May 08, 2013
Talking about cultivating or developing compassion can have the unfortunate side-effect of giving us the idea that compassion is something we don’t have, and need to create. Actually, the words cultivate and develop are meant to imply that we already have compassion as a natural attribute, and that what we need to do is to connect with this innate compassion and make it stronger. Really, karuna bhavana is “strengthening compassion.”
Compassion is part of our genetically inherited mental tool-kit. Other animals show compassion: primatologist Frans de Waal (one of my personal heroes) points out that chimpanzees take care of the sick and elderly, for example by bringing water …
May 07, 2013
There are four related dimensions of lovingkindness, together called the “divine abodes,” or Brahmaviharas. These four are (1) lovingkindness itself, (2) compassion, (3) appreciation, and (4) even-minded love. I devoted the first quarter of our 100 Days to lovingkindness, and I’m going to write about compassion, the second of these practices, for the second quarter.
The meditation of cultivating compassion is called karuna bhavana. Karuna is compassion, and bhavana means “development” or “cultivation.”
Metta, or lovingkindness, is the desire of bringing that which is welfare and good to oneself and others. Compassion is the desire to remove suffering, especially from others.
The Vimuttimagga, a very early meditation manual dating from just a few centuries after …
May 06, 2013
The Buddha’s recorded as having said:
For one who mindfully develops
Seeing the destruction of clinging,
The fetters are worn away.
If with an uncorrupted mind
He pervades just one being
With loving kindly thoughts,
He makes some merit thereby.
But a noble one produces
An abundance of merit
By having a compassionate mind
Towards all living beings.
The “fetters” are mental habits that hold us back from attaining enlightenment. Lovingkindness practice, the Buddha is saying, wears away these fetters. So lovingkindness practice helps us become enlightened.
The way I think of the Buddhist path of practice these days is that it’s all about “un-selfing.” Normally we are “selfing” all the time — “selfing” being a rendering of “ahamkara,” which …
May 05, 2013
Yesterday I wrote about how, in the fifth stage of the development of lovingkindness practice where we’re cultivating metta for all beings, it’s enough simply to sense the space around you and to allow that space to be filled with kindness. Your mind is filled with kindness. Your mind is aware of the space around you. And so the space you’re aware of is filled with kindness. Therefore, any creature that is in that space will be received kindly. And the same is true for any being you call to mind. You’re receiving them into kindness as they appear in your mind.
I find this helpful when it comes to …
May 04, 2013
The Buddha’s instructions on lovingkindness — at least those that have been passed on to us — don’t include the five stages of cultivating lovingkindness for oneself, the friend, the “neutral person,” the person we have difficulty with, and then all beings. There are some scattered instructions about cultivating lovingkindness toward people we harbor anger toward, but the bulk of the instructions concern what is, for us, the final stage of the practice: cultivating lovingkindness to all beings.
This doesn’t invalidate what we do. The five (sometimes six) stage model has a long pedigree going back at least 2,000 years, and it may be that it goes back to the …
May 03, 2013
In previous posts I’ve suggested an approach to cultivating lovingkindness that begins with contacting our innate lovingkindness. Now the expression “contacting our innate lovingkindness” is a problem for many people, because they look inside themselves, don’t see anything at that moment that they could call “metta” or “lovingkindness,” and then conclude they don’t have these qualities. Which can start a downward spiral of rumination and pain: I don’t feel any love; Therefore I don’t love myself; Therefore I must be unlovable; Therefore no one will ever love me; Therefore my life is horrible.
I think almost everyone has experienced that kind of emotional nose-dive.
But I think that when this happens …
May 02, 2013
Be forewarned. You’re going to see a bunch of headlines soon like this one from Business Week: Economists Nail It: You Can Never Be Too Rich.
The Business Week post is rather breathless: “I just spoke with Justin Wolfers, co-author of a short but important new paper that concludes the more money you have, on average, the happier you are.” I almost see the author’s laptop screen misting as he pants with excitement.
Business Week describes this finding thus: “That may seem to deserve a Homer Simpson “Duh!” award for most obvious research finding of the month” before going on to admit that actually previous research …
May 02, 2013
When the rubber hits the road is a great time to practice lovingkindness, and I mean literal rubber and a literal road.
There’s a lot of irritation involved in driving, right up to the extreme of road rage. It can be irritating to be in slow traffic, or busy traffic, or to be cut off, or to be held up by roadworks, or stuck at traffic lights.
We’re emotionally cut off from other drivers because we’re all in our own semi-private metal boxes, and so we don’t have access (usually) to their body language and facial expressions. So we often take things personally that aren’t necessarily personal. As comedian …
May 01, 2013
When I walk, I usually do a “walking lovingkindness” practice. Since it takes me 15 minutes to walk to work and another 15 to walk home again, I get a “bonus” 30 minutes of meditation on the days I don’t have to drive. So even if I only manage 30 minutes of sitting practice I end up meditating for an hour, which is a reasonably substantial amount of meditation to do in a day.
Of course I’m sure there are many ways to do walking lovingkindness, but I’ll share what my practice is.
Basically, it’s very simple: as I walk, I say to myself, “May all beings be well; May all …
Apr 30, 2013
People use the words “guilt” and “shame” in different ways. I use “shame” to translate the Buddhist word “hiri” and see guilt as being something entirely different. And I think an awareness of this difference is very important to recognize when we’re trying to live with more kindness.
In Buddhist psychology shame (hiri) is a skillful rather than an unskillful mental state. This may be surprising! We usually think of “skillful” mental states as being pleasant, and shame is definitely not pleasant. In fact it can be rather painful. So what does it mean to say that shame is skillful?
Shame is considered to be a spiritually useful emotion — an …