Compassion for all beings is the foundation for all Tantric practice. The motivation to achieve enlightenment is born out of a desire to help others to awaken and to help end suffering for all beings. This practice is called Bodhichitta, which means “awakening mind.” In Buddhism the mind is associated with the heart and not the head. Bodhichitta also is associated with wisdom and spaciousness. So to activate compassion you awaken the heart with both wisdom and spaciousness.
Compassion is different from sympathy which can sometimes cause a feeling of being over whelmed by the suffering of others. If you become overwhelm by such emotions you are now one of those who is suffering. If you are suffering you loose your equanimity. Practicing compassion requires equanimity, an open heart and the intent to help others in every moment as much as you are able. Equanimity is an unbiased attitude toward all beings and is the foundation for practicing Bodhichitta. It is a state of being which requires awareness and letting go of attachment or aversion.
Here is a meditation for cultivating equanimity. Imagine you are surrounded by three people; one is your best friend, one your enemy or someone you dislike and one is a complete stranger to you. Now examine your feelings towards each of these people and see why you have labeled them friend, enemy and stranger. As you explore your feelings notice that these labels are impermanent. Your friend could move away and no longer be important to you. Your feelings for your enemy might be resolved if she offered to help you through a crisis. A stranger could become your friend or lover. In doing this meditation you can begin to let go of your attachment to your friends, aversion to your enemies and indifference to a stranger.
See if you can find a place of peace within yourself that allows you to see each person from a place of compassion. Generate the desire that all beings awaken and no longer suffer. You are practicing the beginning stages of Bodhichitta.
Original Art by Paul Heussenstamm