2020-12-10 Brahmavihāras: Loving-Kindness (4 of 5)
5:04PM Dec 10, 2020
In the ancient teachings, there's a record of someone coming to the Buddha and, with great enthusiasm for mindfulness, saying that when people practice mindfulness, then everything goes better for them. Everything works out well for people who are mindful. And the Buddha said that, actually, it's a little different. It's when people have mindfulness and loving-kindness that everything goes well, that everything is good in a certain way.
It's remarkable that the Buddha, who emphasized mindfulness so much, really brought in loving-kindness as a companion, a partner to mindfulness. That's the experience of many. Certainly, I've heard from fellow teachers that as mindfulness gets stronger – or as loving-kindness gets stronger – they kind of merge. With well-developed mindfulness, loving-kindness seems to come along with it. And with very strong, developed loving-kindness, mindfulness comes along with it. Maybe strong mindfulness opens up and releases all the places we're held back – closed – so that natural tenderness can be there from which care, goodwill, and love can radiate.
As loving-kindness gets stronger and stronger, we're more and more in the present moment. We're not thinking about other things. It's so compelling to be here and now – when mettā is strong – that mindfulness comes along with it.
So the two can be seen as partners. Some people find they don't need to practice loving-kindness in order to have it grow. But there's also the practice of loving-kindness. Some people will intentionally do this practice – do meditations in loving-kindness, or even go on mettā retreats. They might do whole retreats where the primary thing they're cultivating is loving-kindness or mettā – this warmth.
And it is quite something to have the primary activity – the focus of the mind – be love, kindness. Just as if you're focusing on the breathing, getting really concentrated, until you're right there with every breath – and it feels so delightful to finally be in the present moment with the mind not scattered and distracted and really present, so in the same way, one can do that with the practice of loving-kindness.
Rather than the primary characteristics of the mind being preoccupation, neurosis, anger, resentment, hurry, fear, wanting to get things or to get things done – all the kinds of things that often preoccupy a person as they go through their daily life – rather than the mind being preoccupied that way, the mind is occupied with loving-kindness, with mettā as the primary focus and the primary characteristic of what we think, feel, and experience in the body. It's what we're motivated by, a kind of gathering together – just this unification, a oneness with loving-kindness.
It's a phenomenal thing to have it become strong. The predominant way of being is one, then, that's saturated, filled with this kind of goodwill and love. It's just a great thing. It's a way of experiencing a deep peace. For some people, the practice of loving-kindness is phenomenally healing. As it gets strong, it begins to be medicine for the places inside that are wounded, hurt, frayed or closed. And its warmth tends to settle, relax, and open things for us.
The Buddha gave this kind of visualization. He said: "Imagine that there is an easily accessed pond with clear, delightful, refreshing, cool water. If a tired, parched, thirsty, and hot person – scorched and exhausted by the hot weather – came across the pond, the water would be used to quench both the person's thirst and the hot weather's fever. It's the same for a person who becomes a practitioner and, after learning the Buddha's teachings, cultivates loving-kindness, for this person gains inner peace and, because of this inner peace, cultivates what is appropriate for the path of liberation."
So here, loving-kindness can provide a cool, refreshing sense of peace to a person. I'll point out that, in the guided meditation I just did, I emphasized warmth. And in the example the Buddha gave, he talks about coolness. This might represent a difference between two cultures. The English language evolved in cold, cool England, where warmth was really a nice thing. For India, being a very hot country at times, coolness is really valued there. So either way.
The practice of loving-kindness – meditation and loving-kindness – can be developed. The idea that one would have a designated time to develop, grow, or expand – I'd like to use the word "release" – the care, the goodwill that's within us – that a person would spend time doing this is a great gift to the world. Really let this precious resource – something the Buddha called a wealth, an inner wealth – loving-kindness, love, or goodwill – let that actually become strong. Don't leave it to be an accident. Don't leave it to: "Oh, it'll just appear when it does. It's here some days, and certain other days it's not here." But actually take time to cultivate, develop, and make it strong, easily accessible, and easily called upon in a way that's sincere and authentic.
Here's one description of a state of meditation – a very strong state of meditation. It's what, perhaps, is possible. Hopefully, it's inspiring to know that this is a human possibility – to have the feeling of mettā being as strong as this description describes. The first half of it describes someone, in this situation, preparing themself to have a very strong loving-kindness meditation.
"Delight is born when one sees oneself purified and freed of greed, ill will, anger, revenge, contempt, bossiness, envy, deceit, and wrong view." So isn't that kind of great? Delight is born when one sees that one is purified and freed from greed, ill will, anger, revenge, contempt and so forth.
"When delighted, joy is born. When joyful, the body becomes tranquil. Someone whose body is tranquil feels happy. For someone whose body is tranquil, the mind becomes concentrated."
Now with this concentrated mind, here is the description of a very strong state of loving-kindness: "One abides pervading the east with a mind accompanied with loving-kindness, and likewise the south, the west and the north. Above, below, and all around, everywhere, and all over, one pervades the whole world with a mind accompanied with loving-kindness, extensive, expanded, limitless, free from hatred and ill will."
Even if it were just a mind free of hatred and ill will, it would be pretty good – wonderful – since those are so painful for this world of ours. But to actually cultivate the sense, the radiance, the fullness of loving-kindness so it feels as if it radiates – spreading from us out in all directions, east, south, west, north, and all around, everywhere, filling us, the field of our awareness, filling what seems like the whole world with it – is a wonder. It's that strong. It's that pervasive.
We say sometimes that someone who has anger has a cloud hanging over them. You feel a radiance of anger or hostility from them. It's possible to feel a radiance of love and kindness in oneself. It radiates and spreads outward. It's phenomenal that we have a capacity to get so centered, focused, and absorbed in these beautiful, beautiful states.
Some people say: "No. It can't be true," or "It's too artificial," or "It's too sweet," or "You can't be safe in those states." We're talking about a meditation state. What we do when we come out of meditation is perhaps different. But it's said that loving-kindness is one of the ways to create tremendous safety for ourselves, to be kind and friendly in this world.
Some people will feel that practicing this way is selfish, self-absorbed, or just doing something for one's own pleasure. But I would say that it's the opposite. We benefit, certainly, from it, but it allows us to benefit the world, to be better citizens, helpful people, to not cause harm in the world, and to actually care about other people in a profound way. This is what I hope we can have: a world where we care about each other and live together with goodwill, kindness and support.
This is the practice of loving kindness. What I offer you today is sometimes called the practice of radiating loving-kindness. That's very different from the more classic way of practicing loving-kindness, which is to use phrases and to progressively do it for different categories – oneself, a benefactor, a neutral person, an enemy – and to spread it out from there. Both are great practices. But some people find it simpler and less complicated to just do the radiance. This seems to be how the Buddha taught it. The Buddha gave no instructions for the different categories and using words to cultivate loving-kindness.
Someone asked for a citation. I read a few different things, but one of them is from the Middle Length Discourses, Discourse number forty.
I hope you'll give some reflection today about loving-kindness, care, and goodwill. Maybe you can even have conversations with people about their experiences with goodwill – how they evoke it, practice it, spread it, and what value they see in it. Experiment a little and see if you can go about the day practicing a bit more goodwill than you would have if you hadn't heard this suggestion.
Thank you very much. It's wonderful to be here with you. We'll finish this series on mettā tomorrow with the topic of mettā and liberation.