Contemporary Buddhists are adapting loving-kindness and compassion praxis. Using three vignettes, the author explores how the distinct practices of loving-kindness and compassion are being appropriated and altered both in Buddhist religious traditions, and in secular environments.
This discussion examines the adaptation process from two perspectives. First, this article explores how three teachers, North American, Taiwanese, and Tibetan-North American respectively, adapt loving-kindness and compassion practices, and what purposes these adaptations serve in their contexts. Second, the author highlights some textual sources the teachers use when adapting or secularizing loving-kindness and compassion practices. Primary focus is on the Mettā Sutta and the Visuddhimagga, perhaps the most influential Theravāda compendium in contemporary Buddhism. The phrases and categories of loving-kindness praxis in the Visuddhimagga now appear nearly verbatim in teachings of secular compassion practice. This cross-fertilization occurs directly between Buddhist traditions as well.
In the American example of Sojun Mel Weitsman, a foundational influence on modern Sōtō Zen Buddhism as developed at the Berkeley and San Francisco Zen centers, Weitsman presents his adaptation of the Mettā Sutta in response to his community's request for greater address given to love and compassion. In Taiwan, Ven. Bhikṣuṇī Zinai of the eclectically influenced Luminary International Buddhist Society incorporates adaptation of both the Visuddhimagga and Mettā Sutta in a secular Compassionate Prenatal Education program, which addresses the needs of expectant mothers using loving-kindness practice. Third, Tibetan Buddhist scholar Geshe Thupten Jinpa and coauthors incorporate phrasing and methodology of loving-kindness identical to that written in the Visuddhimagga, in addition to Tibetan Buddhist texts, as part of their secular program of Compassion Cultivation Training. Each of these adaptations reflect a concern with quality of life and well-being in their adaptation of canonical material. In short, this paper provides a small amount of primary research documenting the cross-fertilization and adaptation of praxis and textual sources within contemporary, globalizing, Buddhism and the secular practices of loving-kindness and compassion derived from it.