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October 28th, 2010
12:16 PM ET

Explainer: How and why to practice compassion meditation

Editor's note: Video produced by Brandon Ancil. Shot by Jarrett Bellini and Mandy Carranza. Text by Dan Gilgoff.

Lobsang Tenzin Negi wears a lot of hats.

He’s a former Buddhist monk who presides over a Buddhist monastery in - of all places - Atlanta, Georgia. He directs Emory University’s unique partnership with Tibet's government-in-exile.

And he’s a highly regarded meditation teacher, designing meditation courses for much of the recent scientific study of the practice.

Like many Buddhists, Negi insists that a person doesn’t don’t have to be Buddhist to benefit from meditation.

“Meditation is not even a religious practice, much less a Buddhist one,” he says. “Way before Buddhism was founded, meditation was a widespread practice in India.”

“It's a simple training by which you enhance certain skills like compassion, attention, love - you train again and again to get better,” he says.

Many Westerners have discovered focused-attention meditation, during which the practitioner focuses on a single object, often the breath, for a set period of time in an attempt to cultivate powers of concentration.

The style draws on ancient meditation techniques that have been standardized by Buddhism over the past 2,500 years.

For Tibetan Buddhists, however, a different meditation style - compassion meditation - is at the heart of contemplative practice.

Unlike focused-attention meditation, which is intended to still the mind’s emotional states by training attention on the present moment, compassion mediation aims to summon an intense emotional state that’s sometimes referred to as lovingkindness.

“We are social beings and compassion is a practice by which one becomes deeply connected with others,” Negi says. “Not just to the few people nearest us, like parents and siblings and relatives, but to strangers or even people we may call adversaries.”

“If we embrace them with compassion," he says, "that means that our relationship to them is grounded in a deep sense of connectedness. And that kind of social connectedness is crucial to our well-being, physical and emotional.”

Interest in compassion meditation outside Buddhist circles may be growing, with the Dalai Lama - the spiritual and political leader of Tibetan Buddhists in exile - encouraging Westerners to take it more seriously.

Decades ago, the Dalai Lama also helped lead Negi toward the practice.

Born in Kinnaur, India, across the border from Tibet, Negi enrolled at the Dalai Lama’s private school in Dharamsala, India as a young teenager.

Negi's Atlanta monastery, called Drepung Loseling, is the North American affiliate of a prestigious Tibetan Buddhist monastery in India.

Negi left monastic life in 2002 - he's now married - but maintains close ties to the Dalai Lama. The Tibetan leader’s first stop after touching down in Atlanta last week for a three-day visit to the area was the the Drepung Loseling monastery.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Buddhism • Georgia • Meditation • United States

soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. W.

    My meditations usually involves going for refuge and generating compassion for all sentient beings. I have to deal with all the baggage that life loads on, but my meditation breaks help to rest the mind from the karmic struggle of life and the anchors of the physical realm. All chance encounters are appointments.

    November 13, 2010 at 11:12 am |
  2. losang

    Meditation is not a passive activity, much less sleep or zoning out in front of TV, but an active engagement with what's going on–in the world and in your mind so that you don't just drift through life on automatic pilot.

    November 10, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
  3. Monica Costa-Moreno

    One of my loving teachers, who gave me my first White Tara Empowerment.
    Long life Geshe-La!

    November 9, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
  4. mike

    ignorance is everywhere...however truth is as well. If beer, tv, or the like were any solution...world would be full of happy, content, and peaceful people. Just don't see that in the alcoholic, hd tv, channelsurfer crowd that much....

    October 29, 2010 at 10:28 am |
    • David Johnson

      @mike

      A lot of the people you mentioned, don't get cable. Or the sports packages.

      Cheers!

      October 29, 2010 at 8:18 pm |
  5. Sum Dude

    Sleeping is great, too.
    I think I'll be doing some of that soon.

    October 29, 2010 at 2:07 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Sum Dude

      Hey bro..!

      Hangin' out in the 'meditation' section..eh...?

      Contemplating your navel in between the awful arm chair physics majors defending the Pope.. 🙂

      Yeah... It is about time for me to catch some zzzzzzz too.

      A lot of 'head bangin' went on today..! 🙂

      Peace.. bro...

      October 29, 2010 at 2:16 am |
  6. Gary

    Meditation is great for healing and just clearing your thoughts. I have let go of so many past issues and have become a much more relaxed forgiving indiividual since learning to meditate....

    October 28, 2010 at 9:15 pm |
  7. Omar

    Reality: Proper meditation involves a state of alertness. It is the opposite of sitting passively in front of the television.

    October 28, 2010 at 7:54 pm |
    • Gary

      Omar, tend to agree with you. When I first was learning to meditate I would get very sleepy and "too" relaxed....I am much more alert and awake now no matter how long I meditate...

      October 28, 2010 at 9:19 pm |
  8. krishna

    meditation is deeply spiritual. thats why it has so many benefits. it will connect you with God. no doubt. sit in a place and silence your mind. completely. let it go blank. if you can remain blank for a long time you will realize God.

    October 28, 2010 at 6:03 pm |
    • Reality

      EZ Mediation works much better!!!

      October 28, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Your mind will generate whatever you like. I can meditate and see Brittney Spears. Add lotion and a tissue...

      The god you are seeing is no more real, than my faux Brittney. But my meditation has a happy ending.

      Cheers!

      October 29, 2010 at 9:09 am |
    • Sum Dude

      @David Johnson
      XD

      October 29, 2010 at 10:20 am |
  9. Reality

    EZ Meditation:

    Open a beer. Sit in recliner. Turn on HDTV. Click on Guide. Select shows. Drink the beer.

    Works for 99% of the population.

    October 28, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Reality

      LOL.. good one, my friend..! 🙂

      October 28, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
    • Gary

      Reality , need to drink some Ocktober fest and chill my man.....beer is great for my soul. meditation works well for me during the week....Beer works better on the weekends...

      October 28, 2010 at 9:17 pm |
  10. Peace2All

    I am tellin' ya'.... It's a good practice that leads to beneficial results.... mentally, emotionally and physically.

    Peace...

    October 28, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.