The Western scientific world, or at least some of it, is catching on to the benefits of compassion. According to this article:
Practicing compassion with intention has a positive physiological effect on the body. It can lower blood pressure, boost your immune response and increase your calmness… Other studies show it can be protective against disease and increase lifespan.
And this next one has got to be a clincher, right?!
Brain imaging reveals that exercising compassion stimulates the same pleasure centres associated with the drive for food, water and sex.
I knew it! Give me compassion over attachment any day. Especially universal compassion. Moreover, whether we have love or compassion for someone depends on us, not them. Compassion can therefore become a guaranteed source of pleasure — unlike food, water, or sex, which can and do also cause us pain.
If you are uncertain as to how compassion can be pleasurable, it might help to think about how and why love is a happy mind — as we get that already — and compare that to compassion, which is just the other side of the coin. So, with love, we do focus first on how others do not experience the happiness they long for — but the actual love is the wish for them to be happy, and this wish feels great. Similarly, with compassion we do focus first on others’ suffering to develop the wish for them to be freed from it, but the actual compassion is the wish for them to be free – and this wish feels good too. And solution-oriented.
As you have probably noticed, there is no shortage of people to develop compassion for. Buddha pointed out that there is no one with an uncontrolled mind who is not a suitable object of compassion. Why? Because uncontrolled minds = suffering. Every single person and animal is suffering. Most are suffering a great deal. And this is not just now, but pretty much all the time, life after life. Therefore, everyone can be the object of our compassionate wish, “May they be free.”
Hang on, universal compassion is a bit of a stretch, surely?!
Does universal compassion seem pie in the sky to you right now? Try this simple experiment for me – just close your eyes and develop the thought, “May everyone be free from suffering and its causes.” Don’t think too much, just do it for a couple of minutes.
PAUSE FOR TWO MINUTES
Did you manage it? Amazing if so, because that is a mind of universal compassion. If we had that all the time, imagine! Even a minute or two is encouraging for it shows we are capable of developing these vast beautiful minds, we are capable of thinking of others when we put our mind to it. Imagine always having this thought, and imagine it becoming deeper and vaster – you’d actually be a Buddha.
In fact, whenever you are developing compassion you can feel that it is inseparable from the compassion of all enlightened beings, and let their blessings pour into you while you are at it.
Being able to develop compassion like this, even if briefly, even if relatively superficially, shows that we have Buddha nature, the potential to be a fully enlightened being, who has completely realized universal compassion. It is one of a Buddha’s two principal ingredients, the other being wisdom. And there is no living being who does not have this potential. Even Western science, in its own way, is figuring out that compassion is part of our very make-up:
Not only are we hard-wired to be kind, but it is essential for the survival of our species…. People are much happier and live a better life if they are able to maximise their genetic potential for being compassionate, and it has a significant contagion effect on others, motivating them to be more kind….
There is an emerging mental health movement relying less on pharmaceutical interventions and more on innate human traits such as empathy, altruism, kindness and resilience.
Also, having compassion not just for the symptoms but for where suffering is coming from, its causes – wanting everyone to be free from their delusions and contaminated karma — is an even more solution-oriented and pleasurable mind. Through training, this wish is perfectly possible and a very desirable state of mind to cultivate.
I like watching videos of people and animals being compassionate, it is one of my favorite uses of Facebook. I am not alone, millions of people do. I think it shows how pleasing compassion is to us.
More articles on compassion in the pipeline. Meantime, please contribute your comments on this lovely subject.