Wildmind Buddhist Meditation

Lovingkindness Meditation

Sit : Love : Give

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Is loving yourself okay?

flowerLoving yourself has a bad press in the West. We often associate it with being self-centered and not caring about others.

In fact, we have a tendency to want to put ourselves down to avoid being thought of as self-centered.

But in the Buddhist tradition, which has produced countless outstandingly generous and selfless individuals, there is an emphasis on developing love for yourself as an indispensable prerequisite for loving others.

In the Christian tradition we can also bear in mind that the injunction is to “love others as yourself,” implying that we ought to love not just others but ourselves as well. In fact the assumption in saying that we should love others as ourselves is that we already do love ourselves and that we need to extend that love to others! It’s ironic that it’s often people with Christian conditioning that think that loving yourself is sinful.

Buddhists believe that if you don’t love yourself, then it’s hard, if not impossible, for you to love other people. And if you think about it you might find you already suspect that some of the most selfish people you know really, deep down, don’t like themselves. Their selfishness is a compensatory mechanism. On the other hand, many warm and generous and loving people are able to be at ease with themselves without appearing at all narcissistic or selfish.

If there are aspects of yourself that you don’t like, the tendency will be to dislike those same things in others. In fact psychologists talk about “projection” where we dislike some part of our personality so much that we actually refuse to admit it exists (if you think only other people do this then you’re projecting right now!). But we still see the same characteristic in others, and so we “project” our unacknowledged “dark side” onto them. So a lot of our ill-will towards others is actually a dislike of ourselves. It stands to reason that if we want to improve our relationship with other people, we have to also improve our relationship with ourselves.

Of course, if our metta started and ended with ourselves then it wouldn’t really be metta — it would be selfishness. So although the first stage of the practice begins with ourselves it moves on to others in the remaining four stages.

It’s important to make sure you do the first stage (don’t skip it — if it’s hard then that means you need to do it). The cosmos will not award you extra “brownie points” for leaving yourself out. But also make sure you do the other stages as well.

Comments

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Comment from Mark
Time: July 24, 2010, 3:38 am

“Buddhists believe that if you don’t love yourself, then it’s hard, if not impossible, for you to love other people.”

Im not sure this is true. I understand that Buddhism is about loving others and that self is delusion. That there is no self and that we must only love others. Loving the self in Buddhism is known as self cherishing which is the root cause of suffering.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: July 26, 2010, 11:17 pm

Hi Mark,

Well, if there’s no self, then others don’t have selves, so what’s the point of loving them? Just joking.

Self-love and self-cherishing are different things. The first is a natural healthy relationship of care and kindness towards oneself, while the other is a state of self-absorption that sees our own concerns as being of ultimate importance, while others’ needs are ignored.

The Buddha said, in the Udana:

Searching all directions with one’s awareness, one finds no one dearer than oneself. In the same way, others are fiercely dear to themselves. So one should not hurt others if one loves oneself.

The metta we have for ourselves can be expanded to include other people, while self-cherishing of course can’t be, because by its very nature it’s based on a false view that the way to happiness is by focusing on our needs and not on the needs of others.

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Comment from Andrea
Time: November 26, 2011, 11:20 pm

A thought on christianity. I’m a former christian, and while I agree with your interpretation of “love others as yourself”, I’ve heard a lot of religious people say you should love others (and in particular, god) first, and I definitely tried to convince myself that was the right thing to do when I was a kid.
I think there are two main reasons why most, if not all, christians feel that way. One, it is explicitly taught by parents and educators (I was sent to a catholic school and I distinctly remember being taught this all the time). And two, the first commandment. For catholics (a brief google search tells me this is different for other denominations), the first commandment is to love god above everything else. I think that is where the problem with loving oneself originates for some christians.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: November 27, 2011, 3:54 pm

Thanks for writing, Andrea.

I think all religious traditions tend to veer away from their scriptural roots, and sometimes that’s not a bad thing! In this case, however, the change isn’t helpful. Apart from the fact that the teaching of “love others as yourself” has turned into “love others above yourself,” the teaching os “love others above yourself” has itself morphed into “love others, not yourself.”

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Comment from Andrea
Time: December 21, 2011, 12:20 pm

Thanks for your reply. I agree that it isn’t helpful. Just the other day I was reading a post by a very well intended christian, who wanted to dedicated the following weeks of his life to paying attention to being kind to his family and friends first, to neutral people later and finally to difficult people. It surprised me how the basics of it (to me) seemed similar to the practice of loving kindness that you describe on this website, except for one essential difference: he didn’t start with directing kindness towards himself. I imagine missing that step would result in a very emotionally exhausting practice.

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Comment from Andy
Time: October 14, 2012, 4:23 am

If I’m finding it hard – on a particular day – to direct metta to myself, then I vary the practice by starting with a benefactor, imagining us sitting together. It is very easy to extend loving-kindness to this particular benefactor and to remember how much good-will she had for me. (She is still alive but I don’t see her anymore.)

I usually find it easy to then move on to expressing metta to myself. So basically I’m switching stages 1 and 2 around. Works for me, even if it’s not the ‘classic’ method!

Thanks for the site, Bodhipaksa. Some really useful stuff, well explained.

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