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Training in Compassion

With instant access to news around the world, we are bombarded by all the horrible things people do to one another. The poisons of anger and hate are poured into our minds daily by the media, along with a good dose of greed provided by advertising carefully designed to inspire desire. Our Buddhist practice teaches us to cultivate compassion for all. In a world such as this, how do we do that?

A popular option is to recite a Metta prayer of loving-kindness to reprogram our mind. To do this, we wish all beings (including ourselves) to be at ease, we refrain from having any ill-will or hatred towards any being, we protect others as a mother would protect her only child, and we cherish all beings, thinking of them with kindness.

Recitation of such a prayer is an excellent start. There are many examples available on the internet, or you can even create your own. (There’s one I wrote at the end of this blog.) When creating a metta practice, we first generate the feeling of compassion for oneself, then for those we love, then for those who we feel neutral about, and finally we share our compassion with those we hate. Beginning and ending the day with thoughts of loving-kindness for all beings is a powerful practice that opens the heart.

To fully train in compassion, however, parroting a prayer we found on the internet is not enough. We must feel the meaning of the words; we must contemplate what they actually mean in the grander scheme.

Most people have an easy time with the first part of the metta practice, generating and offering compassion to themselves and to their loved ones. Of course we want ourselves and those we care about to be at ease, protected, and cherished. In a sense, we feel they deserve our compassion because we know and love them.

The next part, of giving loving-kindness to those we have no feelings for can be a little more challenging because we can trick ourselves. We can think, “Oh I’m a good person, so of course I want others to be at ease.” We make an assumption that we care about those we do not know, and we skip over this part of the practice quickly. However, it’s important to take a moment with this abstract concept of generating compassion for those we may never interact with. It stretches us beyond our normal conceptions and forces us to consider the idea that we can give to others without needing a reason, without them being worthy of it.

In the final part of our training in compassion, we offer loving-kindness to those who do evil acts, to those we find unacceptable. We challenge ourselves to open our heart to those who have hurt us and others; in short we generate compassion for those who we are conditioned to hate.

We begin to see those who do evil acts actually need the protection of a loving mother. We do not make excuses for their behavior or try to figure out what lead them to where they are. We simply offer compassion. We understand they may need to be restrained in the way a mother holds her child to prevent them from running into a busy street. We move out of the idea of punishment and retribution where anger and hate generate more anger and hate. We instead move into a world where all beings are at ease, protected, and cherished. We fully embody loving-kindness for all. In the process, we dislodge the poisons of anger, hate, and greed from our mind.

As we work the practice we discover when we offer feelings of loving-kindness to this last group of people, we cannot hate them as we do it. This is diametrically opposed to the societal programming we encounter on a daily basis. It creates a deep level of cognitive dissonance, where our mental programing that is validated daily by society tells us these are bad, unworthy people but our Buddhist training is instructing us to love them. This is where many people get stuck.

When we feel stuck, it’s important we don’t pretend. We have a tendency to try to push through and let ourselves think we have completed our metta practice. Our ego can even become increasingly deluded as we congratulate ourselves for practicing metta when we’ve only made it through part of the practice. Or we simply shrug and decide maybe next time we will do better. Instead, we can use where we are stuck to grow past our limitations.

If we find we cannot have compassion for those who do evil acts, then we can back up to the beginning and generate compassion for the one who has no compassion for those who do evil acts. By cultivating this type of compassion for ourselves, we begin to see compassion is unconditional. As we are able to give the darker parts of our being loving-kindness, we soon learn we can expand our capacity to share this unconditional love with all others.

May all beings be at ease.
May all beings be protected.
May all beings be cherished.
May all beings know the peace of Liberation.


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Published inBuddha Lessons / Mindfulness


  1. Ah beautiful, thank you for this. I really like the encouragement to be honest and fully practice metta and not be deluded.

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