How to Develop Compassion
There are two essential stages to cultivating universal compassion. First we need to love all living beings, and then we need to contemplate their suffering. If we do not love someone we cannot develop real compassion for him even if he is in pain, but if we contemplate the suffering of someone we love, compassion will arise spontaneously. This is why we feel compassion for our friends or relatives but not for people we do not like. Cherishing others is the foundation for developing compassion. The way to develop and enhance our mind of cherishing love has already been explained. Now we must consider how each and every samsaric being is experiencing suffering.
To begin with we can think about those who are suffering intense manifest pain right now. There are so many people experiencing terrible mental and physical suffering from illnesses such as cancer, AIDS, and Parkinson's disease. How many people have lost a beloved child or friend through the scourge of AIDS, watching him become weaker and weaker, knowing that there is no cure? Every day thousands of people experience the agony of dying from illnesses or in accidents. Without choice they are separated forever from everyone they love, and those they leave behind often experience inconsolable grief and loneliness. Imagine an old woman losing her husband and lifelong partner, sadly returning home after the funeral to an empty house to live out the rest of her days alone.
We can also consider the plight of countless animals who experience extremes of heat and cold, and suffer great hunger and thirst. Every day, all around us, we can see the suffering of animals. Animals in the wild are in almost constant fear of being prey to others, and indeed many of them are eaten alive by predators. Just think of the terror and pain a field mouse experiences when caught and ripped to shreds by a hawk! Countless animals are kept by humans for labour, food, or entertainment, and often live in disgusting conditions until they are slaughtered, butchered, and packaged for human con- sumption. Hungry spirits and hell beings have to experience far worse sufferings, for inconceivably long periods of time.
We also need to remember that even those who are not presently experiencing manifest pain still experience other forms of suffering. Everyone in samsara experiences the suffering of not fulfilling their wishes. So many people find it difficult to satisfy even modest desires for adequate shelter, food, or companionship; and even if those desires are fulfilled we have more to take their place. The more we get what we want the stronger our attachment becomes, and the stronger our attachment the more difficult it is to find satisfaction. The desires of samsaric beings are endless. There is no such thing as an ordinary person who has fulfilled all his or her wishes; only those who have transcended selfish minds can do this.
To begin with we can contemplate the suffering of our family and close friends, and then we can extend our mind of compassion until it embraces all living beings. When this feeling of universal compassion arises we mix our mind with it and try to hold it for as long as we can. In this way we can familiarize our mind with great compassion. At first we shall probably only be able to hold this feeling for a few minutes, but gradually through training we shall be able to maintain it for longer and longer periods until it arises spontaneously day and night and permeates all our thoughts. From that point onwards everything we do will bring us closer to enlightenment, and our whole life will become meaningful.