Loving-kindness and Compassion

compassionLoving-kindness and Compassion

Within Buddhism, loving-kindness (Sanskrit: maitri) is defined as the wish for all beings to have happiness and its causes. Compassion (Sanskrit: karuna) is defined as the wish for all beings to be free from suffering and its causes. Loving-kindness and compassion are traditionally practiced as two of the ‘Four Immeasurable Attitudes’ (Sanskrit: brahmaviharahs) – the other two being joy and equanimity. ‘Joy’ (as one of the four immeasurable attitudes) highlights the fact that authentic loving-kindness and compassion can only manifest from a mind that is infused with meditative bliss, and that has transmuted all afflictive mental states. Equanimity emphasizes the need for unconditionality in the cultivation of loving-kindness and compassion that are extended in equal and unlimited measure to all sentient beings (i.e., irrespective of whether we consider them to be a “friend” or an “enemy”).

‘Bodhichitta’ is a Sanskrit word that means the ‘mind of awakening’. Bodhichitta refers to an attitude or motivation to undertake spiritual practice for the primary purpose of benefitting others. People who adopt and act upon such an attitude are known as bodhisattvas (or aspirants thereof). The bodhisattva essentially dedicates their live (and all future lives) towards alleviating the suffering of other beings. From the Buddhist perspective, this represents a win-win situation because it not only aids other beings both materially and spiritually, but also helps us as practitioners to adopt a humble demeanour. Being humble is a favourable quality because it aids us in dismantling our attachment to the ‘ego-self’. As we discussed in our recent blog about ‘Mindwithness’, ego-attachment is considered to be the root-cause of all suffering.

As aspiring bodhisattvas we should try to allow loving-kindness and compassion to suffuse all of our actions. Being a bodhisattva doesn’t mean that we single-handedly have to “save the world”, or end poverty in the third world. If that was the case then we would have to conclude that all of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas had failed in fulfilling their role. Rather, what we should do is follow in the footsteps of all of the enlightened beings who have already walked the path to liberation. The first steps on this path involve us cultivating compassion and loving-kindness towards ourselves.

When we have unconditional love for our own being then all of our thoughts, words, and actions become an expression of that love. In fact, until we resolve the hatred and conflict within ourselves, we are not in a strong position to try to resolve the conflict and problems that exist in the world around us. If we try to convince others to live peacefully and responsibly when we have tension and conflict in our own hearts, then despite our best intentions, we are just going to create more suffering and confusion.

When we are gentle and kind towards ourselves, and when we have deep compassion for our own suffering and pain, then we begin to see the world in a very different way. We no longer experience life as a constant struggle or an unending flow of dissatisfaction. In fact, not only do we begin to see the world differently but the world begins to see us differently. We begin to tune into how to act skilfully in any given situation – phenomena begin to talk to us and the path becomes clearer and clearer. When unconditional kindness and compassion have flowered in the mind, the earth breathes out a huge sigh of relief. She relaxes a little because amidst all of the chaos and exploitation of her natural resources, the earth knows that she has a new friend and guardian – a child of the Buddhas who walks gently and gracefully upon her shoulders.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Meditation Research: The Top Ten

Meditation Research: The Top Ten

getting ahead

Based upon an extensive and comprehensive review of the literature, and based upon findings from our own research, the following is what we consider to be some key findings and/or emerging insights from the scientific study of meditation.

1.When correctly practiced, meditation can improve physical, psychological, and spiritual wellbeing.

2. Poorly administered meditation training can lead to deleterious health consequences.

3. In general, people (including many academicians) have a poor understanding of what constitutes meditation practice.

4. In general, people have a poor understanding of what constitutes authentic spiritual practice. For example, spiritual practice is often confused with religious practice (which may or may not be spiritually inclined).

5. There is a tendency for people to search outside of themselves for spiritual happiness (i.e., to believe that ‘liberation’ can only be granted by some kind of enlightened being or divine entity). However, the evidence suggests that people experience the greatest gains in spiritual and psychological wellbeing when they start to look ‘inside’ and take accountability for their own spiritual growth.

6. Most people have difficulty in understanding that they inherently don’t exist. In other words, they ‘cling’ to the idea of an independent and intrinsically existing ‘self’ or ‘I’. This ‘addiction to self’, which we term ‘ontological addiction’ (Shonin, Van Gordon, & Griffiths, 2013), appears to play an integral role in the maintenance of psychological distress and spiritual bewilderment.

7. Simply letting the mind rest in the present moment, whilst anchoring ones concentration on the natural flow of the in-breath and out-breath, appears to calm the mind and reduce psychological and autonomic arousal.

8. It seems that spiritual practice comes low-down on people’s priorities with most people placing greater importance on material pursuits (e.g., career, wealth, reputation, etc.).

9. In consequence, most people are unprepared for death and generally meet it with a great deal of fear and regret. Furthermore, although there is a superficial understanding that death is inevitable, it seems that most people are self-deceived due to the construction of a deeply-held and maladaptive belief that death will never happen to them.

10. ‘Spiritual addiction’ (Shonin, Van Gordon, & Griffiths, 2013) appears to be a multifaceted and valid construct in which ego-clinging plays an important aetiological role.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

The Ear-Whispered Mahavairocana Tantra

The following are some verses we have selected from the Ear-Whispered Mahavairochana Tantra.

inner_peace1

I am Mahavairocana, the one Mind
All things arise as me
I am the entirety of space and time
Yet you will not find me there

If you take now and all that occurs as the path
Allowing perceived and perceiver to merge as one
Seeing my face in all that unfolds
Then you forever enter my deathless realm

When you realize that throughout all lifetimes
There has never once been any coming or going
Nothing has ever been accomplished, nothing left undone
You perfect the three kayas in a single instant

With pristine mirror-like cognizance
Relax into the awareness of your intrinsic wakefulness
All things are Mind-born, yet don’t search for that Mind
Noble one, you have been introduced!

Om Mahavairocana Hum

May these words of profound meaning,
ever be protected from corruption by evil or narrow minds.
May they help to point out the way to fortunate beings
(both present and future) of this degenerate age.
Atte [tatte] natte vanatte anade nadi kunadi [svaha]

Ven. Edo Shonin & Ven. William Van Gordon

Mindwithness

practice 3Mindwithness!

The Pali word for mindfulness is sati (Sanskrit: smrti). Although the term ‘mindfulness’ is the most popular rendition of sati, the word sati actually means ‘to remember’ (i.e., ‘to remember’ to be aware of the present moment). In fact, the term mindfulness doesn’t really capture the full intended meaning of sati. The main reason for this is because to be ‘mindful’ indicates that one should be ‘full of mind’. Being full of mind implies that there is a lot of mental activity and cognitive exertion. However, when we practice mindfulness, we’re not aiming to fill ourselves up with too much mind. Having our minds full-up all of the time becomes very stressful and tiring. Too many people have their minds full-up. If our minds are too full then there is no room for wholesome thoughts to grow and flourish. In a full mind there is no space for simply being, and there is no emptiness to nurture and refresh our being.

Therefore, rather than endeavouring to remain mindful, perhaps the meditation practitioner should actually be trying to achieve a state of ‘mindlessness’. However, being ‘mindless’ equally doesn’t quite capture the essence of sati because rather than being without the mind, what we are attempting to achieve during sati practice is to be fully ‘with the mind’. Perhaps ‘mindwithness’ is therefore a better term to describe the practice of sati!

Nowadays, more and more people are becoming interested in the practice of mindfulness and people are beginning to make a living from teaching mindfulness. From one point of view, this could be a good thing. If people are truly living meditatively then it will certainly be beneficial for the individual as well as for society as a whole. However, from another point of view, trying too hard to ‘spread’ the teachings of mindfulness may actually contribute to the decline of the Buddhist teachings.

Let us give an example to explain what we mean by this. Recently, we were giving a series of talks about meditation and Buddhism in India. It just so happened that at one of the conference venues, a mindfulness and yoga retreat was also taking place. It was really easy to identify which people were involved in the retreat because, with the exception of just one or two participants, they all behaved in a similar way. The retreat participants would walk around the grounds with an air of superiority, with their hands cupped together and held in front of them, head half bent to the side, and with a ‘holier than thou’ smile permanently fixed across their faces. The only exception to this behaviour was when they thought they were out of public view and would slouch around or gossip about their fellow participants.

Mindfulness practice should enable us to become more familiar with the chaotic and unruly nature of the untamed mind. The idea is that we begin to appreciate just how much ego is involved in each and every one of our thoughts and perceptions. It’s when we begin to become aware of the extent to which ego has overwhelmed the mind that we can take steps to loosen ego’s hold. Effectively then, the practice that the abovementioned retreat participants were making was just for show. They were trying to be fashionable and keep-up with the latest spiritual trend. Indeed, for these people, rather than a means of spiritual development, their (so called) practice of ‘mindfulness’ was actually acting as an obstacle to spiritual growth. Their practice was reinforcing the ego rather than dismantling it.

So we should definitely try to be natural in our practice of mindfulness. We should try to be honest with ourselves and check to see whether we are the type of person who varies their practice depending on who might be looking. It is also useful for us to check whether we are straining too hard to be mindful. Indeed, rather than straining too hard, we should try to adopt a relaxed and spacious approach. Using your breath as an anchor if you like, try to expand your mindful awareness so that it encompasses the entire present moment. Try and make the ‘here and now’ your object of meditation. Whatever is happening right now – that becomes your practice. This includes external phenomena such as sounds and sights, as well as internal noumina such as thoughts and feelings. Effortlessly incorporate them all into your field of awareness – without any separation between you the observer and the object that you are observing. In other words, rather than trying to remain aware of the present moment, just try to simply be the present moment.

Ven Edo Shonin and Ven William Van Gordon

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