Lobsang Tenzin Negi, a former Buddhist monk, talks about compassion meditation.
Like many Buddhists, Negi insists that a person doesn’t don’t have to be Buddhist to benefit from meditation.
“Meditation is not even a religious practice, much less a Buddhist one,” he says. “Way before Buddhism was founded, meditation was a widespread practice in India.”
“It’s a simple training by which you enhance certain skills like compassion, attention, love – you train again and again to get better,” he says.
Many Westerners have discovered focused-attention meditation, during which the practitioner focuses on a single object, often the breath, for a set period of time in an attempt to cultivate powers of concentration.
The style draws on ancient meditation techniques that have been standardized by Buddhism over the past 2,500 years.
For Tibetan Buddhists, however, a different meditation style – compassion meditation – is at the heart of contemplative practice.
Unlike focused-attention meditation, which is intended to still the mind’s emotional states by training attention on the present moment, compassion mediation aims to summon an intense emotional state that’s sometimes referred to as lovingkindness.
“We are social beings and compassion is a practice by which one becomes deeply connected with others,” Negi says. “Not just to the few people nearest us, like parents and siblings and relatives, but to strangers or even people we may call adversaries.”
“If we embrace them with compassion,” he says, “that means that our relationship to them is grounded in a deep sense of connectedness. And that kind of social connectedness is crucial to our well-being, physical and emotional.”