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Lions Roar : January 2015
That is the ideal. how, step by step, do we get there? The first step is to have a deep conviction that compassion is a very important part of our nature. This is particularly important for people in the West today, who are conditioned to believe that the ultimate motivation driving all of our behavior is self-interest. Which is in fact celebrated in this culture. Exactly. In the West we’re kind of going against the current when we talk about compassion. But on the other hand, science is increasingly telling us that while the pursuit of self-interest is a powerful drive, the instinct for nurturing, caring, and connec- tion is equally powerful. From both a Buddhist and scientific point of view, we are complex creatures who have both of these powerful drives. So the first step is to acknowledge and embrace the caring and compassionate part of our nature, and to celebrate it. Basically, the first step is telling a different story about who we are as hu- man beings. Once you have changed your perspective in this way, you begin to notice a lot more things that express the compassionate side of our nature. You begin to see how often people are sponta- neously kind, even toward strangers. You see how the sight of someone else doing a kind act inspires and elevates you. Normally we don’t notice these things, and so becoming more aware of the power of kindness and compassion in our every- day lives is really the first step. Then you begin to appreciate the value of compassion at a visceral level, not just intellectually. Once that kind of perspective arises, you can start working with yourself. Sometimes people coming from the Buddhist side tend to see meditation as the answer for everything, but silent sitting practice is just one part of what one could call a contemplative approach to life. There is the other part, in which you bring this awareness into your day-to-day interaction with others and begin to reframe the way you relate to the world. For example, if you normally relate to someone in a negative way, you try to see how you can reframe your relationship in a compassionate way. Normally, compassion arises only as a sentiment in reaction to a situation—the sight of suffering, of someone in pain or crying. What the Buddhist tradition sug- gests is that you could actually make compassion your stand- point, the perspective from which you relate to the world. Com- passion becomes part of your intention of being in the world, and in this way you start making it real. Tell us about the compassion training program you have de- veloped at Stanford, which makes these principles available to everyone who wants more compassion in their lives, not just Buddhists. The basic premise of Stanford Compassion Training is fairly simple. It is based on the premise that compassion is an impor- tant part of our fundamental nature. Then, by becoming more aware of and connecting with our inherent compassion, we can learn to relate to ourselves, others, and the world around us from that side of our nature. Which is basically the Buddhist approach you just described. Exactly. Then the question was, how do we design a program that it is truly universal, that does not presuppose a Buddhist metaphysic or cultural assumptions. That was the challenge. What we came up with was an eight-week program with six steps. In the first week, we focus on the basic skills of calming the mind and learning to focus, because any form of contem- plative practice requires the ability to calm, focus, and apply the mind. We want people to develop some ability to gather their thoughts, calm themselves down, deregulate from whatever emotional states they are experiencing, and learn to apply their mind to a chosen topic. An important part of the practice at this initial stage is becom- ing more aware of our intention. How can we bring conscious intention into our life? This is taken from the Tibetan lojong, or mind training, tradition. We check our altruistic intention or motivation at the beginning, and dedicate the benefit to others at the end. These can frame our session, our day, or our life. Thupten Jinpa: Buddhist scholar, translator for the Dalai Lama, and scientist of the heart and mind. PHOTOBYCHRISTOPHERMICHEL SHAMBHALA SUN jANUAry 2015 62