Compassion training from an early buddhist perspective: The neurological concomitants of the brahmaviharas

Robert J. Goodman, Paul E. Plonski, Leah Savery

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Scopus citations


Compassion has been directly trained for over 2500 years alongside loving-kindness, sympathetic joy, and equanimity, which together represent the four brahmaviharas, also known as the divine or immeasurable abodes. The present chapter describes the four brahmaviharas as they are conceptualized in Early Buddhist canonical literature. We explore how the overlapping theoretical components of the brahmaviharas may shed light on conceptual/psychological similarities and differences among them. Next, the brahmaviharas are compared and contrasted with other foundational contemplative practices, such as sustained attention and open monitoring. Following this conceptual exploration of contemplative practices, we explore the extant neuroscience literature on sustained attention and open monitoring to shed light on how these foundational practices influence a variety of neural markers, such as attention, emotion, and self-referential processing. Finally, we review the emerging neuroscience literature that examines how deliberate training of the brahmaviharas may influence the brain. Weaving together Early Buddhist scholarship with modern neuroscience, changes in neural activity that result from the deliberate cultivation of loving-kindness and compassion are identified and differentiated from their contemplative cousins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Neuroscience of Empathy, Compassion, and Self-Compassion
Number of pages32
ISBN (Electronic)9780128098370
ISBN (Print)9780128098387
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Buddhism
  • Compassion
  • Equanimity
  • Focused attention
  • Loving-kindness
  • Mindfulness
  • Neuroscience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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