Benefactor Meditation

by joel on October 18, 2010

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I was applying some hydrocortisone to a rash today (I don’t often get rashes, don’t worry), and I thought I should post something about spirituality, and specifically a certain meditation practice that I learned from a Tibetan Buddhist teacher named Joel Baehr.

Obviously, there were a number of consecutive thoughts that led me to this conclusion:

  1. This hydrocortisone stuff works really great.
  2. I got this particular tube of extra-strength hydrocortisone when I was in Havana, Cuba with my buddy Olivia. (It was hot there—lots of walking—hence, the need)
  3. I also had a wheezing allergy attack in the middle of the night while I was there, and Magnolia (the woman whose bedroom we were sleeping in) fixed me up completely with vapo-rub and tea, and nasal spray, so that I could survive the night.
  4. I was so impressed by Magnolia’s compassion and service, that when Joel Baehr instructed our meditation group on what he may or may not have called a Benefactor Meditation (or Compassion Meditation?), my first thought was of the Magnolia experience.

So that’s how we get from rashes to spiritual practices.

This meditation practice, and I will likely do it very little justice, is for anyone who wishes to cultivate love and compassion, and I’m sure we can all use a little more of that.

Here are some instructions, at a very simple, rudimentary, second-hand level:

  1. Begin by sitting quietly, taking refuge in the practice of meditation. You can close your eyes, or not. It doesn’t matter. Whatever is most comfortable for you. Just sit, and acknowledge what you are doing. Sitting, breathing, fidgeting, whatever…
  2. Visualize the Benefactor. The Benefactor is some person, or even animal, preferably not too close to you. This is someone who wishes the wish of love for you: “May you be deeply well and happy.” This might be someone as inconsequential as a person letting you come into a lane on the highway, or the receptionist at a hair salon, but it should be someone who you can feel and acknowledge the wish of love from them. They want nothing from you, they don’t expect to see you again even, but in their heart, they wish that you be deeply well and happy.
  3. Now, continue to visualize that person, and feel the love that flows from them. You can see it as light that comes from them and shines through you. You can see it as water or goldfish or anything you want, really. Just feel the wish of love, as it comes from them. Don’t try to give anything in return. Remember, nothing is expected of you. They only wish that you be deeply well and happy. Your only job is to sit and accept the wish of love from them. Accept it. No thank-yous. No obligations. Just be loved.
  4. Now, visualize that the Benefactor is standing behind you, and the wish of love is still flowing freely from them into you. Feel the power of it: “May you be deeply well and happy.”
  5. In front of you now is someone who you love very much. Perhaps a family member, a friend, a child, a pet. Let the wish of love pass through you and on to your loved-one. Give them the wish of love: “May you be deeply well and happy.” There is no effort in this. It happens by itself. It is at the core of who you really are. Sit in this. There is no hurry.
  6. Then there is a stranger before you. Maybe just someone crossing the street, passing you in the aisles of a grocery store, a person in a faraway country you’ve never been to. Send the wish of love also to them: “May you be deeply well and happy.”
  7. Finally, and only if you feel ready, visualize someone you perceive as your enemy. Someone who has hurt you even, or who has hurt others. Someone you don’t like, perhaps who you have a resentment towards; even hate. Maybe it is a group of people, a political party, an ethnicity, or the leaders of an institution. Now, with your Benefactor standing behind you, supporting you, sending the wish of love through you… send also to your “enemy” the wish of love: “May you be deeply well and happy.” Do not force it. There is no force necessary. There is no effort. The wish of love is there, and you know it and feel it. Send that healing wish: “May you be deeply well and happy.”
  8. When you have finished, dedicate your practice to the benefit of all beings.

I know I talked about cultivating compassion, but the most clear and jarring effect of this practice is how much it can serve to expel anger and resentment from your psyche. People who you normally are angry with (or even just frustrated or annoyed with) almost immediately are viewed in an entirely new light.

For more information about this type of practice visit the Foundation for Active Compassion. It was started by Joel Baehr’s teacher, the Lama John Makransky.

Magnolia seemed to be an obvious Benefactor for me. Who is yours?

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