A guided meditation on “Universalizing,” a Tibetan Buddhist mind training technique for transforming our everyday problems and pleasures through love and compassion.
Arrange your body so that it’s in a comfortable meditation position. If you’re on the floor, sit cross-legged with your hands on your knees or palms up, one atop the other in your lap. If you’re in a chair, you can leave your legs uncrossed, feet flat on the floor.
In either position, straighten your spine; relax all the muscles in your face, your shoulders, your back, your neck. Slightly tilt down your head. And half-close your eyes if that’s comfortable.
For a minute, focus on your breath, putting all your attention on the in and outflow of breath at your nostrils or your diaphragm.
If any memories or plans or thoughts or feelings or perceptions arise in your mind, just let them pass by. Bring your mind back to your breath. For one minute.
(Meditate silently on the breath for one minute)
Universalizing all experience to increase love and compassion
We’re here today to learn how to transform any experience—pleasant or unpleasant—into a cause for increasing our love and compassion; to train our minds to become our best self; to find a stable state of mind that remains calm and open through both pleasure and pain.
This practice is called universalization, a meditation technique that transforms any experience into a cause for increasing our love and compassion; a technique that helps counteract feeling angry or sad when things go wrong; and helps us avoid feeling selfish, guilty, or arrogant when things go well.
The meditation for universalizing is simple, and it includes some stretches of quiet time to go through the exercises yourself with your own particular objects of attachment or aversion.
Universalizing our pain when things go wrong
We begin with aversion.
Bring to mind a time that something challenging happened to you: your partner breaking up with you, losing your job, a serious illness, being unjustly criticized. Try and think of a time that you didn’t respond well: when you got angry, jealous, resentful, or held a grudge.
Imagine yourself back in that situation, and rehearse universalizing that experience to generate compassion.
You can think:
By my partner breaking up with me, may no one be separated from their dear ones.
By losing my job, may no one lose their livelihood.
By my being sick, may no one fall ill, and may all that are sick now be healed.
By my being criticized unjustly, may no one experience injustice, false imprisonment, torture, or execution.
It’s particularly helpful to think of people suffering similarly to you, but to a far worse degree.
So go through this exercise now for a minute. Think of something difficult that happened to you, and imagine universalizing it as a way to expand your compassion, wishing others to be free of that suffering you experienced.
(Reflect silently for one minute)
Universalizing our pleasure when we get what we want
Now, we switch to attachment.
Bring to mind a moment of attachment, when you acted out of selfishness to get something you wanted. You can just think of everyday attachment:
Going through our ordinary life with an attitude of satisfying ourselves.
Getting a latte because it tastes so good.
Watching a show you love on Netflix.
Competing with your co-workers to get a promotion.
Enjoying sexual pleasure.
These pleasures aren’t inherently non-virtuous. But they become destructive when we pursue them with obsessive desire. So bring to mind some pleasure you’ve enjoyed large small from your life.
Now, imagine universalizing that experience, offering it to all beings.
May all beings enjoy a nice cup of coffee.
May all beings have the free time, leisure, and technology to enjoy Netflix.
May everyone find the perfect job.
May all beings be held and cared for and have pleasing sensations on their bodies.
It’s especially helpful to think of beings less fortunate than you, and offer them these pleasures that you enjoy. Do this now, with whatever pleasure you’ve chosen. Offer it.
(Reflect silently for one minute)
If you like, you can bring these simple worldly pleasures to a higher level, and think that, by my experiencing this pleasure, may all beings experience not just temporary happiness, but create the true causes of everlasting happiness through evolving their minds toward altruism and compassion.
Universalizing in everyday life
With this warm-up on the cushion, our mind is now ready to do this in real life. The point of quiet meditation at home is to first familiarize our mind with this virtuous attitude so that we simply know what it is. And so we can start to remember it in daily life.
And then, as we become more familiar with universalizing, it becomes second nature to think, as we’re eating lunch, may all beings be nourished and have wonderful food. As I’m sick with a cold or stubbing my toe, or as my bank account runs low, may no beings experience these, or worse. May they be free from illness, poverty, and violence. Try and remember universalizing all through your day and see what effect it gradually has on your state of mind.
Before we come out of the meditation, picture yourself using the small pleasures and successes of the day—enjoying your coffee, finding a parking place—and offering those joys to all beings. Choose pleasures you’re actually planning to enjoy today.
And see if you can transform your setbacks and conflicts today as well, using your setbacks as fuel to expand your heart with compassion for those suffering the same or worse all over the world. See what this does to your heart today—to your compassion and to your patience—if you’re able to universalize throughout the day.
Hosted by Scott Snibbe
Production by Stephen Butler
Theme music by Bradley Parsons of Train Sound Studio
Illustration by Kanchi Rastogi