It has always been a Buddhist tenet that compassion should be cultivated so that it extends to all living beings, not just the members of your family, tribe, or nation; indeed, it should extend to all sentient beings, not just to people. For many people this seemed to be an appealing but impractical ideal.
But matters have changed. Television and other media now brings the suffering of other people, including those both near and far, into our living rooms every night. In an increasingly globalized and connected world, our fates are linked together. But how do we cultivate this sense of social connectedness which allows us to see this broader perspective?
Ekman: Let’s return to our discussion of compassion. Is loving kindness meditation the key meditation practice for developing this mental state?
Dalai Lama: Loving-kindness is used in the Buddhist literature in two different senses. There is one, which is, in a sense, the other side of the coin of compassion. Compassion is more focused on the suffering of the other, on the wish to see others free from suffering. Loving-kindness is focused on happiness, on the wish to have others happy. There is no sequence to them; in some sense, they arise together. When you wish others to be free from suffering, the wish for others to enjoy happiness comes sides-by-side.
Dalai Lama:What is more crucial for the practice of compassion is the other type. It is translated as a sense of social connectedness, a sense of endearment to others, where the idea is cultivating a state of mind that makes the sight of others’ suffering unbearable to you. Cultivation of that is the crucial component of compassion. It is said that the stronger this sense of connectedness, the greater your feeling of unbearableness when you see others suffer.
Ekman: Is it unbearable to you?
Jinpa (Buddhist scholar and translator): Unbearable to you, yes.
Dalai Lama: When you reach that state of mind, then others are seen almost as an extension of yourself, as part of you.
Ekman: So, their suffering is your suffering.
Jinpa: Their suffering is your suffering.
Ekman: The question is how to cultivate the feeling that anyone’s suffering is unbearable for you, not just the suffering of your immediate family or friends.
Dalai Lama: That is right. This is the reason why Buddhist teaching refers to all sentient beings as “mother’s sentient beings.” You deliberately try to develop an attitude, “as dear as your own mother.”