Bringing Compassion to Everyday Life with Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT)

By Leah Weiss, PhD, MSW

Many of us are called to make the world a better place, but it isn’t necessarily clear where to start. We want to respond to the big and small suffering in our communities and the larger world but it isn’t straightforward how to do this in a way that is both sustainable for ourselves and objectively impactful. Out of the desire to support people in embodying compassion in the midst of busy, complicated lives, the idea for the Compassion Cultivation Training Protocol was born.

The Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) program was developed at Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE). CCARE investigates methods for cultivating compassion and promoting altruism within individuals and society through rigorous research, scientific collaborations, and academic conferences. CCT and other featured public events and programs belong to the educational part of CCARE or the E in the acronym CCARE.

The CCT protocol was created by Thupten Jinpa, a former Tibetan monk and the principal English interpreter for the Dalai Lama. The program was enhanced with contributions from an interdisciplinary team of researchers including neuroscientists, psychologists, and contemplative scholars - Kelly McGonigal, Margaret Cullen, Erika Rosenberg, Leah Weiss, and Philippe Goldin.

To date, CCT has been offered to the general population, healthcare workers, teachers in K-12 education, leadership training programs, and to trauma survivors, among others. The course has been offered at Stanford University, UC Berkeley, Google, the Cancer Support Community, Sharp Healthcare in San Diego, VA hospitals, hospice centers, and PTSD treatment centers. There have been approximately 100 teachers trained in the method and the course has been offered in North America, Europe, and in countries such as Australia, Colombia, Mexico and Botswana. The senior teachers also offer condensed versions of the course. We anticipate that the program will be further customized to meet the needs of specific populations and cultures over time.

The formal meditations offered in this protocol are principally derived from compassion practices found in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. They have, however, been adapted to suit the needs of a multicultural context and for use by people from diverse ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds. Special care has been taken to ensure that the practices presented are thoroughly non denominational and secular.

The Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) program consists of six progressive steps.

Step 1 involves settling the mind and learning to focus it—skills essential for any form of reflective mental exercise – as well as learning to neutrally observe one’s own thoughts and emotions, the basic elements of mindfulness practice. This creates a solid foundation for steps 2 through 5, which comprise the actual compassion cultivation practices.

Steps 2 teaches participants how to cultivate loving-kindness and compassion for a loved one;

Step 3 helps the student develop loving-kindness and compassion for oneself;

Step 4 establishes the basis for compassion toward others by embracing shared common humanity and appreciating the deep interconnectedness of self and others. The phrase ‘just like me’ is used as a reminder that all people – even those who we appear to have nothing in common with - wish to be happy and free from suffering;

Step 5 deepens the ability to cultivate compassion toward others, including even those with whom we might have some negative experiences or difficulty;

Step 6 is an active compassion practice and involves visualizing transforming others’ pain and suffering and offering them one’s own happiness and joy.

Finally, in week eight, the course culminates with an integrated practice that builds on the preceding steps, and synthesizes the various trainings into a comprehensive, daily compassion meditation.

Research on CCT to date is briefly summarized below with more details/citations available on the CCARE website. [1]

  • CCT engenders significant improvements in all three domains of compassion – compassion for others, from others, and for self.

  • The amount of time spent in meditation practice was also tracked during the course and a dose response was found (more meditation practice yields more impact).

  • Mindfulness skills, self-efficacy, care for self and others, and mind wandering toward pleasant topics increased as a result of CCT.

  • Worry and mind wandering onto unpleasant topics, on the other hand, decreased after taking CCT.

Moving forward, we remain committed to implementing CCARE’s mission to increase compassion and promote altruism on the individual and societal levels. We aspire, through the medium of education, to cause a tipping point that will lead to a world that is equitable, peaceful, and healthy.

Leah Weiss, Ph.D., MSW is Director of Contemplative Education and Scholarship at HopeLab. She is also a lecturer at Stanford Business School and Senior Teacher of the Stanford Compassion Cultivation Program. Dr. Weiss has taught in a variety of settings, including Harvard-affiliated hospitals, Stanford School of Medicine, and Veterans with PTSD at the Department of Veterans Affairs. She received her B.A. from Stanford University, her M.A. degree in clinical social work from Boston College, and her Ph.D. in theology and education from Boston College. Concurrent with her graduate work, she completed the traditional teacher-training curriculum of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism in the context of four silent, cloistered 100-day meditation retreats, one 6-month retreat, and dozens of weeklong retreats.

[1] Jazaieri et al., 2012, 2014, 2015. See CCARE website for complete citations.

The Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) program is being taught in various places around the world. If you are interested in taking a CCT class, please check the CCT Directory to find out if there is a certified teacher in your area. If you are interested in becoming a CCT certified teacher, or if you simply want more information on the educational or research programs at Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE), please visit the CCARE website.


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This article appears in: 2015 Catalyst, Issue 13: The Dalai Lama's 80th Birthday Gift - Global Compassion Summit