Loving Kindness - Purelands 2015
Today we are going to look at the four highest emotions. We all want to develop the positive qualities of the mind, courage, confidence and compassion. So we need to look at them and at what obscures these qualities from arising. It is said that these qualities of loving kindness, compassion, fearlessness are naturally part of the mind, Buddha nature. We have those qualities already, those qualities are already there. The only problem is that they are obscured. We need to uncover them, to discover what we are doing that is stopping them from displaying themselves, what is actually obscuring them.
A good way to do this is to look at both the highest emotions and the negative emotions so that we get more familiar with them and can see what the remedies are. The four highest emotions are sometimes called the Brahma Viharas, or four divine abodes. They are loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. Today we look at loving kindness and the enemies of loving kindness.
Loving kindness is the wish for all beings to be well and happy. We are aware that all beings, including ourselves have this potential for well being, for happiness. Loving kindness is the wish for that potential to blossom, to be fulfilled, to become a reality. People often wonder what the difference is between loving kindness and compassion. Compassion is more concerned with suffering. It is the wish for beings to be free from suffering. This is a subtle difference. They are both dealing with potential, the possibility that is there. We all have the potential to be free from suffering and to be happy. Loving kindness is sometimes translated as friendliness, the quality of friendliness that yearns for the well being and happiness of others, and oneself. When you talk about the Brahma Viharas they have a quality of being limitless. So it’s not just loving kindness for my friends, for those close to me, for those who are nice to me, who make me feel good, who make me feel happy, it has a quality of total inclusiveness. Then we could call it a Brahma Vihara, but not until then. To be the highest emotion there has to be a quality of limitlessness and impartiality. It has to include all living beings, not just humans but also animals, any being with a mind who wants to be happy and who wants to be free from suffering. We are trying to extend that wish for absolutely everybody including our enemies, including those people we find it difficult to feel kindness towards. Then it is a quality of the Brahma Viharas. So we need to train in that, and that is our practice. If you ask somebody what is the essence of Buddhism in one word, they will say compassion, or loving kindness and compassion. The essence of the Buddha’s teachings is the mind of compassion. So as we train in loving kindness, we need to look with mindfulness at what is obscuring this loving kindness from being present, and why it is absent so much of the time.
The teachings tell us that if we can simply generate loving kindness this will solve so many of our problems. Instead of being judgemental, always dividing things up into good and bad, negative and positive, if we could train so strongly in loving kindness that it automatically arose, then it would dissolve many of our problems. Loving kindness and compassion is a solution to many issues in our life, especially interpersonal relationships. All of our problems tend to be with others, so in our family relationships, our work relationships, we could probably resolve many of those problems if we trained more in loving kindness and compassion. If we were able to have compassion for the people around us, even if they are not very skilful, even if they don’t always act in a very positive way, if we could have more understanding for why they act the way they do, loving kindness and compassion would automatically arise because we would know that it is out of suffering that they are being difficult. We tend to see faults and to complain, to see the negatives, but in a way we torture ourselves by doing this. We suffer from our own reaction. If instead we try and see the situation through the eyes of kindness and compassion, the same situation looks very different.
If we have a good day, we feel positive, and the situation we are in looks wonderful. Then perhaps something happens and we get into a bad mood and we feel negative. We are in the same situation but now it looks different to us, it looks negative. Where did that change come from? It came from our mind, it came from our outlook. One moment we saw the situation through positive eyes, the next moment through negative eyes. The situation was the same but our experience was completely different. It is in our mind. By practising loving kindness we benefit ourselves. Our training initially is to help ourselves. It’s not as if by developing loving kindness we become a bodhisattva and are able to help all beings, able to make a big difference in the world. First of all we need to change our own mind. First of all, we need to benefit. It doesn’t matter which practice we are doing, even tonglen where we tend to think we are going to cure and help others, is initially about us. First of all we need to sort ourselves out, to tame our own mind. We benefit by becoming more kind, compassionate and understanding, having a calm mind, a clear mind. At this stage it’s about helping ourselves. We benefit from practising loving kindness and if we are easier to get along with, our close family will benefit. Your children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, friends and colleagues at work, everybody will benefit by extension. But we are the first port of call.
In terms of loving kindness, the problem is that we tend to divide people up into friends and enemies. These are the people I will be kind to, these are the people I won’t be kind to. This group is worthy of my loving kindness, but that group is not. We forget that all beings want to be happy, nobody wants to suffer. All beings essentially have this kindness and when people act out anger and negativity it is an expression of their own suffering. It’s not because they are bad at the core. At the core all beings are seen as essentially pure. Of course there are people who act very negatively and who are what we could call evil, or bad people who do a lot of negative things. But we don’t help the situation by becoming negative ourselves. It only holds us back. So in this training of loving kindness we are encouraged to see all beings as our mothers. We see all beings as our relatives. You may want to think of them as children or mothers, but we think that over lifetimes we have all been connected in some way or other. We can think that everybody has at one point or another been our mother. If we have a good relationship with our mother we should think that. We can think all beings have at one point been my child, somebody you have a very positive relationship with.
It is easier to have this loving kindness to others if we think that we are all related. We certainly are all inter-related, all interdependent. We all connect to each other, we all depend on each other. If something goes wrong in Europe it affects the Far East, if something goes wrong in the Far East it affects Europe. If something happens to the climate in one area of the world it affects other parts of the planet. We all depend on each other and if only we could recognise this interdependence, recognise how important it is that we all try to live as one family that would solve so many problems. It would be easier if we had the attitude that all beings are my mother or my child, or have been my mother and my child, or will become in the future my mother or my child. We would find it easier to have genuine care and friendliness towards others.
There is a story that illustrates this interconnection and shows that it doesn’t make sense to have such strong division between friend and enemy. In this story, a great siddha with clear vision was walking in a town and he saw a woman sitting and cradling her baby, probably breast feeding her baby. The woman was eating a fish, and throwing the bones of the fish to a dog. Through his clear vision the siddha could see that this baby was in a past life her enemy, and the fish she was eating used to be her mother and the dog was the father. So she was feeding the mother’s bones to the father. It was a moment where the siddha saw this interconnectedness and why it doesn’t make sense that we have such strong feelings that this is my enemy, this is my friend. In one moment, but also from lifetime to lifetime our enemy becomes a friend, our friend becomes our enemy. We don’t even have to think lifetime to lifetime, we can think just in this life about people we used to think were our closest friends and now perhaps we think of them as enemies or we don’t see them at all. If you think back 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, the people you used to think were the ones you would spend the rest of your life with, maybe they are gone. So our relationships change like that. It doesn’t make sense to get too attached, or to have too much aversion because everything is constantly changing. Instead we are encouraged to try and develop this limitless loving kindness to all beings, to all of them.
The far enemy of loving kindness is anger and hatred. You can’t feel anger, hatred and loving kindness towards the same person, certainly not at the same time. Maybe you can feel both at different times, but not at the same time. They just can’t co-exist. And the near enemy of loving kindness is clinging, grasping, attachment. Near enemy means that it looks like loving kindness, it could be mistaken for loving kindness but it isn’t. Clinging or attachment looks like love or loving kindness, but it means holding on, grasping. We can see how in close relationships what starts off as what we think is love, becomes attachment, possessiveness, grasping. We cling on because we have a fear of losing, but it’s not really true love. Eventually it becomes a cause of separation because nobody wants to be imprisoned by possessiveness and clinging. But often this clinging, attachment, desire is what is called love or loving kindness, because in the world in general everything revolves around having, wanting to have, needing, desire.
When we talk about the six realms, the human realm is called the desire realm, because our realm is so characterised by this constant grasping, constant chasing after something. It’s like an underlying lack of contentment. We are always wanting more, always wanting better. I think they call it progress! Progress means we have to have more, better, newer, faster equipment that can do more than previously. We never have enough. Why do we need all these things? Why does there always have to be a new version coming out of the various technology? That is this underlying restlessness of the human realm: we never have enough, we are never totally content with what we have, even though we have so much. We have plenty, we have more than we need, but still we can’t just settle and go, ah that is wonderful, I can be at peace now. When we look at our mind state and think of times when we have been really happy, really at peace, feeling content, then those are the times when we have not needed anything. If we can identify a time of real happiness it’s a time when we haven’t needed anything. We have been content with what we have. So identifying desire, clinging, and attachment with love or loving kindness is a mistake, a misunderstanding. That is why it is called a near enemy because we get it all mixed up. It’s close but very different.
As we develop loving kindness we try to extend it to others as much as we can. We try to see the positives in others. We also have to see the positive in ourselves. We are not always 100% lovable! We find faults in others and we find it hard to be kind to others, but we are not perfect either. We should try to develop kindness both to ourselves and to others. We should make it our goal to have the kindness that a mother would have for all her children. Loving kindness is one of the foundations for confidence. If we have loving kindness we will have less fear. We will have more confidence and courage. We need to recognise that possessiveness and attachment block loving kindness. We tend to find faults externally, and we need to recognise that generally the causes of negativity are within ourselves.
The far enemy of loving kindness is anger or hatred. There are many different variations, many degrees, but anger, hatred, resentment, aggression are very strong emotions. If we want to develop loving kindness that emotion is what we need to overcome. That is our far enemy. That is what blocks loving kindness, the aggression, the irritation, the resentment, the judgemental negative mind and the more obvious levels of anger is what stops us from having loving kindness. If we can overcome that emotion, that far enemy then when the negativity is gone loving kindness will naturally be there. Anger is compared to a fire that burns everything in its path. I was in South Africa in February and they had had a forest fire on Table Mountain, and a huge part of the mountain had been scorched. We drove past it and everything was burnt. The fire doesn’t leave anything behind, it burns whatever is in the way. Anger is a bit like that: it destroys indiscriminately. It has the quality of fire and it doesn’t leave a nice bush standing because this bush has really beautiful flowers and the fire will just go round it, no. When we become angry we lose it, we lose it completely, we lose perspective, we just destroy. I am talking about extreme levels, but that is the easiest one to recognise and to see.
When we get angry we lose perspective, everything becomes black and white. We don’t have clear judgement. It says that whenever there is fire, there is smoke, and where there is smoke, we can’t see anything. We lose perspective, we lose vision, we can’t see where the fire started. When there has been a forest fire, they always try to discover where it started. How did it start? We can’t work that out when we are angry because we get so lost in the whole story. And when we can’t see the cause, we can’t apply the remedies very well. We might be spraying the fire over here, but that’s not where the problem is. We can’t see because of the smoke. So we don’t know how to put it out, we can’t see the cause, we just see our vision of it: what they did was so wrong and that person is so bad! The other person becomes 100% bad in our eyes when we are angry. There is not a speck of good or positive in there, we only see black, we can’t see any white at all.
Of course when we come out of that fit of anger, we don’t see it like that anymore, we have a bit more perspective. The situation is a little bit different so that shows us the force of anger, the power of it, how it takes over. When we feel that we have been wronged, we get angry. Anger is a very forceful emotion, very strong and very destructive. With a few words we can destroy a relationship. When it says that fire burns everything in its way, that’s what happens when we get angry, we destroy relationships, we destroy friendships that may have built up over many years by saying things in that moment that become very hurtful. We might mean it in that moment but then afterwards we really regret it, but the person we said it to, they won’t forget. Anger is very destructive: people may act out when they get angry, they may fight, may kill each other, terrible things happen due to anger. And all of these emotions are based on fear. When we feel angry it’s because something happened and we feel threatened. Somebody accuses us of something and we get very angry, or somebody threatens us physically or verbally, however it is, but in that moment of anger we felt threatened. It is based on fear.
What we need to do when we get angry is to work with patience. Patience is the opposite of anger. Try to develop patience. If we suffer from a lot of anger, we need to develop patience. We need to remind ourselves, when something happens to hold our tongue. Don’t react, don’t act the anger out. If you can manage not to act out you have already won a big battle because you didn’t cause any external damage, only internal damage. It was like a spark that blew but didn’t spread the fire. That is how a fire starts, first there is a spark. Maybe at work somebody says something not very nice to you - that’s a spark. In that instant we have a choice. We choose whether we react or not. We can just hold it in, walk away, be patient but we need to be careful, because just like with a spark in the forest, if there is a little bit of wind that spark will then start a fire. In the same way we might walk away from the situation, but if we then pay attention to what was said, if we start to mull it over, then through what is called the wind of inappropriate attention the fire starts, anger starts. The wind of inappropriate attention. It’s like the wind that fans the fire in the forest, the wind of inappropriate attention is when we start to think, oh how could they say that, how could they do that, how could they act that way, that was really painful. We work ourselves up by thinking about it more and more until we really get angry and that’s it, we have lost the battle. So we need to be careful not to fan our anger with this wind of inappropriate attention. Be patient, practise patience. So first of all don’t let the anger out, but also don’t build on it, don’t feed it.
We should also recognise that if we don’t have people to challenge us, we won’t be able to develop patience. We need challenges to grow strong, so be grateful to the people who challenge us. Think, this is wonderful and now I have a real chance to test my meditation. Now I can see whether I have progressed or not. So have a sense of appreciation and perspective. Also be mindful, be aware, through mindfulness you learn to see it coming, you learn not to be caught by surprise. If you are there with mindfulness already, anger won’t have a chance to spread, it won’t have a chance to grow.
We should develop acceptance: acceptance of the situation, and understanding of why the other person is acting the way they do. That’s loving kindness: having some feeling that maybe they are having a bad day or they are acting out because they are in difficulties. You know what it feels like to be angry so you also understand what that person is feeling like. If we have mindfulness and acceptance, we will have a little bit of distance in the situation so that we don’t need to get caught up, we don’t need to get stuck, we don’t need to get all mired in the situation and take it all very seriously. Instead we have that understanding and then we can afford to extend kindness.
It is said that in terms of the six realms, the hell realm is a state of mind where you are experiencing intense anger and hatred. There are hot hells and cold hells, so this relates to when we talk about hot anger and cold anger. We can express anger both ways. We might explode and shout and slam doors or whatever people do, or even worse than that, or we might turn a cold shoulder and shut down communication, build up a wall between us and whoever it is we are angry at. We almost pretend we are not angry but we are definitely angry, we are just not admitting it. So those different types of anger are described as the cold hell and the hot hell, because both are like an imprisonment. We are imprisoned in our own state of mind when we are really angry, either hot or cold, it is very claustrophobic. We can’t get out of it, we feel trapped in that emotion. And we are very cut off in both those states of mind, it’s a very lonely place to be when you are angry. Luckily it does tend to wear off if we give it time. That’s what we can do, get away from people so you can’t do any damage, go for a long walk or run and maybe a few hours later you will look at things differently. Things wear out of course, but while we are in the middle of it, its’ a very claustrophobic and lonely place to be.
We can express our anger as very obvious anger, or as impatience, being irritable and judgemental or critical, or having some enjoyment in violence, which I suppose happens with people, wishing that bad things happen to our enemies. It’s such a waste. It’s about being aware of our motivation and the subtle undercurrents of our thinking. And that’s all part of this anger and the enemy of loving kindness. So when all these mind states are there, we are blocking ourselves from being a kind person with a peaceful mind. We are blocking our own state of tranquillity, we are obstructing what we are trying to do in meditation. We sit for hours in shinay meditation, trying to develop inner peace and tranquillity, trying to develop clarity of mind, and these other states are what obscure it. We need to aware, we need to be mindful. That is the remedy: mindfulness, awareness, patience, acceptance, appreciation, understanding. And especially patience in terms of anger.
Now let’s look at the near enemy. The near enemy of loving kindness is clinging or attachment, desire, grasping. This is especially obvious with relationships, couples. You can clearly see that it is based on fear, the fear of losing the other person. Maybe we start off being in love, seeing the other person as perfect, wonderful, we are attracted to every aspect of that person, the way they walk, the way they talk, every aspect of body, speech, mind, we think they are like a god or a goddess. And then of course over time we start to see that we are all imperfect human beings, we start to see all different aspects of the other person, but there is still an attachment there, grasping. There is fear that our initial love will fade, fear of losing what we thought we had, which really wasn’t true in the first place. So this clinging is also based on fear.
In terms of the six realms, anger is the hell realm, and desire is the human realm. It is within the desire realm that we are constantly striving and looking for more, trying to top up whatever we have because we feel that it isn’t quite enough. We have moments of contentment but then we get restless again, we have to have more. This is very strongly experienced in relationships. It is often the case that people in relationships look for somebody who is their opposite. The other person has the qualities that we feel we are lacking so we feel fulfilled by the other person. Quite often this is how attraction happens. Or there is a sense of fulfilment in a sexual relationship, but of course it’s momentary and impermanent and it isn’t truly fulfilling. So we have this falling into love and falling out of love.
This is attachment, clinging, grasping, it’s not the type of love we are talking about here, loving kindness. Loving kindness is friendliness, the Brahma Vihara where we want to give. We want that person to be well and happy. It’s about giving, sharing, wanting well for the other person. It’s not about having. Desire and clinging is about wanting for myself. I want something from that relationship. That other person is there to fulfil my needs. Loving kindness is more pure, truly wanting well being for others. Often desire and what we call worldly love is a projection. We get swept away by projections. They say it is like drowning in a flood. Attachment can be like drowning in a flood. Whereas anger is like fire, attachment is more like the water element. We are drowning in a flood and we have nothing to hold onto so we get swept away.
We need to practice contentment. Be content. Have few desires. Desire is not happiness. That is something that is worth contemplating, because we tend to think that fulfilling our desires is happiness. Contentment is happiness. When we can really feel content, appreciate what we have, appreciate the present moment, that will help us to be happy. The more we meditate, the more we develop clarity and joy in ourselves the more content we will be. A lot of desire is often a sign of lack of confidence. It’s a sign of lack of confidence because we want things. When we desire, we want things we feel we don’t have. We feel we are lacking something. It could be simple things, it can be external or internal, but the whole quality of desire is this constant running after things, desiring things, like a constant thirst. It is said that samsara is constant chasing, whether we are chasing after things we want, or we are trying to run away from things we don’t want. This is the definition of samsara, always busy running. Always busy running after the things that we need, that we want, that we have to have, or running away from the things that we are afraid of, we don’t want, that we feel are threatening us. It’s not a very restful state, this clinging attachment.
Of course there are also positive desires, so we need to use the energy of desire positively. Have desire for helping others, for wanting to develop on the spiritual path, for transforming ourselves and developing the qualities of freedom, courage, compassion, and fearlessness. That desire is a positive desire. We need to direct the energy of desire into a positive desire. That will help us to progress. And so the remedies for how to deal with this clinging, this enemy of loving kindness, clinging and attachment is to be aware of it, through awareness and mindfulness, to accept that it is there, to work with it. We don’t have to feel bad about it, we just work with it, accept that it is there and recognise that the state of attachment and clinging in itself isn’t happiness. We also need to develop an appreciation of our own positive qualities, to have more self esteem, to build up our confidence, because desire makes one feel hollow. There is something we need to fill up. There is this lack of confidence. We need to appreciate our own qualities and develop contentment. We should practice compassion and tonglen, or any other compassion practise and we should use desire positively. This means never having enough of positive things, things that are good for us, things that are helpful for us, things that support us in developing ourselves, developing our own confidence and inner qualities. We should try never to have enough of that. And if someone has a lot of strong clinging and grasping then they should practise generosity, the opposite of attachment. Practise generosity: make offerings, give food to the poor, give, give, give. The more you give, the richer you feel. Practise generosity by making offerings, offerings to the shrine, spiritually making offerings, mentally making offerings, offerings to those in need. There are different fields of accumulation: you can make offerings out of respect, out of compassion or out of devotion. There are different groups that you make offerings to.
Desire is always aiming for something else, so by practising generosity, and simply being in the present moment, we are not looking for something else, we are content here. An exercise that one can do is to practise intentional acts of kindness. You can decide in advance what type of acts you are going to do, and every day you practise one act of giving or one act of helping someone. You make a little plan for the week and you decide that today I will have 3 intentional acts of kindness. It could be giving something to the homeless, or helping your partner, making them breakfast or a cup of tea, small things. It’s a way of training yourself. You might think it’s a little bit artificial but it’s a way of training yourself. All of our practice is artificial to some extent until we become so advanced that it is a natural state of being. Training is always artificial, we haven’t really gotten there yet that’s why we need to train. But that is one way you can remind yourself: every day, you practise three acts of intentional kindness. The opposite of clinging is contentment with whatever is there. It’s such a precious quality.
To summarise, we need to be aware that for this loving kindness to be one of the Brahma Viharas, it has to be as vast as possible. We start small. We actually start with ourselves, and then we extend it out to our friends, our family, and we end up being able to include our enemies. The loving kindness that we aim for is all inclusive and impartial. We try to be aware of the far enemy of anger and hatred, where loving kindness can’t co-exist with it and also the near enemy of attachment, clinging and desire which we might confuse with loving kindness. So let’s leave it there.