Posts

Loving kindness

Image result for kadampa loveLove is kind: it is a mind that wishes happiness upon others. It is the great protector from suffering because when our mind is filled with love it is always at peace. There is a beautiful story from the life of Buddha Shakyamuni: when he is sitting under the bodhi tree striving for enlightenment, all the obstructing spirits in the world attack him with fearsome weapons; but through the force of his concentration on love, the spears and arrows turn into a rain of flowers. I think this is such a wonderful symbol for how love transforms our world and the people in it. When you love someone, they appear beautiful, you can see the good in them. While you truly love them, they can do nothing to hurt you.

This may at first glance seem like an overly romanticised view of love: in our experience, it feels like love can sometimes cause us pain, rather than protect us from it. But this is because it is very difficult for us to separate out all the different things that are happening in our mind. We may have a mind of love – just focused on wanting the other person’s happiness – but do we also perhaps have some attachment, wanting them to behave in a certain way in order to benefit us? For example, we may give someone good advice that we know could help them; if they fail to take that advice and we feel bad, check to see what is causing that bad feeling. Do we feel just a little bit slighted that our advice has been ignored? Were we expecting a bit more gratitude? If we could get rid of all the reactions that are about us rather than them, we would have no problems.

In Eight Steps to Happiness, Geshe Kelsang says:

We sometimes feel that the reason we are unhappy is that someone we love is in trouble. We need to remember that at the moment our love for others is almost invariably mixed with attachment, which is a self-centered mind. The love parents generally feel for their children, for example, is deep and genuine, but it is not always pure love. Mixed with it are feelings such as the need to feel loved and appreciated in return, the belief that their children are somehow part of them, a desire to impress other people through their children, and the hope that their children will in some way fulfil their parents’ ambitions and dreams. It is sometimes very difficult to distinguish between our love and our attachment for others, but when we are able to do so we shall see that it is invariably the attachment that is the cause of our suffering. Pure unconditional love never causes any pain or worry but only peace and joy.

Making our love completely pure is a big challenge, but it will be so worthwhile. To give us the motivation to train in this, practice watching your mind and try to discriminate between these minds of attachment and love. It sounds like it should be easy – they are polar opposites, after all – but it’s not easy at all. Keep asking yourself ‘is this thought really about me or them?’ until eventually we get used to distinguishing between the two. When we can spot the difference, we will be really encouraged to train in the mind of loving kindness, because we will know from our own experience that this precious mind of love brings real happiness.


Take it further: Loving kindness retreat

Defeating anger with love

Image result for geshe kelsang gyatso quotesWe can all see the destructive impact that anger has on our state of mind and our relationships; it is not hard to see that retaliating to anger with anger only causes more problems. It takes a lot of mental effort to re-train our mind to respond to other people’s challenging behavior in a different way, but we can learn to transform those situations that usually provoke anger into causes of love instead. We just have to look into things a bit more deeply than we normally do, instead of reacting on instinct.

The simplest way to do this is to recognize that there is always a reason for the way they behave. The reason may be a bit messed up, but if we look beyond our immediate gut reaction and ask why? then we will find a whole set of causes and conditions that have forced our adversary into a position where they feel they have no choice but to lash out. People only hurt us when they are hurting themselves; the people who harm us are suffering from delusions, so we should feel compassion for them.

As Geshe-la says in Eight Steps to Happiness:

“Buddhas see that delusions have many faults but they never see people as faulty, because they distinguish between people and their delusions. If someone is angry we think `He is a bad and angry person’, whereas Buddhas think `He is a suffering being afflicted with the inner disease of anger.’ If a friend of ours were suffering from cancer we would not blame him for his physical disease, and, in the same way, if someone is suffering from anger or attachment we should not blame him for the diseases of his mind.”

We know we can’t help becoming deluded – anger, resentment, jealousy and so forth are deeply ingrained habits. So if we have trouble controlling our own minds, why do we expect other people to be able to control theirs? It’s not their fault: they may try their best, but still get angry. It’s not as if that were something they would choose to do: who says ‘Oh yes, I really fancy flying into a blind rage right now, that will really win me some friends’? OK, maybe the Vikings were into that – but generally, we know people would prefer to be calm and happy: they just can’t manage it. It’s not fair to blame them for that – it would be adding insult to injury really. If they’ve become angry, they’re already miserable, so they don’t need us making it worse. In fact, we can make it better for them and for ourselves if we recognize they are suffering from the inner sickness of anger and wish for them to be freed from that suffering.

 

 

Find out more: weekend course

Kindness & contradictions

A friend said to me the other day ‘because I’m a kind person, I always assume other people are kind too, and it really shocks me when they’re not.’ I thought this raised an interesting question about what is the best way to view others, and my conclusion is that we need to find a way to embrace contradictions.

We should definitely train to view others as kind; I would say it is a good thing to assume others will behave with kindness. Does this mean we’re blind to their faults? No, we don’t put on rose-tinted glasses: we recognize that people are deluded, and it is the nature of deluded people to behave in unkind ways. There is a contradiction there, but I think it’s one we can learn to work with. Assuming kindness is not the same as expecting it. When we assume people will be kind, we’re seeing their potential – and relating to people’s potential for kindness will help them to become better people. But, we know they are samsaric beings, and it’s unrealistic to expect anyone in samsara to live up to their potential all the time. So we can accept their negative behaviour without it damaging our assumption that they are kind. As Geshe-la says in Eight Steps to Happiness:

“One of the best ways to regard others as precious is to remember their kindness. Once again we may object `How can I see others as kind when they engage in so many cruel and harmful actions?’ To answer this we need to understand that when people harm others they are controlled by their delusions. Delusions are like a powerful hallucinogenic drug that forces people to act in ways that are contrary to their real nature. A person under the influence of delusions is not in his right mind, because he is creating terrible suffering for himself and no one in their right mind would create suffering for himself. All delusions are based on a mistaken way of seeing things. When we see things as they really are, our delusions naturally disappear and virtuous minds naturally manifest. Minds such as love and kindness are based on reality and are an expression of our pure nature. Thus when we view others as kind we are seeing beyond their delusions and are relating to their pure nature, their Buddha nature.”

In the same way, we can trust people even though we know on one level that they are untrustworthy. If we want to live in a world filled with trustworthy people, we have to create it through our trust, allow that to bring out the best in people. Of course we need wisdom – we don’t just invite a thief into our house – but we have to allow our hearts to be open enough to trust even if we have been let down a thousand times. People will continue to break our trust because they cannot help being controlled by their delusions; but they are still trustworthy because they have Buddha nature.

So, we assume kindness without expecting kindness. If we embrace this contradiction, we can keep a pure view of others without having any unrealistic expectations.

Take this further: Defeating Anger with Love weekend  |  Universal Compassion study classes

Special cases

In Training the Mind in Seven Points Geshe Chekawa advises ‘Always meditate on special cases.’ For example:

If there is someone with whom we always seem to get angry, we should make a special point of meditating on being patient with them.

In fact, we can learn to regard our ‘special cases’ as our closest friends.

It all depends on what we want. Do we authentically want to develop inner peace? Do we see this as more important than our external conditions? If we do really want to attain spiritual realizations, then we should value the challenging people in our lives and cherish them for the precious opportunities they give us.

The problem is, we tend to think of preciousness as being an intrinsic quality, based on a person or thing having some innate value. But it is all defined by our wishes. For example, I was once driving with a friend of mine, and we passed a farm displaying a sign:

Well rotted goat’s manure: bring your own bag!

I immediately developed some rather unpleasant mental images… and my friend said ‘Wow! That’s exactly what I need, let’s pull over and get some.’ Oh joy. So, because it was useful to him for growing vegetables, that manure appeared to him as something precious. Let’s apply that to other people: some of them may seem reminiscent of well-rotted goat’s manure, but they are precious because they are the basis for our training in virtuous minds. In Eight Steps, Geshe-la says:

How can we learn to love with no one to love? How can we practise giving with no one to give to, or patience with no one to irritate us? Whenever we see another living being we can increase our spiritual qualities such as love and compassion, and in this way we come closer to enlightenment and the fulfilment of our deepest wishes. How kind living beings are to act as the objects of our love and compassion. How precious they are!

If people just left me alone (as I generally want them to do) then I would frankly never get around to training my mind. It’s true, isn’t it? I only really try when I’m being pushed. I practice giving because people demand my time and energy; I practice patience because it would just be too stressful not to. If other people weren’t offering me that encouragement, I would never develop a stronger mind, and so I would remain unhappy. When people challenge us they are leading us directly towards happiness.

Thanks, guys. Bring it on.

Give & Take

I’ve often heard people say that love is about give and take, but I think that’s missing the point. Love is all about giving: it’s attachment that wants to take. If we want to get things right in our relationships with others, we first have to apply this to our relationship with ourself.

If we love ourselves, we want to give ourselves happiness; renunciation is a form of love, because we are wanting ourselves to possess the supreme happiness of liberation and working to give ourselves the opportunity to attain it. This is completely different from self-cherishing, which in my experience more closely resembles attachment: we want to take happiness for ourselves, even to the detriment of others.

Watch your mind to try to see this difference. I think you’ll find that when you are wishing to give yourself happiness, you are naturally more inclined to virtue because you want to create opportunities for inner peace. Contrast this to the feeling of wanting to take happiness: it’s like the world owes us this and we’re just waiting to receive it.

I often get asked ‘Isn’t it selfish to cherish others if we’re doing it because we know it will make us happy?’ No, it’s not selfish. When we cherish others, we are sharing in their happiness. All living beings deserve to be happy, and we are a living being. It is only selfish to grasp after our happiness whilst neglecting that of others. That’s why self-cherishing is a part of the ignorance of self-grasping: with both minds, we are grasping at a self divorced from others. We stop being part of ‘all living beings’ and become our own little island… and then when we think ‘may all living beings be happy’ we do not include ourselves and think that makes us more virtuous. Leaving ourselves out is self-cherishing. Geshe-la says in Eight Steps ‘when we abandon self-cherishing we do not loose our wish to be happy.’ It’s very important not to confuse the two, or it will undermine our ability to love others – we will remain unable to separate the give and the take.

 

Learn more: In-depth Study  |  The Art of Kindness day course

I am always right

Sometimes I take a step back and realize just how many of my problems are created by the conviction that I’m always right.

I actually gave a friend some advice on parenting the other day. I have no children and am in fact completely hopeless with kids, yet I still thought my way was superior to hers, despite her years of experience. So of course my ‘wisdom’ was insensitive and offensive. Is it just me, or are you also mentally cringing with the memory of times you’ve done something similar?

But it’s not just embarrassing, it’s also dangerous. If we look at the real basis for most conflicts, we will find this exaggeration of the value and importance of one view or opinion over another. People hold onto their religious or political views and feel they are justified in imposing those views on others because they are, of course, right. Just as this arrogance creates international conflict, we can also start wars within our families over the correct way of doing the washing up and what exactly constitutes a balanced meal. I think for as long as we keep grasping at our opinions in this way, conflict is inevitable. In How to Solve Our Human Problems, Geshe-la says:

Due to strong attachment to our own views, we immediately experience the inner problem of unpleasant feelings when someone opposes them. This causes us to become angry, which leads to arguments and conflicts with others, and this in turn gives rise to further problems. Most political problems experienced throughout the world are caused by people with strong attachment to their own views. Many problems are also caused by people’s attachment to their religious views.

What we need is some humility, the ability to be open to other people’s views. Eight Steps to Happiness tell us ‘we hold our opinions and interests very strongly and are not willing to see a situation from another point of view.’ Humility gives us that willingness to step outside of ourselves. Most of the time, we don’t need to establish who is ‘right’ in order to resolve an argument: there is no real right or wrong way to do the washing up, for example, just two equally valid methods. As long as we are humble enough to say ‘my way is not the only possible right way’ then we can be happy to allow room for different opinions.

That doesn’t mean we adopt other people’s ideas just to avoid rocking the boat: we can respect other people’s opinions without sharing them. Even if someone’s way of seeing things is very distorted – if they are racist or intolerant in some other way – we can still accept how they feel and recognize that their view is coming from delusions. Then we will not judge them or feel superior to them. It’s only in that acceptance and absence of judgement that we can help people develop more compassionate views.

Stubbornly holding onto ‘I am always right’ and trying to push this view onto others only ever creates conflict – even if our view is right, we’re going about things in the wrong way. People don’t like to be dictated to. When we are willing to let go of our own fixed views, then other people will likely do the same.

 

Dependency & Interdependence

We are so determined to be independent. When people try to help me, my instinct is to say ‘I’m fine; I can manage by myself.’ But it’s not true: I can’t. I can’t do anything by myself.

I had my breakfast: I didn’t need anyone else to make it for me. Really? Did I make the bread myself? The flour? Did I grow the wheat (or, in my case, the weird gluten-free alternative that I wouldn’t even recognise if I landed in a field of it)?

Actually, I’m like a little kid going ‘look at me, I’m all grown up, I can do it all by myself,’ and then needing mummy to get the milk off the top shelf of the fridge.

“Our skills and abilities all come from the kindness of others; we had to be taught how to eat, how to walk, how to talk, and how to read and write. Even the language we speak is not our own invention but the product of many generations. Without it we could not communicate with others nor share their ideas. We could not read this book, learn Dharma, nor even think clearly. All the facilities we take for granted, such as houses, cars, roads, shops, schools, hospitals, and cinemas, are produced solely through others’ kindness. When we travel by bus or car we take the roads for granted, but many people worked very hard to build them and make them safe for us to use.

 Wherever we look, we find only the kindness of others. We are all interconnected in a web of kindness from which it is impossible to separate ourself. Everything we have and everything we enjoy, including our very life, is due to the kindness of others. In fact, every happiness there is in the world arises as a result of others’ kindness.”

– Geshe Kelsang, Eight Steps to Happiness

If we’re going to be realistic, we are completely dependent on others: that’s OK. In fact, that’s quite beautiful: we are all part of the vast web of kindness that makes up life on Earth. Why would we want to separate ourselves from that?

Of course I’m not saying that this interdependence is a form of dependency. In fact, I think it’s because we try so hard to be independent that we do develop such an emotional dependency on others. Our drive to prove our self-sufficiency builds a wall between ourselves and others; we isolate ourselves behind our façade of ‘the self-made man,’ ‘the independent woman.’ And because we feel so isolated, we grasp onto anyone we feel can breach that wall, cling to them and feel we need them to be around. But this mental stickiness of attachment only arises because we can’t see that we are all connected; that wall around ourselves is only a mental construct.

When that wall comes down, we feel so free – we can rejoice in the connection we share with the whole world:

“Without others we are nothing. Our sense that we are an island, an independent, self-sufficient individual, bears no relation to reality. It is closer to the truth to picture ourself as a cell in the vast body of life, distinct yet intimately bound up with all living beings. We cannot exist without others, and they in turn are affected by everything we do.”

– Geshe Kelsang, Eight Steps to Happiness