2020-12-09 Brahmavihāras: Loving-Kindness (3 of 5)
5:20PM Dec 9, 2020
Then to continue the talks on loving-kindness, mettā, goodwill – I delight in just saying those words. I think they are such wonderful qualities. It touches something precious and valuable inside just to evoke the qualities of mettā, kindness, friendliness, goodwill.
That wasn't always the case for me. When I was first introduced to the teachings of mettā – loving-kindness – I had a background where the way I understood these teachings was that they were artificial. They were artificially creating feelings of goodwill or kindness. These qualities were kind of sticky, excessively sweet, or maybe sentimental. But I was much more practical and pragmatic. I wanted to have a spirituality that was just about waking up, and being present in a direct, unmediated way. And this loving-kindness thing was just getting in the way.
And so when my early Theravādan teachers would do guided loving-kindness meditation, I just tuned them out and continued doing my basic mindfulness practice. Until a time came that through mindfulness itself – it was kind of like mindfulness was a tenderizing force – something settled and relaxed.
In some way that I had been holding myself closed began to open. At some point, I started having a very nice feeling inside that was new to me. There was a pleasant, easeful, warm, nice feeling of goodwill – very different from compassion (which I had already tapped into through practice). It was another thing.
And then at some point, I thought, "Maybe this is what these teachers are talking about. Yes, it is. This is what they mean by this goodwill, and mettā." Rather than being something I had to construct or make happen, it was welling up inside. Through recognizing it, the whole thing about practicing mettā – loving-kindness – became quite valuable for me. It was a very valuable part of my life and "a" life. When I say these words – the beginning of mettā, goodwill, kindness – just saying the words touches something in my heart. It has a feeling of singing. My heart sings a little bit to those concepts and ideas.
So this is the topic for this week. One of the things I want to say is that in emphasizing goodwill and loving-kindness in this tradition – the Theravādan tradition – one also does it for oneself. Regarding meditation practice – closing your eyes and focusing on your own inner experience – is easy to criticize as being self-centered.
In fact, back in my early years of meditating (I haven't heard this for many years now), people would complain that doing forty minutes of meditation each day was being selfish. Someone who is religious should really be out there doing things in the world, sacrificing themselves. And the people who complained about the selfish meditators meditating for forty-forty five minutes (or however long it was) were probably spending two or three hours a day watching television. But watching television belonged to a different domain of life than religious life. And the religious life should really be about being altruistic. A religious life that was inward – they saw as being selfish.
I don't think it is that way at all. And it certainly wasn't for the Buddha. It is not a self-centered path, because self-centeredness – being preoccupied with oneself – is a way of actually harming oneself. If you really care about yourself and see yourself as important, you wouldn't be selfish, because of the harm it does to you.
Also, there's the idea of mutuality in this world of ours. The more we care for for, love, and free ourselves, the more we benefit others. If we benefit others without harming ourselves, we are also benefiting ourselves.
In the practice of loving-kindness, you can see this. As we offer our care to others – mettā care, the way of kindness and friendliness – we benefit also, because these feelings (if they're really genuine, not artificial, forced, or obligated, but arising from a wonderful place inside) – as we express and live them, these feelings vibrate, flow, and open up. Warmth happens, here, and it is nourishing for the person who has kindness.
Compassion also is meant to nourish the one who's compassionate. And if we're not somehow nourished, or there's not some satisfying feeling in having loving-kindness, it probably isn't quite loving-kindness, or it is loving-kindness that is mixed up with other things.
So, in loving others, the loving person benefits. In the teachings of Buddhism, the loving person is allowed to benefit from the love. It is not selfish. It's just a byproduct. It's not selfish, because developing and growing oneself is a way to become a person who is more beneficial to others. We're more able to meet others, really see other people and offer our presence as if that person is important – maybe the most important person at that moment in time.
If we diminish ourselves and feel somehow that we're less than others, or not important – if we demean ourselves or are critical of ourselves, or if we don't have care for and value ourselves, then actually we have less to offer others. Then, when we meet someone else, we're not really meeting them fully. They don't feel the full goodness of who we are. They feel a kind of goodness if we're trying to be nice, but it's not really full.
Sometimes we might be trying too hard. But we can relax deeply, be at ease with and at home in ourselves, and feel that, regardless of our foibles and shortcomings, we are completely deserving. It is appropriate for us to love and care for this being – the being here for ourselves.
It isn't as if everyone in the world deserves love and care except for one exception – one person who just doesn't make the cut: oneself. It doesn't work that way. Everyone! The practice of mindfulness and loving-kindness, is a practice that includes caring for oneself. Mindfulness is a self-care process.
The idea is to care for ourselves, love ourselves, and see ourselves as important. We can really learn how to soften and relax the ways we in which we suffer, close down, and diminish ourselves – so we have more to give others. You cannot teach a foreign language unless you learn the language first yourself. You can't learn or teach a path of freedom unless you have been on that path yourself.
And you cannot know and offer love unless you really know it here for yourself. And so it is really okay to benefit from the practice of love, kindness and all of that.
Now, it's not selfish – this focus here and this love for ourselves – because it's possible that one of the great delights of a spiritual life (and I've heard other people in other religions say this outside of Buddhism) is that it's possible to have lots of love, warmth, kindness, friendship, and goodwill for others, and not need to have it come back. Our well-being doesn't have to be dependent on being loved by others. As adults, we have a bigger need to love than we do to be loved. And if we have a strong need to be loved, chances are that that need – I want to respect the need for sure – most benefits from (or is more found or resolved), if we're the one who loves ourself. We benefit if we can learn to offer care, kindness and goodwill to this person here.
If we do this – if we practice loving-kindness, or just practice more goodwill in our life, learn to explore it, feel it, appreciate it when it's there, expand it, enhance it whenever we can – the Buddhist tradition lists eleven benefits that come from doing loving-kindness. And the ancient description of this specifies really developing it to a high degree. But I think we get some of the benefits, even if we just start doing it in small ways.
It's a delightful list. I want to read the list of the eleven benefits of loving-kindness: "One sleeps happily. One wakes happily. One has no bad dreams. One is loved by others." One doesn't need to be loved by others, but one is loved by others. That's kind of a nice balance.
And "One is loved by non-humans." Maybe that means animals. Or maybe it means devas – Buddhism believes in all these devas who are floating around – because the next one is: "One is guarded by the devas." I think that when one practices kindness, friendliness, and goodwill, that there are unseen ways in which the people around us treat us differently. There is a kind of protection that comes with it.
"A fire, poison or sword won't touch one." I don't know about that, but it's quite a wonderful benefit if it's true that you're protected from fire, poison, and weapons.
The next one is good for meditators: "One's mind becomes concentrated quickly." One's mind becomes concentrated quickly, because you have less to be agitated or upset about if there's more love. It's easier to get settled.
And then it says here, number nine, is: "One's complexion becomes clear." So that's nice. It's a lot cheaper than other ways of getting a clear complexion.
"One dies with a mind free from confusion." Now this is a real benefit. I think about how we die. As I see it, to die well, at ease, at peace, and with an open heart without confusion, is one of the greatest potentials or possibilities. And mindfulness is said to support that. But so does goodwill – mettā.
And then the eleventh one: "If there is no higher attainment reached, one is reborn in the Brahma realms." Some of these benefits speak to us moderns, and some don't, but I just delight in this grand list of the wonderful benefits.
I'll read you one more. It says that the Buddha once asked a group of three monks: "Are you living together on friendly and harmonious terms as milk and water mixed together? Do you regard each other with affection?" And the monk said they were. And the Buddha said, "Well, how do you do this?" And one of them answered: "Since it has occurred to me that I am fortunate to be living with others in the holy life, the practice life, I have loving-kindness towards them. In speech, conduct and thought, I openly and privately extend my loving-kindness." To live together like milk and water, harmoniously mixing together with others, is one of the benefits of loving-kindness.
I look forward to being here tomorrow. And the topic is love. So thank you.