Compassion Course

Cultivating Compassion (Discovering What Compassion Really Is)

The programme begins with an investigation into what compassion is,
from everyday, scientific, experiential and Buddhist perspectives.
On the basis of this clear understanding, we explore the benefits of an
altruistic, other-focused attitude, compared to a wholly self-centred
attitude.
Then, understanding the benefits of compassion, we look at why we
aren’t as compassionate as we would like to be. First of all by addressing
our habit of distraction—not noticing suffering—through the practice of
meditation.
Then we explore the role of the mind in our experience of happiness and
suffering. Through this we recognise the possibility of changing the way
we normally react to life’s inevitable circumstances. We also explore the
idea that we are not our thoughts and emotions and that there is
something much greater and more profound lying behind our transitory
and ephemeral cognitive and emotional states.
We take this further by considering our fundamental nature:
appreciating our natural capacity as human beings for love and
compassion from a scientific and evolutionary point of view, as well as
our inherent fundamental goodness from a Buddhist point of view.
Recognizing this is also what frees us from one obstacle to compassion:
that we do not feel we have enough love within us. Here we also begin
to develop the practice of cultivating love for ourselves.
Next, we explore the interconnected nature of our world. Through
acknowledging the great kindness shown to us by many, many beings,
we start to feel a sense of gratitude and a wish to repay that kindness.
We also begin to ‘level the playing field’ in our relationship to others,
becoming more aware of our similarities and better able to perceive all
beings with equanimity. In this way we become more able to extend our
love wider and wider. We spend three weeks focusing on cultivating
love in this way.
We then turn our attention to compassion, and first of all to compassion
for ourselves; recognising the importance, for ourselves and others, of
treating ourselves with the same kindness and consideration as we
would a good friend.
We look at the universal nature of suffering, and then begin to widen our
compassion for others. Beginning, as always, by getting in touch with a
natural spark of feeling or concern for a loved one, and then, through
using our human intelligence, broadening out our concern to a wider
and wider audience.
Later in the course, we also learn to develop joy for those who are
already experiencing happiness.
We now reach the heart of the compassion training: we begin to
‘equalise’ our self and others; recognizing other people as just ‘another
you’.
Next we ‘exchange’ ourself with others, particularly through the practice
of tonglen.
Tonglen is a simple and straightforward practice, which is extremely
effective at getting straight to the heart of our predicament: our
excessively self-centred attitude, and brings together the previous
practices introduced on this course: meditation, love, and compassion.
As Sogyal Rinpoche says in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying: “Of all
the practices I know, the practice of tonglen… is one of the most useful
and powerful… No other practice I know is as effective in destroying the
self-grasping, self-cherishing, and self-absorption of the ego, which is the
root of all our suffering and the root of all hard-heartedness.” In many
ways, this course can be seen as preparing the ground for the possibility
of tonglen practice.
Having established:
—how to focus the mind in meditation
—what love is and how to cultivate it
—what compassion is and how to cultivate it
as well as having gained:
—an understanding of the root cause of our problems and
—some desire to get free from this,
students should be able to engage meaningfully in the practice of
tonglen.