Loving-Kindness – How to do it

(Note: This teaching was condensed from  an email conversation I had explaining how to practice loving-kindness.  I have edited it into this form so that they – and anyone else – can have this as a reference. May it be of benefit. – JTR/LWWD)

There are two of the contemplation exercises that are traditional antidotes to jealousy that I think would appropriate to teach at this point to go with the ‘basic calm abiding’ you have.

I am going to explain loving-kindness first and then rejoicing. These are said to be the most powerful and effective methods for decreasing some of humanities worst traits (without repression of emotions, which only causes harm.)

I am explaining these with the hope that you take these bits of dharma and internalize them over a couple of months instead of reading a whole book and trying to do it all at once.   The latter is what most of us in the West have done, leading us to have a wide-but-shallow understanding, which doesn’t really help when the s#it hits the fan.

So, you have the basic mindfulness technique….that’s first.  And once you have done that, you get to the stuff that gets beyond just focusing the mind-which is what most people think of as ‘meditation’. So, what we are now discussing is where you start taking that focused mind and doing something constructive with it.

So, to start, what does this phrase ‘loving-kindness’ even mean?

What Loving-Kindness Isn’t (aka ‘the god of romantic love’)

The phrase ‘loving-kindness’ has less baggage than ‘love’, which makes most people usually go to “man-woman-love!” (Or man-man, woman-woman, etc.) Basically, ‘love’ usually is thought of as that strong emotion that draws people to each other and totally overwhelms their minds. Society holds that powerful kind of passionate love to be what every other civilization would have called a god.  Given the amount of money pumped into the economy for Valentine’s Day, for engagement rings, and for weddings, it’s understandable that there are vested interests in making it so important.

However, as anybody who is willing to look honestly at it can see, this ‘love’ is problematic. As we all know, that kind of love, though our society holds it to be the pinnacle of human existence, is not a lasting entity.  This love turns to hate easily.  For example, police officers often say that the calls they dread the most are not drug violence calls, as one might expect, but domestic violence situations. Also, how many teenagers have killed themselves over this love? How many people have been scarred for the rest of their lives – for decades – for this love?

That kind of love is limited, and not lasting, despite all the fairy tales of “happily ever after.”  While this kind of passionate love can have its place, and is MUCH preferable to aggression and hate, making it into ‘the meaning of life’ is arguably a recipe for disappointment.  Plus, something that can turn to painful jealousy can’t possibly be the end point of existence.

The preceding should reinforce the reasoning why Buddha Shakyamuni said that passion, far from being the “cure for every evil,” (to quote the band New Order) is in fact a poison.

Fortunately for us all, there are other similar kinds of emotional bonds that don’t have that dark side.

What Loving-Kindness Is

The idea of loving-kindness is to tap into an emotional bond you already have that WON’T have the possibility of turning into it’s opposite…and then expanding that emotion outward beyond that person to others progressively in stages.

Eventually, you would expand that out to all beings everywhere. This is why it’s sometimes called “boundless love” or “all-encompassing love.”

So you may be thinking, “sounds nice, but how the hell do you do this?”

Ok, here how we start – traditionally, one would think of one’s mother first to cultivate a sense of warmth towards another without conditions, and go from there.  Thinking of how she sacrificed for you – taking care of herself through pregnancy, put up with the pains of childbirth, cleaned your ass and taught you to poop and pee for yourself, clothed you, sacrificed her time (and likely much of her sex life and career) for you, and so forth.  However, some people have difficulties with using their mothers, due to difficulties that came later.  That happens. Also, some people may have others that set off that ‘unconditional love’ feeling.

For some, it may be thinking of their kids. I have a friend with a special needs autistic child that I suggested she think of the way he thinks of her, completely without any pretense, without any filters.

So, that ‘warm’ feeling you have- first hold it for a bit.

Ok, so first, think of the person closest to you. Notice how you feel, how you wish for them to be happy. Take that, feel it – really feel it.

Now, if you just plop down and try this right off, it will most likely ebb and flow and not be stable.  The calm-abiding part comes first so you can actually keep your mind ON this.

Then extend that feeling out, to your closest family. Not sure how you get along with both your parents, but extend to them, siblings, etc.  Your entire insane family J without conditions, you do.

Then move on to your closest friends. Now to friends that you aren’t so close to anymore. Now to friends you aren’t close to. Now extend the same feeling of wishing they were happy (since that is what they and everyone else wants) to be you sort of know, but not really. People that you SEE everyday, but don’t really KNOW.

Taking this and extend further, to those who you don’t like. Then to those you, well, hate. Past romantic rivals. Bosses who screwed you over in the past. Ex-boyfriends who were dickweeds. George W. Bush. Michael Moore. Roger Moore (for being an inferior joker James Bond). Carrot Top. Pauly Shore. Snooki. Even Jar-Jar-freaking-Binks.

Whoever you hate the most in your day-to-day life, extend that wish that they be happy. And then extend further, to all beings everywhere.  You should be able to extend that to all.

Now, it all sounds nice, but it may occur to you,

“This sounds like vague hippy-dippy love and light bulls#it. Why should I do it? How can you do it practically?

The “Why” of this is to cut your thinking of yourself for a bit and instead think of somebody else.  As the great modern-day siddha Garchen Rinpoche said, “When you think about others, self-cherishing naturally decreases.”  If taken in this progressive way, to tap into the warm feelings yourself,

The idea is to get to a sense of equanimity. A positive equanimity, not a bland nothing.

Some words to help – The Metta Sutra

Buddha himself had a short version he gave to everyone, but especially, non-monastics, so they could develop this quality.

Here it is- from the Metta Sutta….

                  “May all beings be happy! Weak or strong, without exception, small or great, seen or unseen, nearby or far away, alive or still to be born – May all beings be entirely happy!

                  May nobody despise anyone anywhere, may no one wish harm to any single creature out of anger or hatred or jealousy!

                May we cherish all creatures as a mother would her only child! May our loving thoughts fill the entire world, above, below, and all around, without limit!    

              May we have a boundless goodwill to the whole world, unrestricted, without hatred or hostility!”

Here is how I would suggest you actually practice with this:

                  “May all beings be happy!

  • Starting out, I would repeat the first line “May all beings be happy” over and over, while going through extending out from the person closest to you to to your family to people you work with to people you see to the various gradations of one-night stands to the guys who fucked you over to Jar-Jar Binks.

                Weak or strong,

  • I always think of countries with military rulers, and wishing both the poor family huddled in their hut and the general in his car driving by happiness.

                 without exception,

  •  …‘even the assholes’, or better ‘especially the assholes’, since if they were truly happy, they wouldn’t act like assholes to begin with.

                 small or great,

  • Thinking from the tiniest little single-cell organism to a great whale.

                 seen or unseen,

  • Thinking of all the beings you can see, and then all those you can’t, either those that are too small, or those in possible other realms of existence.

                 nearby or far away,

  • Thinking from right outside your door, to the other side of the globe from you, and the highest and lowest points where life exists.

                 alive or still to be born – May all beings be entirely happy!

  • Think about the babies about to be born, that haven’t been taught to hate yet, that they not get taught that ‘rational adult’ idea of “we want to destroy that group over there.”

                  May nobody despise anyone anywhere, may no one wish harm to any single creature out of anger or hatred (or jealousy)!

  • Self-explanatory. I added the “or jealousy” because that’s the poison I had most problems with in the past, and I have some students that do as well.

       May we cherish all creatures as a mother would her only child!

  • Try opening up your heart this much.

May our loving thoughts fill the entire world, above, below, and all around, without limit!

  • I usually think of these thoughts by this point as a ball of white light from my heart center just exploding in all 10 directions.

May we have a boundless goodwill to the whole world, unrestricted, without hatred or hostility!”

  • Just sit in this final phrase for a while. Just rest there.

One of the things the really good practitioners always do (and I do sometimes :)) is some version of this right before sleep.

The neat thing about thinking in this way is that it actually leads to a refined state of calm-abiding but with a different flavor than just following the breath to that one-pointedness.

Also, if you realize that all beings just want to be happy, it may naturally occur to you that they aren’t all out to intentionally fu@k with you. Yes, You would understand how you love your kids better than I do. THAT feeling is what you are trying to extend out.

All beings want to be happy. Very few people intentionally want to suffer.

(And I don’t mean ‘suffer’ as being turned on by “suck it, bitch!” I mean ‘suffer’ like people who feel like God hates them, so it is right that they should be in pain.)

This suffering is mostly about mentally feeling bad/awful/ill-ease/in pain/unhappy.

The Fruition – Less Suffering, More Equanimity

The fruits of it are that one isn’t as hard on others. And if you aren’t as hard on others, then YOU are suffering less.

It also leads one to be more curious about those others – especially the more neutral ones, and those on the ‘dislike’ side.

Equanimity

On another level, think to yourself “I want happiness and to be free from suffering.” “My partner wants happiness and to be free from suffering. My cat/mom/friends/exs/enemies/George W./, indeed, everyone just wants to be happy and free from suffering. There is no difference between them and myself in this way. Everyone wants the same thing. We are all the same in this.”

When you get to that point, that is compassion starting to arise- but it will take a while, and I would rather you have loving-kindness stable first.

 Rejoicing

And briefly, rejoicing is to, whenever you hear of something good happening to somebody-anybody- to take a second and think, “how wonderful that this happened to them.” and once you get used to that, thinking “may all beings have such good luck/fortune/etc.”

(However you phrase it best that works for you.)

If something good happens to someone that isn’t you, really being happy for them.

It makes you notice all the positive things in life around you happening to people all the time.

It actually helps to cut through thinking that “everything is going to s#it” – period.

Ok, so that’s tonight’s lesson – “loving-kindness” and “rejoicing”.

I will gladly refine and expand on them, but I am going to try to not go beyond those and calm-abiding for now.  I don’t think I would be contradicting any of the Wise Ones by saying this is the best firm basis you can get to get free of suffering.

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