The Heart of Lovingkindness
(adpated from -Ayya Khema’s What is Love. 1923-1997, an ordianed Buddhist nun in Theravada tradition)
We are all subject to our emotions and always think in ways based on them. So it’s extremely important to work in a wholesome way with our emotions.
The Buddha gave us the Four Supreme Efforts for the mind, and the Four Sublime Emotions for the heart.
The Four Supreme Efforts for the mind are (1) not to let an unwholesome thought arise which has not yet arisen, (2) not to let an unwholesome thought continue which has already arisen, (3) to make a wholesome thought arise which has not yet arisen, (4) to make a wholesome thought continue which has already arisen.
The Four Emotions for the heart (1) lovingkindness (metta), (2) compassion (karuna), (3) joy with others (4) (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha)—the “divine abodes.”
When we have perfected these four emotions of the heart, we have heaven on earth, paradise in our own heart. I think everybody knows that above us is the sky and not heaven. We have heaven and hell within us and can experience this quite easily. So even without having complete concentration in meditation and profound insights, the Four Divine Abidings, or Supreme Emotions, enable us to live on a level of truth and lovingness, security, and certainty, which gives life a totally different quality.
When we are able to arouse lovingkindness in our hearts without any cause, just because love is the heart’s quality, we feel secure. It is impossible to buy security, even though many people would like to do so. But when we create certainty within, through a loving heart, we feel assured that our reactions and feelings are not going to be detrimental to our own or other people’s happiness. Many fears will vanish.
Metta—the first Supreme Emotion of the heart—is usually translated as “loving kindness or boundless friendliness.”
We have many ideas about love. The most pervasive desciption we have about love is romantic love, which is propagated in our culture in an idealized form. The concept is that love arises between two people that are utterly compatible, wonderfully attractive, and who for some odd reason have a undenialble chemical attraction toward each other. Based on this crtieria of mysterious attraction the love, in this way, can not last. Most people find out during the course of their lifetime—that this kind of love is impermanent, based on conditions that will inevitably change. Most people then think it’s their own fault or the other person’s fault or the fault of both, and they try a new to find a new love. Or sometimes the love can continue and transform beyond the initial basis for attraction and evolves in this way. This may be the most common way we think of love in our society. But that is no where near the meaning of lovingkindness (metta).
In reality, lovingkindness is a natural pure quality of your own heart, arising independantly. If we were aware that we all contain unconditioned love within us, and that we can foster and develop it, we would certainly consider giving that far more attention than we do. In all developed societies there are institutions to foster the expansion of the mind, from the age of three until death. But we don’t have any institutions to develop the heart, so we have to do it ourselves.
Most people are either waiting for or relating to the one person who makes it possible for them to feel love at last. But that kind of love is beset with fear, and fear can develope into hate. What we hate is the idea that this special person may die, walk away, have other feelings and thoughts—in other words, the fear that love may end, because we believe that love is situated strictly in that one person. Since there are six billion people on this planet, this is rather absurd. Yet most people think that our love-ability is dependent upon other people and having that those people near us. That creates the fear of loss, and love beset by fear. We create a dependency on perhaps another person, and on his or her ideas and reactions and emotions. There is no freedom in that, no freedom to love. If we see quite clearly that love is a quality within us that we all have, then we can start tap into that lovingkindness. Any skill that we have, we have developed through practice. If we’ve learned to type, we’ve had to practice. We can practice lovingkindness and eventually we’ll have access to that skill.
Love has nothing to do with finding somebody who is worth loving, or checking out people to see whether they are truly lovable. If we investigate ourselves honestly enough, we find that we’re not all that lovable either, so why do we expect somebody else to be totally lovable? It has nothing to do with the qualities of the other person, or whether he or she wants to be loved, is going to love us back, or needs love. Everyone needs love.
On the spiritual path, there’s nothing to get, and everything to get rid of. Obviously, the first thing to let go of is trying to “get” love, and instead to give it. That’s the secret of the spiritual path. One has to give oneself wholeheartedly. Whatever we do half heartedly, brings halfhearted results. How can we give ourselves? By not holding back.
If we want to love, we are looking for spiritual growth.
Disliking others is far too easy. Anybody can do it and justify it because, of course, people are often not very bright and don’t act the way we’d like them to act. Disliking makes grooves in the heart, and it becomes easier and easier to fall into these grooves. We not only dislike others, but also ourselves. If one likes or loves oneself, it’s easier to love others, which is why we always start loving-kindness meditations with the focus on ourselves. That’s not egocentricity. If we don’t like ourselves because we have faults, or have made mistakes, we will transfer that dislike to others and judge them accordingly. We are not here to be judge and jury. First of all, we don’t even have the qualifications. It’s also a very unsatisfactory job, doesn’t pay, and just makes people unhappy.
People often feel that it’s necessary to be that way to protect themselves. But what do we need to protect ourselves from? We have to protect our bodies from injury. Do we have to protect ourselves from love? We are all in this together, living on this planet at the same time, breathing the same air. We all have the same limbs, needs, and emotions. The idea that we are separate beings is an illusion. Practice meditation diligently with perseverance and get over this illusion of separation. Meditation makes it possible to see the totality of all manifestation. There is one creation and we are all part of it. What are we afraid of? We are afraid to love ourselves, afraid to love creation, afraid to love others because we know negative things about ourselves or others. Knowing that we all do things wrong, that we have unhappy or unwholesome thoughts, is no reason not to love. A mother who loves her children doesn’t stop loving them when they act ignorantly or unpleasant. So, if a mother can love a child who is making difficulties for her, similarly can we too love ourselves?
Loving oneself and knowing oneself are not the same thing. Love is the warmth of the heart, the connectedness, the protection, the caring, the concern, the embrace that comes from acceptance and understanding for oneself. Having practiced that, we are in a much better position to practice love toward others. They are just as unlovable as we are, and they have just as many unwholesome thoughts. But that doesn’t matter. We are not judge and jury. When we realize that we can accept and love ourselves—there is a feeling of being at ease. We don’t constantly have to become or pretend, or strive to be somebody. We can just be. It’s nice to just be, and not try to be “somebody.” Love makes this all possible. By the same token, when we relate to other people, we can let them just be and love them.
Lovingkindness can be cultivated in the heart with great benefit to ourselves and others. The ultimate destination is egolessness, because the more lovingkindness there is in the heart, the less ego. The more the ego diminishes, the more love can come from the heart. When other beings are taken into the heart, the self has to step aside to make room—and illusory boundary of separation dissolves.
Learn from this tree:
It offers its bountiful canopy of shade
Over your head
Rain or shine; Rain or shine
No matter whence
You come to it
And it never,
Not even out of innocent curiosity, sizes you up:
“Hey stranger! Where’d you come from?”
–by Esma’il Kho’i
translated by Niloufar Talebi