The Giving of Loving-kindness
One lesson I have learned from the Buddhist teachings is this possibility of enhancing our natural sense of love and concern for self or others. Before coming into contact with such a teaching, I have unconsciously carried around with me the idea that there is not much I can do with the amount of love or kindness I find within myself. Whether I feel loving or not towards a person, that’s the way it is; there isn’t supposed to be anything I can do to change it. The notion that, by diligent and skillful cultivation, I can change the way I view and relate to someone in terms of kindness and concern has been a true blessing for me.
Think about the implications of this one small idea: no longer am I trapped within the confines of whatever spontaneous feeling or perception I have towards any one person; I can change it for the better. Even if it does not affect that person in any significant way, it would definitely make a difference to how I see and relate to him, think (or not think) about him, and so on. It is going to benefit me.
The heart of this practice of giving and radiating loving-kindness towards one person is the willingness to pay attention. Instead of following our usual habit of distractions, we gently return our attention again and again to this one person, who is now the focal point of our practice of kindness. We pay attention to how this person appear to us, what we really know about him–his hopes and fears, his happiness and unhappiness. Sustaining that focus of attention, we direct towards him a few sincere, heartfelt thoughts of loving-kindness. When repeated over a period of time and when done with as much sincerity we can find, subtle (and not so subtle) changes can be observed. Usually it manifests first through the unconscious channels of communication, before it comes to affect how we consciously feel and act towards that person.
Just in case the thought of loving all those 6 billions people, all the countless sentient being, or even one more person seems too much of an ask, I like to remind myself the other translation term for loving-kindness (Sanskrit, maitri; Pali, metta): friendliness. I may not feel inclined to love someone, but at the minimum I can be friendly towards him. So, that’s how I let myself off the big hook of having to love so many beings, including those I truly dislike–I can aim to be a little more friendly towards them.
This is the giving of loving-kindness, a simple act whose benefits are praised by the Buddha as far exceeding any worldly merit. Why not give it a try?
(The audio files of this and other guided meditations can be found here on VI website.)
Published on November 16, 2011.
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