(cont) “That’s common sense,” said Thupten Jinpa, a Tibetan Buddhist scholar and the main English translator to the Dalai Lama. “I grew up as a monk, so for me, the most powerful evidence is really the anecdotal evidence in my own personal life.” But as an academic with a PhD in religion, Jinpa doesn’t rely only on common sense or personal experience — he also works with psychologists on scientific research. In 2015, he co-authored a study titled “A wandering mind is a less caring mind,” which found that reducing mind-wandering through meditation was associated with increased caring behavior, both for oneself and for others. Although Jinpa believes mindfulness is important, he told me that when it comes to making us more altruistic, there’s another type of practice that’s even more effective: loving-kindness or compassion meditation. The science behind loving-kindness and compassion meditation and their effects on altruism Two other meditation practices — loving-kindness meditation and its close cousin, compassion meditation — have interesting science behind them, too. These practices, which involve concentrated attention to cultivate certain qualities, have been growing in popularity in the West over the past couple of decades thanks to American teachers like Sharon Salzberg. And evidence shows they can change your neural circuitry even faster than mindfulness meditation. The meditation for loving-kindness typically looks like this: You repeat certain phrases in your head, such as “may I be safe,” “may I be healthy,” or “may my life unfold with ease.” After you’ve wished these things for yourself, you widen the circle of caring, wishing the same things for the people you love, then for people you feel neutrally about, and then for all living beings — including those who get on your nerves or have hurt you. (One compassion meditation works much the same way, except instead of wishing that people be safe and healthy and full of ease, you wish that they be free from suffering.) So, how does loving-kindness or compassion meditation affect the brain, and in turn, affect our behavior? Before we answer that question, it’s important to note that loving-kindness and compassion meditation — which involve cultivating love for people who are suffering — are not the same thing as empathy, even though we often conflate these concepts. Empathy is when you share the feelings of other people. If other people are feeling pain, you feel pain, too — literally. Not so with compassion. In a 2013 study at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, researchers put volunteers in a brain scanner, showed them gruesome videos of people suffering, and asked them to empathize with the sufferers. The fMRI showed activated neural circuits centered around the insula — exactly the circuits that get activated when we’re in pain ourselves.