateway to personal freedom by providing a perfect entry into a state of inner peace.
One key thing that we all share is our quest for happiness. But this concept means different things to different people and can easily become distorted due to external factors. We can easily get caught up looking outside of ourselves, seeking what may seem pleasurable in the moment; but true happiness is not the same thing as gratification.
It is only when we learn to become comfortable with the moment – whatever form it may take – that we are able to find lasting inner peace and content. True happiness is experienced when we are able to find our own grounding where joy is not dictated by external factors but by our connection and love for the moment that is currently being occupied.
The essence of Buddhist compassion meditation is to physically, mentally and spiritually experience the oneness of all things, starting with the moment. The moment is where everything and everyone is interlocked.
The Purpose of Buddhist Compassion Meditation
One major teaching carried through Buddhist tradition is that of inter-being. This can only be described as the interconnectedness of all beings. According to the Avatamsaka Sutra, you can’t really point to one thing in life that isn’t in some way connected to everything else.
Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh describes a piece of paper to help illustrate this connection: within a piece of paper is the sunshine, rain, the logger and his family who contributed to its existence. You can’t separate the piece of paper from all these outer things, and in real life, you can never really separate yourself from other people.
Compassion meditation focuses on love, sympathy, and compassion as a combined force that counterbalances human feelings of prejudice and self-centeredness. The result is an inner peace that no outer circumstance can easily disrupt.
When practicing compassion through our meditation practice, it is almost impossible for negative thoughts and heavy energies to survive. This known secret has been used to eliminate personal suffering and ultimately collective suffering of the community as a whole.
"According to Buddhism, compassion is an aspiration, a state of mind, wanting others to be free from suffering. It's not passive – it's not empathy alone – but rather an empathetic altruism that actively strives to free others from suffering.
Genuine compassion must have both wisdom and loving kindness. That is to say, one must understand the nature of the suffering from which we wish to free others (this is wisdom), and one must experience deep intimacy and empathy with other sentient beings (this is loving kindness)."
How To Do Compassion Meditation
Research has shown that people who practice compassion meditation are much less likely to experience high levels of stress, or feelings of aggression, hatred, and depression- no matter what circumstance they’re dealing with. Compassion is a state of mind and something that is also resonated through the body.
To experience the benefits of compassion meditation, here are a few guidelines:
Start Now – Wherever you find yourself at any given moment in time or whatever circumstance you are currently experiencing in your life, there is something to be grateful for and something to appreciate. Use your intentions to feel your connection to your surroundings.
Don’t wait for the perfect time to practice compassion; start incorporating love and gratitude into your daily life, starting with everything you have right in front of you right now.
We all have compassion and love inside of us, but sometimes it just needs to be activated. Start small and begin to nourish your compassion. Whether it be a specific person in mind, a certain object, or a specific place; remain aware and bring appreciation to the fact that you even have the ability to experience though.
Practice – Because compassion is an emotion that is accessed through the mind, practicing through meditation will allow your ability to harness compassion to grow stronger, much like a muscle.
Even if you only practice for 5 minutes per day, using your intention to manifest compassion will wake up your ability to bring it into every moment of your everyday life. Things begin to change and the experience of joy is present much more often.
Breathing – The power of breath is our gateway to the moment. By taking the time to breathe deeply we are triggering the relaxation response and bringing the mind back into the body. This is where we find our grounding and are able to get back in touch with the moment without distraction. Grounding is the essence of our deep-rooted connection to the earth and ultimately everything.
In this space of mental clarity, negative thoughts are processed and naturally released. After some time and discipline, the only thing left is pure joy, compassion, connection, tranquility, and bliss.
Think and feel love – Once we are able to find solid grounding where compassion is best able to thrive, we are then able to deploy our intentions towards love for others. In order to have a love for others, we must first have a love for ourselves.
When you center yourself through grounding meditation it allows you to get a stronger sense of your core. Often times, if this is the first time that you are beginning to sense a deeper part of yourself, it can get uncomfortable and you might not like so much what you see.
But through practice and by developing an understanding and forgiveness of ourselves, we can allow healthy positive energies to start generating and taking over. This process will cultivate a compassion for yourself and everything around you.
Through compassion, we are able to harness the true essence of life and what keeps us connected. A desire for positive action and lasting joy will soon follow you wherever you go regardless of circumstance or external pressure.
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