• TRADITION: Buddhism
  • NEED: Health, Stress Relief and Relaxation, Relationships, Positive Attitude, Spiritual Development
  • LEVEL: Beginner

It’s normal to feel compassion for a loved one, and with practice, it becomes easier to feel it toward someone you dislike or do not know. This meditation opens the heart and increases compassion for all beings.

What’s behind the name of this meditation practice?
Compassion, in the words of the American monk Bhikkhu Bodhi, is “a wish that others be free from suffering, a wish to be extended without limits to all living beings.” Also known as karunā, it is one of the four sublime states of mind taught by the Buddha.
What’s the concept?
The spiritual path can’t be walked in isolation. All living beings are connected, and to experience true understanding, we must experience other people’s hurt as our own. Insight Meditation Society founder Sharon Salzberg explains how we do this: “We can learn the art of fierce compassion—redefining strength, deconstructing isolation, and renewing our sense of community. We must also let go of rigid “us vs. them” thinking, and cultivate power and clarity in response to difficult situations.” Meditation is a powerful way to develop compassion and dissolve the barriers that divide humanity.
How did this meditation practice originate?
The Buddha taught that the four sublime states of mind, or brahmavihāras, represent the highest aspects of human nature. The brahmavihāras include compassion, loving-kindness, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. Meditation, the Buddha said, can liberate the mind from its reactive behaviors and create a state of calm, focused awareness.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali also teach these four divine emotions, and compassion, the basis of the Golden Rule, appears in some form in all major religions.
What’s unique about this meditation?
There is an altruistic quality to compassion meditation. While all forms of meditation yield positive personal changes that help us to become better people, this one has the potential to revolutionize our interactions with the world. Compassion becomes a waking practice we can use during our commute to work, during a challenging phone call, or when we read the headlines in the morning paper.
What are its chief benefits?
“We believe that all human beings are born with the capacity for compassion, and that it must be cultivated for human beings to survive and thrive.” That’s one of the fundamental principles of the Charter for Compassion, a global movement that urges people of all backgrounds and religions to practice compassion. According to Theravada monk Nyanaponika Thera, meditation is the way to cement compassion in the heart, allowing it to be a spontaneous attitude that directs our daily lives. Neuroscience suggests that compassionate instincts are rooted in the brain, and that cultivating a compassionate attitude leads to increased physical and mental health, a quicker recovery from ailments, and a longer lifespan.
Is there evidence of its effectiveness?
People who lead compassionate lives also help themselves. Just as the Bible says, research has shown that giving is equally—or more—pleasurable than receiving. Neuroscientists at the National Institute of Health found through brain-image studies that giving lights up the pleasure centers in our brains. The monks at the Tibetan monastery laughed when neuroscientist Richard Davidson attached electrodes to a monk’s head rather than his heart. Years later, he understood: “Compassionate meditation facilitates communication between the heart and the mind,” Davidson says.
Are there any side effects or risks?
Are there any controversies?
How can it be learned?
Like forgiveness and loving-kindness, compassion can emerge on its own when we sit quietly with our inner truth. A guided meditation can help with the visualization process, and so can the simple act of being around compassionate people: volunteer for an afternoon at a soup kitchen or spend time with an organization that serves people in need.
Are there any charges for learning?
How is this meditation practiced?
The goal of compassion meditation is to create a heartfelt shift in our feelings toward ourselves and others—not to will ourselves to feel or act more compassionately. During the meditation, attention is directed outwardly—to a suffering friend, a helpful acquaintance, a neutral person, and finally, all beings. If you like to work with mantras, consider adding Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu to your practice—“May all beings everywhere be happy and free.” Our step-by-step guided meditation is available on this page.
Can anyone practice this meditation?
Everyone can increase their capacity for compassion.
Who are the well-known practitioners?
The best-known teachers and authors in this field include:

Sharon Salzberg
Gina Sharpe
Jack Kornfield
Stephen Cope
Pema Chödrön
Is any equipment or material required for practice?
Compassion Meditation
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