Imagine that you are watching the news, story after story about human misery and suffering. What if you saw every person on the screen as having been your mother in a past life? How would you reach out with compassion to these motherly human beings?
Spiritual teachers of all traditions offer examples of the attitudes of mind and heart behind suffering and what we can do to face it, alleviate it, and prevent it. The Tibetan Buddhists, in particular, have a huge inventory of compassion practices to draw on. Here is one from Penor Rinpoche (1932 - 2009), an exemplary master of that tradition, presented by his student Tano Pesso in First Invite Love In. He begins by explaining the cause of suffering before asking us to imagine all beings as our mothers.
"A dualistic frame of mind can be thought of as the ultimate cause of all misery and suffering of human beings on the planet. Dualism causes people to put themselves before others, to put their own happiness before other people's happiness, and to make a distinction between 'myself and my group' versus another person or another group. These views and distinctions lead to varying degrees of fear, anger, envy, pride, jealousy, selfishness, greed, and possessiveness. All of these feelings ultimately lead at the very least to personal unhappiness and at the worst to xenophobia, warfare, genocide, holocaust, and the like. You can view the dualistic frame of mind as the seed within every human being on the planet that will ripen into some sort of pain and suffering during their lifetimes.
"1. Take a moment to envision the numbers of human beings on the planet and their distribution.
"2. Then think that they have all been your kindest, most loving, and most caring mother in an imagined past life and that you in return feel tremendous gratitude and love toward each and everyone of them.
"3. Think that because of that love you would wish to spare them every possible pain and suffering that life might bring them.
"4. Now imagine that all of these motherly human beings whom you wish to protect and for whom you wish only the best — imagine that all of them have within them the seeds of the dualistic mindset that is inevitably going to bring pain and suffering to them. They're either unaware of it or they're unable to do anything to get rid of it without some intervention. Without help they are going to suffer miserably sooner or later in their lives because of their dualistic mindset.
"5. Feel your compassion to relieve them of suffering and desire to ensure that they have the most peaceful and happy life possible. Think that you wish that all human beings on the planet would have peaceful and happy lives guided by minds filled with love for all other human beings.
"6. As your feeling of love, concern, and desire to protect all these motherly sentient beings rises up in you, imagine that it is expressed as a white light that comes out from your heart center and reaches out over the entire planet where it touches upon every single person and dissolves their dualistic mind frames. Imagine that it dissolves the core source of any future of unhappiness, pain, or suffering that they might experience. Take a minute to see that happening.
"7. Next imagine that your feelings of compassion, love, and desire to free all these motherly sentient beings of pain and suffering become so great that your entire body, speech, and mind, your physical body, your thoughts, your spiritual essence, and your ethereal being dissolve into that white compassionate light, which causes it to spread even further and become even more powerful. Think that by dissolving into the compassionate white light you no longer exist as a separate distinct individual, but have become an element of compassion that is represented by white light within every motherly sentient being on the planet. Meditate on this for a few moments."