Meditation on Compassion

Kathleen McDonald

Whereas love is the desire for others to be happy, compassion is the desire actually to bring about their happiness by freeing them from their suffering.

Compassion is not the sad, anxious feeling we often experience when we see or hear about people's pain. Neither is it a sentimental involvement in their problems nor, on the other hand, a selfconscious holding-back. All these responses are inappropriate and show that we do not understand the causes of the problems, or the solution.

With true compassion we are more wise: we understand how and why suffering occurs and can deal realistically with the situation. It gives us the energy to do what we can to help and the wisdom to accept our limitations and not worry about what we cannot do.

An attitude of compassion is what really counts; we cannot expect to actually eliminate someone else's unhappiness while our own mind is still troubled by misconceptions and confused emotions. We should, therefore, work simultaneously on developing the wisdom to see clearly how things are and the compassionate wish to alleviate others' suffering - then our actions will be truly skilful.

We all possess the potential to be limitlessly compassionate. A powerful way of awakening and developing this potential is by visualising Avalokiteshvara (Tibetan: Chenrezig), the embodiment of compassion, and contemplating his mantra.

A mantra is a series of syllables that corresponds to certain subtle vibrations within us. A mantra has built up its energy for good by being used by millions of people for thousands of years. Its effectiveness does not lie in our understanding of its sound as we recite it aloud or silently.

Avalokiteshvara's mantra, om mani padme hum, expresses the pure energy of the compassion that exists in every being. Reciting it, either in meditation or while going about our daily activities, not only awakens our own compassion but, by joining with the millions of other people saying it too, adds to the growth of peaceful, loving energy in the world.

The Practice

Relax your body and mind and bring your awareness to the present by mindfully watching your breath. Check your thoughts and feelings and generate a positive motivation.

Imagine that all of space is filled with beings. Contemplate their suffering. First, think of the suffering of your parents and other people you are close to. Open your heart to the physical and psychological problems they are experiencing and think that, just like you, they want to be free of all suffering. Feel how wonderful it would be if they were free.

Then do the same for people who you do not like or have hurt you. Imagine their suffering... Open your heart to these people for whom normally you feel irritation or anger. Feel strongly the aspiration to alleviate this pain.

Now visualise just above your head and facing the same way as you Avalokiteshvara, the manifestation of pure unobstructed compassion, love and wisdom. His body is of white light, transparent and radiant. Try to feel his presence. His face is peaceful and smiling and he radiates his love to you and all beings surrounding you. Hold this visualisation until it is stable.

Now make a prayer from your heart to overcome your misconceptions and negative energy and to develop pure love and compassion for all beings. Feel that you are connecting with your own true nature, your highest potential.

In response, Avalokiteshvara lovingly sends streams of white light, filling every cell and atom of your body. It purifes all your negativities and problems, all your past harmful actions and your potential to give harm in the future, and completely fills you with his limitless love and compassion. Your body feels light and blissful, your mind peaceful and clear.

The light from Avalokiteshvara radiates out to every living being, purifying their negative energy and filling them with bliss. Now, while concentrating on this visualisation, recite the mantra, om mani padme hum, aloud and then silently, as many times as you like. When you have finished the recitation, visualise Avalokiteshvara dissolving into white light, which flows down through the crown of your head to your heart centre.


This teaching is an excerpt from How to Meditate by Kathleen McDonald, and is available from Wisdom Publications, Inc., the FPMT publishing company, and can be found at many good bookshops. Amazon can get them too
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