Valentine's - A Day for Love and Compassion

This is a day that is often celebrated by lovers, but it truly offers all of us an opportunity to give and receive love and embody compassion.

I have been reflecting on the Buddhist meditation practices of lovingkindness and tonglen and their relationship to compassion, as I prepare to share these techniques in a meditation short course, and as I also integrate the theme of compassion in my own yoga classes this week. I am in essence, killing two birds with one stone!

In the Buddhist and Hindu traditions, the word "karuna" is translated as compassion. Compassion is one of the Brahmaviharas - or four sublime attitudes, along with lovingkindness, joy, and equanimity. These attitudes are described in Buddhist teachings, and also in sutra 1.33 of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.

Whether we are Buddhist or Hindu, Jewish, Christian or Muslim - I do believe we all recognize the importance of cultivating all of these attitudes and especially embracing, expressing, and embodying compassion.

The Dalai Lama often writes and frequently teaches on the subject of compassion. Because as humans we are in essence, all one and the same - we have the same wants, desires, and experience the same pains - and so it is important that we cultivate greater compassion in our lives. The author and teacher, Steven Levine wisely noted that:

"When your fear touches someone's pain,
it becomes pity.
When your love touches someone's pain,
it becomes compassion."

Love and compassion are beautifully intertwined...

Lovingkindness and tonglen practices enable us to radiate more love and compassion in our lives. It is necessary for us to practice lovingkindness towards ourselves first before we move on to others. Then, we can focus on a loved one, followed by a neutral person that we might not know well, before we move on to practicing it for someone we have difficulty with.

In tonglen, it is customary to practice for others first, and then eventually to offer this practice for ourselves. There are many variations of both techniques, and I would suggest reading the works of Pema Chodron, Sharon Salzberg, and Sogyal Rinpoche, among others. But I will offer here, a stripped down variation of both techniques that I have successfully used over the years:


May I be filled with lovingkindness.
May I be well.
May I be at peace and at ease.
May I be happy.


Visualize the suffering of another soul.
Imagine it as hot, and thick dark smoke.
Breathe it into your heart.

There, in the furnace of your heart, transmute it -
and breathe it back out--
sending it back to the person as white light,

along with joy and love.

Today, as I stood in line at the grocery store, I was greeted by my cashier, who addressed me as "dear." She was mindful, and present, and at the very end, she wished me a Happy Valentine's Day. Whether she knew it or not, she was the very embodiment of compassion itself!


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