100 Days of Lovingkindness

“There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can’t control.” Marcus Aurelius (Day 80)

Marcus Aurelius

“There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can’t control,” wrote Emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, in his Meditations. “These things are not asking to be judged by you. Leave them alone.”

I’ve described even-minded love (upekkha) as being love with insight. One thing that allows our love to be even-minded, or equanimous, is insight into impermanence.

Even-mindedness is a quality that accompanies all of the other brahmaviharas, which are the four qualities of lovingkindness (metta), compassion (karuna), joyful appreciation (mudita), and even-minded love (upekkha) itself. We need to have even-mindedness accompanying these other states because loving-kindness, compassion, and joyful appreciation each involve desires. Metta is a desire that beings be happy; compassion that they escape suffering; and mudita that they continue to experience the joy and peace that comes from the good qualities they embody.

And the problem is that the things we want aren’t necessarily going to happen, or if they do they won’t last. We can wish that beings be well, but they’re going to experience distress, sickness, and loss. We can wish that beings be free from suffering, but their suffering isn’t necessarily going to end. And we can wish that they continue to enjoy the benefits of their skillful qualities, but it’s not guaranteed that either the skillful attributes nor the peace and joy that spring from them will endure.

In the brahmavihara meditations, we desire particular outcomes, and yet the things we wish for can never last. And so, in order that we ourselves be at peace, we need to appreciate impermanence.

In order to strengthen our even-mindedness, we can cultivate lovingkindness while bearing in mind that although we wish happiness for beings, they’re not necessarily going to find it, and when they do it’s not going to last. We can bear in mind their sufferings and develop compassion, wishing that they be free from suffering, and at the same time remember that any freedom from suffering that they experience will be temporary. And we can rejoice in their good qualities and the peace and joy flowing from those qualities, and remember that any peace they may experience is a phenomenon, like every other experience, that arises and passes away.

Non-equanimity is like sitting on the shore, watching waves rising and falling and cheering when the waves rise, mourning when they fall. With equanimity we recognize that the waves are not under our control. They rise, they fall; we watch, with love.

The “love” part of this is important. It’s easy to be fooled by words like equanimity and even-mindedness into thinking that upekkha is an emotionless, detached quality. Rather, it’s a form of love. It’s well-wishing. In upekkha we sincerely love beings and desire that they be well and that they be free from suffering, but we also accept that happiness and suffering are impermanent experiences that arise and fall outside of our control.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t act on our love, or that acting is pointless. We act with kindness; we seek to relieve compassion where we can; we encourage and rejoice in the good we see in others. But we don’t get attached to outcomes. When we do get attached to things turning out in a particular way, we may initially wish beings well or wish to relieve their suffering, but we soon become frustrated or despondent. We try to help them and perhaps they don’t want to be helped, and our love turns to aversion. Or we don’t have the skill to assist them, and we feel dejected. We act compassionately to help one person, and recognize that there’s an immeasurable amount of suffering in the world, and our efforts are just a drop in the ocean, and we feel depressed and hopeless.

This is why equanimity is necessary, and why it pervades the other three brahmaviharas. But it’s also cultivated as a quality of even-minded love in its own right, as the fulfillment of love.

In the formal practice, we develop a state of loving equanimity toward ourselves, by wishing ourselves well while bearing in mind that the joy and sorrow we experience is impermanent, and by simply accepting any pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral experiences that may arise.

Then we do the same with a neutral person (someone who we neither like nor dislike), then with a person we find difficult, then with a friend. Finally we expand our awareness into the world around us, where happiness and unhappiness rise and fall like waves on the ocean, and we wish all beings well while accepting the impermanence of their joys and sorrows.

100 Days of Lovingkindness

Read More

Even-mindedness and the two arrows (Day 79)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

Upekkha, or even-minded love, is the fourth of the series of meditations we’re looking at in our 100 Days of Lovingkindness series.

As I discussed in the first post on upekkha, this word has several different meanings, although they’re all related.

There’s:

  1. Even-mindedness where we are able to accept ups and downs (specifically, pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral feelings) without being thrown off-balance.
  2. Even-mindedness in the deep states of meditative absorption called jhana, where the mind is very stable and focused.
  3. Even-mindedness as one of the four immeasurables (brahmaviharas), where we have even-minded love.
  4. Even-mindedness as a synonym for the awakened state, or enlightenment, where greed, hatred, and delusion have been unrooted, and so the mind is not thrown off-balance by them.

Now I don’t think these are entirely separate. I pointed out that upekkha as a synonym for the awakened experience (type 4) could be the same thing as the brahmavihara (type 3), but experienced permanently. Even-mindedness as an experience in jhana (type 2) is just ordinary even-mindedness (type 1) plus concentration. And even-mindedness as a brahmavihara (type 3) is just even-mindedness (type 1) plus love.

Since even-mindedness type 1 is the basis for all the rest, we should take a look at that.

The Buddha talked about there being “two arrows.” The first arrow is when we have an experience that is painful in some way. That’s an inevitable part of life. But then there follows a second arrow, which consists of our aversive response to pain. So we think “This shouldn’t happen to me! It’s not fair!” Or we think “It’s his fault!” Or we think, “This is horrible, this is how it’s going to be for the rest of my life!” Or we think, “This always happens to be. It must show that I’m a bad person, unworthy of being loved. My life sucks!” And all of these responses simply cause us more pain: hence, the second arrow.

And the same kind of dynamic works for pleasant feelings as well, except that the pain usually comes when the pleasant feeling has gone, and we mourn it, or when we find ourselves having been led into unwise actions in pursuit of further pleasure.

So the Buddha’s advice is simply to observe feelings as they arise and pass away, and to accept them mindfully without reacting with either craving or aversion. This acceptance of our feelings is equanimity, even-mindedness, or upekkha. We don’t ignore any pain or pleasure, and in fact we’re more conscious of it than when we’re busy reacting to it. We simply notice it as another experience. We lose the judgment. It’s not “bad” to experience pain, and it’s not “good” to experience pleasure.

And this is important in each of the brahmaviharas. At a very basic level, at the start of a period of lovingkindness, we have to become aware of how we feel, so that we know what we’re working with. Now it actually doesn’t matter whether we feel good, or feel terrible, or whether we don’t know how we feel — it’s only important that we’re aware of what our experience is. So if you’re feeling unhappy, that’s OK. To be paradoxical, it’s not “bad” to feel bad. You just feel unhappy, you accept the unhappiness, and you start cultivating lovingkindness for yourself. If you’re feeling happy, then that’s fine too. Same thing: just accept what’s there and start cultivating lovingkindness. If you’re not sure how you’re feeling, this is probably because you’re not feeling much. You’re experiencing a neutral feeling. And you accept that and start cultivating lovingkindness toward yourself. It’s all too common for people to go into a downward spiral when they feel bad or feel neutral, because they assume that something is wrong. Equanimity prevents this happening. It stabilizes the mind. We neither reject who we are, nor crave to become someone else. We simply accept what’s going on, and work patiently with it.

help support wildmind

If you benefit from this work, please consider supporting Wildmind. Click here to make a one-time or recurring donation.

And, later in each of these practices, we call to mind people who are friends, people you neither like nor dislike, and people you have a conflicted relationship with. Generally when we think of a friend we’ll experience pleasant feelings, a neutral person neutral feelings, and a difficult person unpleasant feelings. So these practices give us the opportunity to develop equanimity. We cultivate the ability to sit mindfully with the three basic “flavors” of feeling. This is a very important part of lovingkindness practice. The more we’re able to have equanimity for our painful, pleasant, and neutral feelings, the easier it is to cultivate upekkha.

In a more vipassana approach (and by that I means simply meditation that focuses on impermanence, non-self, and the unsatisfactoriness of our experiences, rather than the form of meditation taught by Goenka or other teachers as “Vipassana” or “Insight Meditation”) we can train ourselves to observe that our feelings come and go. This is something we know, of course. But in paying particular attention to this fact — by observing it in action — we take our feelings less personally. We’re not so prone to reacting when we remember the impermanence of our feelings. Also in a vipassana approach we can learn to recognize that because our feelings pass through, they’re not ultimately a part of us: “This is not me; this is not mine; I am not this” was the phrase that the Buddha taught. And lastly, in a vipassana approach to feelings, we can recognize that no feeling is capable, fundamentally, either of permanently destroying our wellbeing or of giving lasting happiness. We recognize the dukkha, or unsatisfactory nature of our experiences, and recognize that it’s not the contents of our experience that create happiness or lack of happiness, but the way we relate to the contents of our experience.

And the most powerful thing we can do to transform our relationship with the contents of our experience is to allow it to be, with equanimity.

PS. You can see all of our 100 Days of Meditation posts here.

Read More

Equanimity is love — even-minded love (Day 78)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

It’s easy to forget that upekkha, or equanimity, is love. The word “equanimity” doesn’t sound very loving. It’s coldly Latinate, lofty, and remote, and doesn’t roll off the tongue easily. Few of us are likely to use the word in everyday conversation. The adjective, equanimous, is even worse! Even the Anglo-Saxon equivalents, “even-minded” and “even-mindedness,” don’t convey any sense of love, or kindness, either. But upekkha is a form of love.

The word in Pali or Sanskrit is from a root īkś, which means “to look upon,” along with a prefix upa-, which can mean many things, but which almost always connotes a sense of closeness, as in upaṭṭhāna (attending) and upakiṇṇa (covered over). So although upekkha is usually taken to have a distant quality, it’s actually quite intimate. It means “looking over” but in the sense of being close up. Perhaps we should render upekkha as something more like “equanimous love” or “even-minded love.”

Upatissa, the author of the first century meditation manual I’ve been sharing with you as we explore the “immeasurable” meditations of loving-kindness, compassion, joyful appreciation, and now even-minded love, describes upekkha like this:

As parents are neither too attentive nor yet inattentive towards any one of their children, but regard them equally and maintain an even mind towards them, so through equanimity one maintains an even mind towards all beings. Thus should equanimity be known.

The fact that Upatissa talks about parenting reminds us of the warm, intimate nature of upekkha. It’s warm, intimate, and wise, not cold and distant.

Any parent who has more than one child is familiar with the scenario he describes! The other day my daughter asked me: “Who do you love more, daddy? Me or my brother.” And then she cleverly added, “It’s OK if it’s not me.” I think she assumed that her addition would pave the way for me to tell her the “truth” that she wanted to hear (or feared hearing) — although the truth is that of course it’s simply not possible for me to quantify and compare the love I have for each of my children.

My kids are in full on dispute with each other at the moment. My four-year-old son is going in for a tonsillectomy tomorrow. He’s terrified of the prospect, naturally, and this is leading to him acting out in various ways, like having temper tantrums and meltdowns, and this has led to him doing things like hitting his six-year-old sister. This in turn has led her to “punishing” him by trying to exacerbate his anxiety — reminding him of his operation at every available opportunity, and sometimes going into graphic detail about how sore his throat will be afterwards, asking what kind of knife the surgeon will use, etc. And that leads him to get revenge by breaking her stuff. It’s a classic tale of spiraling vengeance!

So in the midst of any particular situation of conflict — he’s just broken her special bracelet, or she’s slyly reminded him of his operation by “helpfully” reminding him that he’ll get to have ice cream afterward — there’s no possibility of taking sides. I realize that both are suffering, and I want both to be happy. My son hurts his sister and I realize that both are having a hard time. Yes, he needs to be told that he can’t act this way, but fundamentally he also needs sympathy and to be helped in dealing with his anxiety. My daughter torments her brother and again she has to be encouraged to act less like a tiny torturer and more like a helpful big sister, but she also needs support because she’s suffering from having to cope with his anxiety and the behavior that springs from it.

So I can’t take sides. I don’t mean that I “shouldn’t” take sides. I’m incapable of taking sides. I can’t say “this child deserves happiness more than the other.” That just makes no sense.

So if you really, deeply, recognize that all beings want to be happy, and that they want to be free from suffering — when you realize that each being’s happiness and suffering is as real to them as it is for you and for any other being — there can be no sense of welcoming one person being happy at another’s expense. There is sympathy for all.

The thought may have crossed your mind — and it certainly crossed mine — OK, so Bodhipaksa says he can do this with his children, but his children are still his children, and is it even possible to have this kind of even-minded love for strangers, or for people we’re not related to, like other people’s children? Don’t we have an inbuilt bias, because after all we have a great history of affection and of relatedness with those we’re close to — friends, family — that we don’t share with strangers? It’s a good question. But when one of my kids is involved in an altercation with a child from another family — and this happens almost on a daily basis — I don’t see my own children’s happiness as being any different from, or important than, any other child’s. So in sorting out any dispute I try to maintain an awareness that the kids on both sides are suffering and want happiness. Sure, I’m going to put effort into protecting, feeding, and clothing my own children and not with the neighbors’ kids — but that’s a separate issue. That’s to do with the nature of the relationship we have, and the resources available to me. It doesn’t mean that I think my children’s happiness is more important to them than the neighbors’ kids’ happiness is to them.

This quality of even-minded love is inherent in all the other practices. It’s very similar to the final stage of the lovingkindness, compassion, and joyful appreciation practices, where we cease focusing on individual relationships and simply imbue the mind with those loving qualities, so that any being the mind touches, whether it’s because we encounter them in our lives or because we meet them in our thoughts, is touched by a loving quality. In the final stage of these practices there is a quality of even-mindedness, where we let go of our likes and dislikes. Happiness is desired by all, and suffering is something that all wish to avoid. Our likes and dislikes, our social connectedness or lack thereof, can obscure this truth, but it’s a truth nonetheless. And so the practice of equanimity is to see past these obscurations in order to recognize this truth.

So upekkha is love. It’s even-minded love, where we maintain an even mind towards all beings as we wish them well. It’s not a cold or distant state. It’s simply where we drop our biases and value all beings’ happiness and wellbeing.

PS. You can see all of our 100 Days of Lovingkindness Posts here.

Read More

Guided Upekkha Bhavana (Cultivating Evenmindedness) (Day 77)

This is one of the guided meditations that I led recently in a Google+ Hangout.

This particular one is a guide to developing the quality of equanimity (upekkha), or even-mindedness. There’s an introductory talk in which I outline four different uses of the term equanimity, and then I guided the class through an approach to meditation in which we lose our sense of separateness, so that there’s an element of anatta (not-self) brought into the practice before we begin to cultivate lovingkindness.

The practice also brings together mental stillness and non-reactivity, and metta, or lovingkindness. It’s important to remember that “even-mindedness” (or equanimity) is actually “even-minded love” or “equanimous love” and isn’t a state of uncaring.

PS. You can see all of our 100 Days of Lovingkindness posts here.

Read More

Cultivating equanimity or evenmindedness (upekkha) (Day 76)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

I think of equanimity, as a brahma vihara, as love accompanied by insight.

The fourth of the series of practices we’ve been exploring in this 100 Days of Lovingkindness is evenmindedness, which is more often translated as equanimity. The Pali word for this is upekkha, and in Sanskrit (Pali’s big sister, so to speak) this is upeksha.

The word upekkha actually covers a number of distinct but related qualities, with the common factor being non-reactivity. Here are three ways the Buddha talked about equanimity — and that’s before we talk about the practice of equanimity as a brahmavihara (the brahmaviharas, or divine abidings, beingthe four practices we’re exploring over this 100 days).

  • The word upekkha can point to a quality of not being thrown mentally off balance by our experience. Usually we have a tendency to react with aversion when something unpleasant happens. “Who used the last of the coffee!” And we can get rather giddy when something enjoyable happens, which may seem nice at the time, but it’s very unpleasant when the giddiness ends; witness how you feel when the new iPhone you’re so excited about gets its first scratch. So in developing everyday evenmindedness, we’re more mindful. We notice pleasant and unpleasant experiences arising, and we have a certain attitude of standing back, observing, and not getting too emotionally caught up. We can simply remember that it’s better for us to have equanimity than it is to get worked up, and, as the Buddha put it instead of a fixation on the agreeable, disagreeable, or neutral experience, “equanimity takes its stance.”
  • Upekkha can refer to a factor of jhana, meaning a deep meditative state of stillness and absorption. Equanimity arises as a factor in the third level of jhana. In the first jhana we’re more or less absorbed in the meditation practice, although there’s still some thinking going on. In the second level of jhana our attention is more stabilized in the body, the thinking stops, and we more strongly experience pleasurable bodily feelings that are called rapture. In the third jhana we move our focus to the emotion of joy, which is very stable, and equanimity arises: “Then there is the case where a monk, with the fading of rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful, and alert, and senses joy [sukha] with the body. He enters and remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, ‘Equanimous and mindful, he has a joyful [again, sukha] abiding.'” So this is a deep stillness of mind, in which there is no thought, and joy is firmly established. And then in the fourth jhana, we cease paying attention to the experience of joy, and our equanimity becomes “purified” and even more intensely still. This is a state of deep peace, which is even more satisfying than the joy that was previously experienced.
  • Then there’s upekkha as a synonym for the awakened state. This is where non-reactivity is permanently established (more or less).

These three are covered in one of the Buddha’s teachings, the Niramisa Sutta:

“Now, O monks, what is worldly equanimity? There are these five cords of sensual desire … [things] that are wished for and desired, agreeable and endearing, associated with sense desire and alluring. It is the equanimity that arises with regard to these five cords of sense desire which is called ‘worldly equanimity.’

“Now, what is unworldy equanimity? With the abandoning of pleasure and pain, and with the previous disappearance of gladness and sadness, a monk enters upon and abides in the fourth meditative absorption, which has neither pain-nor-pleasure and has purity of mindfulness due to equanimity. This is called ‘unworldly equanimity.’

“And what is the still greater unworldly equanimity? When a taint-free monk looks upon his mind that is freed of greed, freed of hatred and freed of delusion, then there arises equanimity. This is called a ‘still greater unworldly equanimity.’

But strangely, that list of three types of equanimity doesn’t include any mention of the Brahmavihara.

  • So fourthly, there’s equanimity or evenmindnedness as the fourth brahmavihara.

Evenmindedness as a brahmavihara shares the quality of non-reactivity that the other three senses of upekkha have. But it’s a brahmavihara, so it’s also a loving state. The equanimity of not-reacting to pleasant or unpleasant experiences may or may not be loving. The equanimity of jhana is joyful, but may or may not be loving. Equanimity as a brahmavihara is both non-reactive and is, by definition, loving. The equanimity of enlightenment I can’t speak about from experience, but the later Mahayana tradition emphasized compassion — an obviously loving quality — as an aspect of the enlightened experience, along with wisdom. In the earlier tradition it seems that the emphasis was more on equanimity, but unfortunately that term doesn’t sound very loving, even though it is an aspect of love!

There is an element of insight involved in the brahmavihara of upekkha. This can be love plus an awareness of impermanence, or love plus an awareness of non-self, or love along with an awareness of the intrinsically unsatisfactory nature of our experiences. And it’s this combination of love and insight that I see as characterizing evenmindnedness as a brahmavihara. Equanimity is love plus insight.

So the way I see it is that equanimity as the brahmavihara and equanimity as awakening are really the same thing, it’s just that the insight has sunk in to different degrees. In the brahmavihara we’re letting insight sink in, and in awakening it’s sunk in all the way, so that insight has fully transformed us.

  • We love beings (including ourselves) while understanding that they and every experience they have is impermanent.
  • We love beings (including ourselves) while understanding that our love is not our love and that there is really no separation between “ourselves” and “the world,”
  • And we love beings (including ourselves) while understanding that
    letting go ever more deeply into love and compassion is the way to peace, not clinging to craving and aversion.

So we work with these understandings in the brahmavihara of equanimity, and eventually they cause a deep change within us, and those understandings become permanent. At that point we’re experiencing upekkha — equanimity, evenmindedness — not as a practice but as an ongoing part of the way we are. At that point we’re awakened.

So we’ll be exploring there various aspects of equanimity — not just upekkha as a brahmavihara but also evenmindnedness as a positive quality in everyday life — over the remainder of our 100 Days of Lovingkindness.

Read More

Gratitude for the teachings and teachers (Day 75)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

So you’re here to learn something about meditation. From me, a person who enjoys sharing his experience. Perhaps you’re grateful that I do that. I’m grateful you’re here.

I learned meditation from many people, the first of whom was a man called Susiddhi, another Scot, who was teaching at the Glasgow Buddhist Centre in Scotland. And now that I think about it, I am very grateful for what he taught me, and I’m grateful to the many other teachers I learned from, who often taught each other. This process of teachings being passed on isn’t a linear process of teacher to student. Teachers are also students of each other. Often students teach their teachers. So I’m going to say “thank you” to all these teachers, including the teachers who have been my students.

Most of those people who I learned meditation from learned to meditate, originally at least, from Sangharakshita, an Englishman who went to India to become a Buddhist monk. Now I’m very grateful indeed to Sangharakshita for having gone to India, and for having explored meditation there, and for having sought out a number of teachers, some of whom were Indian, several of whom were Tibetans who had recently left their homeland in order to escape the Chinese occupation and the persecution of their religion, and one Chinese man who happened to be living in Kalimpong. And I’m grateful to all of Sangharakshita’s teachers for having passed on meditation instructions along with their other Dharma teachings. Thank you, Sangharakshita. Thank you, Dhardo Rinpoche, Yogi Chen, and all the other teachers who spent time with him.

And I’m very grateful to Sangharakshita for having returned to Britain after something like 16 years in the East, and for having set up what was at first the Western Buddhist Sangha, but which became the Western Buddhist Order, and is now the Triratna Buddhist Order, of which I’m a part.

I often wonder what my life would be like without the Dharma, and without the spiritual community of which I’m a part. I was a difficult person in my youth, and I’m not sure any of the other Buddhist organizations that were around in my young adulthood could have offered me the challenge and the friendship that I needed. We’ll never know. But when I think of all the people who helped me, even though I made it hard for them to do so, I’m very grateful indeed. There have been times I’ve choked up and been unable to talk while expressing my gratitude. Thank you to all the people who have helped me and challenged me to grow.

I often wonder what my life would be like without the Dharma, and in fact wonder if I would even have a life. I was prone to isolation and despair when I was younger. Two of my friends, one of whom was my best friend for several years, killed themselves. I think it’s possible that that might have happened to me. So I’m grateful to be here, and grateful for the Dharma that made it possible for me to be here.

And the Dharma made it not only possible for me to be here, but possible for me to live more happily, and to be a better person — easier for others to be with, and less prone to making others suffer. I’m much happier and kinder as a result of my Dharma practice.

And this Dharma, which I’ve immersed myself in, and which was made available to me because of the actions of a maverick monk from England who decided he was a Buddhist at the age of 16 and who spent 16 years living and teaching in India, goes back, of course, all the way to the Buddha himself, 2,500 years ago. How many teachers are there between the Buddha and Sangharakshita? We’ve already seen that the process of Dharma “transmission” (I use the scare quotes so that what I’m saying won’t be confused with the linear Zen idea of transmission) isn’t linear. The route back to the Buddha isn’t like a river flowing straight to the ocean, but like entwined braid of criss-crossing streams. The number of teachers between me (or Sangharakshita) and the Buddha is literally uncountable. How many people there are for me to feel gratitude for? There’s no shortage!

And there’s the Buddha himself. One of the things I most admire about him, and that I’m most grateful for, is that he refused to settle. He said he felt a “thorn in the heart,” and he didn’t settle for putting up with that. He had a comfortable life, even if he wasn’t the prince that legend makes him out to be. He didn’t settle, and went off wandering. He attained deep states of meditation with Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta, and could have settled for those spiritual accomplishments, but he didn’t. Nor did he settle for becoming a leader of either man’s group. He explored asceticism, and didn’t settle. And then he rediscovered the jhanas, and didn’t settle for those, either, although he realized that these were the path to awakening. And he didn’t settle until he’d found the thorn in his heart and plucked it out. He could have just enjoyed the rest of his days peacefully meditating, but again he didn’t settle, and spent 45 years relentlessly wandering and teaching. How fortunate for us! Or for me, anyway. I’m deeply grateful for his perseverance, and even though he’s long dead I say “Thank you,” and bow deeply. Gratitude turns naturally into puja, or devotion.

And it’s incredibly lucky that the Dharma found its way through the centuries — found its way to us. It seems that had been enlightened teachers before the Buddha, but they were pre-Iron Age, and a society living at a subsistence level couldn’t support an ongoing spiritual community. We call these previous awakened individuals Paccekabuddhas, solitary Buddhas, not because they lived alone (as people erroneously think) but because they were isolated in time, leaving no enduring legacy. In the Buddha’s own day there was once a drought so severe that people criticized the monks and nuns for begging from householders. This was potentially a lineage-killing event. We’re lucky the sangha survived this. Buddhism was in fact wiped out in India by persecution from Hindus and Muslims, and it’s only because Buddhist scriptures were transported to Sri Lanka that we have an extensive collection of records of early Buddhism. There’s much to be grateful for.

Being grateful makes me happy. And every moment in my life is an opportunity to be grateful. I should make more effort to remember that!

PS. You can see all of our 100 Days of Lovingkindness Posts here.

Read More

“A person of integrity is grateful and thankful” — The Buddha (Day 74)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

The Buddha, in Bhikkhu Thanissaro’s translation at least, said, “A person of integrity is grateful and thankful.” This is one of those thoughts that I’m profoundly grateful for because I don’t think it would ever have occurred to me. Yet searching the web for the terms “gratitude” and “integrity” brought me to an interesting book, The Gratitude Factor: Enhancing Your Life Through Grateful Living, by Charles M. Shelton.

Shelton explores this theme of integrity and gratitude. He distinguishes between thankfulness (which involves being appreciative of some specific person or thing) and gratitude (which is a deeper and more pervasive attitude to life consisting of being grateful not just for specific things but for living itself). And he observes that many people who discuss this distinction, and who value gratitude over thankfulness, see gratitude as being related to “virtue” and “integrity.”

Here’s the connection that Shelton makes:

A life of deepening gratitude requires that we commit ourselves to goodness; only people of integrity live truly good lives. Only conscience can ensure that we are women and men of integrity. Conscience is a uniquely human quality that requires us to make choices that reflect goodness, to follow thought on our choices, and to commit ourselves to the choices we make. Gratitude is linked to conscience just by the fact that we could never acknowledge, live out, or give back our giftedness unless we had within us some prior moral sense that recognizes the gracious generosity of giving and motivates us to give back in turn for what we have received.

I’ve pointed out often that the brain is modular, and not a single system running smoothly as one unit. It involves cooperation, competition, inhibition of one module by another. And so our selves are modular in exactly the same way. We don’t have “a self.” And to the extent to which the various modules in the brain are operating on conflicting assumptions, to that extent the more unhappy and conflicted our experience will be. When some parts of the brain are screaming that hanging on selfishly to what we have is the way to be happy, and another is saying that compassionately giving to another person is the way to be happy, then — stuck in this conflict — we’re not going to be happy. And in fact it’s the latter of these two parts of the brain that is right; giving creates more happiness than holding on.

So wisdom helps us to recognize what truly brings peace and happiness, and mindfulness and volition, informed by that wisdom, help us to educate the more grasping and the more aggressive parts of the brain and encourages them to “stand down” so that we can act in ways that bring about peace and happiness. Perhaps we’re enlightened when those more primitive parts of the brain are completely re-educated. Or perhaps they simply go offline, or their inputs are so weakened that they can never, after the point of awakening, have a real effect on our behavior. I just don’t know.

But the thing is that our multiple and conflicting selves become more integrated around our wisdom, so that there’s less inner conflict. The whole of us becomes an expression of, and an accessory to, that which is most wise in us. All spiritual practice involves a process of integration, which leads to “integrity,” which means “wholeness.” And this is a wholeness centered on “the good.”

Mudita — joyful appreciation, focusing on the good in ourselves and others — is one important factor in bringing about this sense of wholeness and integrity. The less we obsess about what’s wrong with the world, the less we feel out of place in the world, and the less we feel conflicted and defensive. And so our sense of existing in a state of polarization is reduced. Our sense of being an isolated “self” is reduced. Our being becomes more relaxed, more diffused. We see ourselves as essentially good, and we see our role as being to encourage the emergence of the good that is in others.

Shelton also notes:

Individuals who feel interiorly a sense of their own goodness appear to possess an integrity that flows outwardly; they claim that a fundamental stance of goodness exists in the world. For them the world is an inviting place that encourages them to spread and give away their own goodness.

As I continue to explore mudita as part of our 100 Days of Lovingkindness, that statement more and more closely resembles my own experience. I hope this is true for you as well.

PS. You can see all of our 100 Days of Livingkindness posts here.

Read More

Appreciation and impermanence (Day 73)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

Jack Kornfield, in his lovely Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, says “The trouble is, you think you have time.” He doesn’t say what we don’t have time for, but presumably he means that we put off important things because we assume that we can do them later. The trouble is, there may not be any “later.”

Recognizing that our time here is short can help us appreciate life more. I opened my book, Living as a River, by discussing how an awareness of impermanence can enhance our appreciation of our loved ones. When married people were asked to reflect on the death of their (still living) spouse, they found that they could more easily overlook their partner’s flaws — those socks on the bedroom floor seemed less significant — and found it easier to appreciate their good qualities. You might think that reflecting on death would be a downer, but in fact an awareness of impermanence enhances appreciation.

This applies to everything in life, including our lives themselves. One of the things the Buddha encouraged us to do was to reflect on our own impermanence, and how old age, sickness, and death are inevitable. And in the light of that we reflect that we’re responsible for our own lives and our own actions. He was saying, in essence, life is short, make good use of it. When people hear this they sometimes think it means “life is short, have as much fun as possible.” But that’s a rather alienated view, I think. If you really take on board how short life is, you’re forced to recognize what’s truly most valuable in your life. And for most of us that’s experiencing and giving as much love as possible, and doing things that are meaningful. “Fun” comes pretty far down the list, if it’s there at all.

Being aware that each breath you take is impermanent makes it seem more significant and worthy of attention. Notice your breathing, aware that each breath comes only once. Each breath is unique.

In fact, as you pay attention to your breathing, notice how each moment is unique. That moment and that moment and that moment — each one is there so fleetingly. Each one is precious. This may sound like a platitude until you “get” it. Then it’s a simple and profound truth: each moment is precious.

But let’s think again about those around us, about those close to us, about those we’re connected to with ties of blood or love, about those who barely register as feeling beings, about those we don’t like or can’t stand to be around. You’re going to die. They’re all going to die.

Life is unpredictable. You have no idea if you’ll ever see them again, or if they’ll ever see you again. The people you see today — this may be the last time you see them. And maybe you should behave as if this was indeed the last time you were going to see them. What last words would you like them to remember you having said to them, should you die tomorrow? What last words would you like to remember having said, should they die tomorrow?

Look at those people, as if you’re never going to see them again. Let yourself feel vulnerable and tender. And let yourself feel affection for them. Let yourself appreciate their basic goodness. Let your judgements and your tendency to focus on the negative fall away, and recognize that you’re surrounded by good people who are struggling to be happy. Let yourself love.

The trouble is, you think you’ll have time to love later, and you might not, so behave as if you don’t have time to waste, and let yourself love — now.

PS. You can see all our 100 Days of Lovingkindness posts here.

Read More

Look in the mirror. What do you see? (Day 72)

100 Days of LovingkindnessAs we get toward the end of our period of exploring mudita, or joyful appreciation, I wanted to share this clip from Luc Besson’s “Angel-A” (2005). “Angel-A” is about an angel, played by Danish actress Rie Rasmussen, who intervenes to rescue André (Jamel Debbouze), a self-loathing scam artist on the verge of killing himself, and teaches him to love himself.

“Look at your body, battered by the lack of love and trust. Don’t you see it deserves a little care from you? Don’t reject this injured body which has supported you so long, never complaining. Tell it that it’s important, that it has its place. Give it what it deserves.”

(“Regarde ton corps meurtri par le manque d’amour, de confiance. Tu ne vois pas qu’il merite qu’on s’occupe un peu de lui? Alors ne le rejete pas se corps blessé qui t’as supporté depuis si longtemps sans jamais se plaindre… Dis-lui qu’il a son importance, qu’il a sa place. Donne-lui ce qu’il mérite.”)

Can you look in the mirror and love what you see? Can you say to yourself, “I love you”?

I suspect this is a practice of appreciation that we could all benefit from.

PS. You can see a list of all our 100 Days of Lovingkindness Posts here.

Read More

An antidote to fear (Day 71)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

An ancient Buddhist commentary, the Path of Liberation, says of joyful appreciation, or mudita, that “non-fear is its function.” Joyful appreciation is an antidote to fear. It gives courage.

I remember precisely the first moment I noticed this in the context of cultivating lovingkindness, which is of course related to joyful appreciation, since both qualities are part of the “four immeasurables.”

At the time, I was having the New York Times delivered to my house every morning. It was one of my great pleasures to have a leisurely breakfast with a cup of tea, toast, and some intelligent analysis from the Op-Ed pages. But first I had to get the newspaper, which was tossed onto the front porch every morning by the delivery driver.

It was always an awkward moment for me walking out onto the porch in my bathrobe and slippers, with my hairy legs and knobbly ankles exposed to the world. I somehow felt judged by the passing drivers, even though I’m sure they never noticed me. And so I’d get a bit grouchy as I retrieved my rolled-up copy of the Times.

This was fear, really. It was the fear of what people thought of me, whether they judged me, whether they disliked me or laughed at me. You can tell yourself that all this is silly: that the drivers are too busy driving to notice you, that they’ll probably never see you again, that they’re probably not petty enough to care about how you look. You can tell yourself that it doesn’t matter; even if people have unkind thoughts about you, that’s their stuff, not yours. But still, there’s fear.

Sometimes I’m rather slow on the uptake, and it can take me a while to realize that I’m suffering. So it probably took a few weeks of grumpily retrieving the Times before I noticed what was going on. And my first response, once I did notice that I was suffering, was to wish the passers-by well. As drivers swished by, or as neighbors walked their dogs past the house, I’d slip into saying “May you be well; may you be happy; may you be free from suffering.”

And the fear vanished. Instantly. There was no more worrying what people thought about me. There was no grumpiness. There was just me, picking up my paper, feeling joy as I wished others well.

The thing is that there’s no room in the mind for both well-wishing and worrying. If you fill the mind with well-wishing, there’s no mental bandwidth left for worrying what people think about you.

And you can’t appreciate people and also think the worst about them at the same time. You can see people in a positive light — they’re beings who want to be happy, trying to be happy as best they can — or you can see them in a negative light, where you assume that they’re obsessed about you and your bony ankles. But you can’t do both at the same time.

And mudita — joyful appreciation — works just the same way. We can’t appreciate and rejoice in the good qualities of others and also think the worst of them. Mudita protects against fear.

And a spirit of appreciation affects not just how we see others, but how we see ourselves. So rather than focusing on our imagined deficiencies (I may obsess about my hairy calves but I’m sure no one else does) we just don’t notice those things, and instead focus on what’s positive in ourselves. Mudita is joyful, and when you’re happy you just don’t obsess about your faults.

Mudita connects us with everything positive in life. It opens us up to our full potential, and to others’ full potential. Rather than relating to our own or others’ faults, real or imagined, we see them as capable of boundless kindness, compassion, and wisdom. When we see the world with joyful appreciation, we see life as something to be lived, not feared.

PS. You can see a full list of our 100 Days of Lovingkindness posts here.

Read More
Menu

Wildmind is a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative. Explore the benefits of becoming a supporter.

X