Compassion Meditation

Scientists track our sense of “bliss” as concern moves further and further beyond the self.

At the Jewish High Holiday services a few years ago—while leading one of the central sections of the service—I suddenly, for the first time, realized what it was all about.

The section of the service is called the “Avodah” and it dramatically recounts a story of the ancient Israelite High Priest. On the holiday of Yom Kippur, the High Priest would go into the Holy of Holy and pray three prayers: the first was for himself and his family, the second was for his fellow priests, and the third was for the community. What I suddenly realized was that this was a form of Compassion Meditation, in which the practitioner continually widens one’s circle of concern.

Brian Knutson of Stanford has been studying monks engaged in Compassion Meditation (Buddhists call it “tonglen”) and has made some interesting discoveries.

"There are many neuroscientists out there looking at mindfulness, but not a lot who are studying compassion," Knutson said.

Knutson's study is funded by Stanford's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, which was started with a sizable donation of seed money from the Dalai Lama after his 2005 campus visit to discuss fostering scientific study of human emotion.

Next Knutson asked the Buddhists to practice a style of meditation called "tonglen," in which the person extends compassion outward from their inner circle, first to their parent, then to a good friend, then to a stranger and last to all sentient beings. He wants to see whether brain activity changes depending on different types of compassion. 

You can read more about Knutson’s study, and about Compassion Meditation, in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Rabbi Mark Sameth is the spiritual leader of Joyful Judaism: Pleasantville Community Synagogue an inclusive, progressive synagogue—with members from 20 towns, villages and cities all across Westchester and “A Hebrew School Your Kids Can Love.” Read The New York Times article. Follow Rabbi Mark on Twitter . Weekly meditation at the synagogue every Saturday morning at 9 a.m. is open to the public; everyone—without exception—is welcome and warmly invited. OUR MEMBERSHIP DRIVE IS ON. See “Top Ten Reasons to Join PCS” at www.ShalomPCS.com.

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