His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, “Genuine compassion is based on a clear acceptance or recognition that others, like oneself, want happiness and have the right to overcome suffering. On that basis one develops some kind of concern about the welfare of others.” Compassion is the ability to see all fellow human beings as equal to us, with the same right to love and happiness. Developing compassion means understanding that negative emotions like hatred are, in effect, the denial of another person’s right to happiness, and in the end prevents us from attaining complete happiness ourselves. Compassion is a learned skill that usually requires training to master and integrate into one’s daily and family life.
One of the simplest ways to learn compassion is through a basic Buddhist meditation that goes as follows: Close your eyes and imagine three groups of people before you. One group is filled with people you love, one group with people you hate, and the third group with people you have no feelings about one way or the other. First, focus on each group individually and take a mental note of how they make you feel in your body, all the emotions that arise, the anger, the love, the indifference. Then, go back to the group of those you love, feel yourself filled with all the joy, tenderness and connection these people inspire in you, and begin to spread those positive emotions to the other two groups. You will realise that the people you hate are just people, exactly the same as those you love, as are those you feel nothing for; they are people just like you, trying to make their life as good as possible. The emotions of hatred and indifference are your way of trying to make these people less human, less deserving of happiness and love. Meditate on this until you can look at all three groups with the loving kindness that is the first strain of true compassion entering into your consciousness.
Sometimes the group of those we hate is difficult to overcome, and you may need to focus on individual people, forgiving them and realising that they have as much of a right to be happy as you do. It can also be difficult to feel such strong emotions for people you feel nothing for; it can feel unnatural at first. But when you realise that we are all connected, and those people are mothers, brothers, friends, people loved by others and equally deserving of love as you and yours, there will be a shift. This can take time, but it is worth it. And once you’ve mastered compassion through meditation, you will see its uses everywhere. Instead of getting angry or annoyed at the new check-out girl at the store you will give her a kind smile of support. Instead of shouting at your kids you’ll find a way to quietly help them understand what they are doing wrong.
There is no way to teach compassion to someone else, it is something that must be learned internally and then lived on a daily basis. The first step towards “teaching” your children how to be compassionate is to be compassionate yourself. If your kids see that you are the only one in the post office who isn’t looking frustrated, they will ask you why that is. If they hear from their friends that moms and dads yell when you don’t, they will come to you wondering what makes you different in such a good way, and they will want to be like you.
You must develop and live with compassion yourself before you can teach your children. The sooner you can develop this way of being, the sooner your children will learn it too. If you can raise them from infancy and onwards with compassion you will eliminate the majority of family conflicts and your children will be far more likely to carry compassion as an almost innate quality in their lives, giving them a unique awareness that will only bring good things into this troubled world.