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Teachings on Loving Kindness and the Four Brahma Viharas
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Teachings on Loving Kindness and the Four Brahma Viharas (26 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
November 8, 2015 - Dallas, Texas

Thank you, dear friends, for your practice tonight. I was a little bit late, but I was so happy when I walked in, and there were people practicing walking meditation. It was very beautiful and very inspiring. You don't always need to have me around, which is good.

I think in the year 2016 our theme will be the sangha. I take refuge in the sangha. I think we are going to really need to move much more into that energy of sangha next year, especially because I don't know what my health will be like next year at all. I have no idea. So I want us for the next couple of months to really practice deeply and strongly and appreciate that I can be here, and then next year, let's really practice taking refuge in Buddha, dharma, and sangha—take refuge in our international community founded by Thich Nhat Hanh and take refuge in each other and in the solidity of the practice so that even if I am not always here, you are still going to be able to practice strongly.

Actually, that would make me very happy, because if things just fell apart if I was not on earth anymore, I think at least my human self would be sad. Probably my actual enlightened being or whatever, spirit, would be sad, but from my human perspective, I would be really saddened. So I would love for you to take care of the sangha.

How many have heard of the teachings on metta meditation? And how many have heard the teachings of the four qualities of the heart: love, joy, compassion, and equanimity? Okay. So I guess that is what I will teach since many of you have not heard of them.

So what we did tonight was based on a traditional step-by-step method of lovingkindness meditation. In Pali, lovingkindness is metta. In Sanskrit, it is maitri. It means loving kindness, friendliness, heartfulness. And in the traditional step-by-step process, it starts with sending love to yourself. And since some people are more visual or some people are more emotional and some people are more intellectual, depending on how you want to do it, you can combine them all or just to use one as your main method. You can visualize blessing and light, or you can feel, just feel, love for yourself, or you can just say words silently in your mind: May I be happy. May I be peaceful. Or, may you be happy, etc.

So it is up to you how you want to do it, if you want to combine them or just use one or two of those methods. We just did them all in one 25-minute meditation, but if you like, you can spend a whole meditation on just one step or even a whole week on one step until you really, really feel that deeply, overflowing with that light and love. So send yourself love. This is the first step.

The second traditional step is done after you feel full of that love, overflowing in yourself, then you send it to someone very easy to love because when you think of them really there are only positive things you think about. Not like, say, a spouse or a child—unless of course you only regard your spouse and child with only pure thoughts of love—but usually in romantic or family relationships, there is a little mixture, right? You love your spouse and then sometimes you fight. You love your child, but sometimes they just drive you crazy—you know, things like that. So do not choose that yet. Choose, say, a benefactor or a spiritual teacher or someone who has always been just positive to you and it is so easy to think of them and send them blessing using visualization, feeling, or words.

And then, that actually starts the ball rolling for you to allow yourself the ability to exercise sending that overflow of love and light, and then once you feel established in that, you can go on to the third traditional step, which is you can send the love to someone easy to love, but maybe a little mixture if you want. Then that means family. That means spouse. That means friends.

So you can do that, and then the next step after that is someone neutral to you. So I always think of the cashiers at my grocery store, because I see them all the time, at least once a week, so I just see them in my mind. I bless them, hope that they are not having to stand all day long, and if they do have to stand all day long, that they will not be too tired, and that hopefully they get a good, just wage for their work. Just that sort of thing. Or maybe somebody at the bus stop, maybe someone you just see at the bank, or whoever—just neutral to you, but you know them.

And then, when you feel established in that love and light strongly, then you can go to the more difficult steps—and I like to divide them up a little bit. So someone a little bit difficult to love—not some mass murderer or whatever or Hitler. Not yet. Just wait. So practice with someone a little difficult to love. See them as a human being who is suffering and the reason why they are doing such harmfulness maybe because of that suffering, and maybe they didn't have a spiritual friend, or maybe they were not loved fully, or something happened where they just got off track, but there is still hope. There is still a bit of light and love in them, and you just want to pray for them and encourage that light and love to grow in them and send them that lovingkindness of light and love.

And if you feel strong in doing that a few times with different people, then you can go to the next step, just someone difficult to love—someone very difficult maybe—and begin to send lovingkindness and compassion toward them. You do not have to like them to love them, right? You can send love even though you despise what they have done or whatever. You want to be able to touch that small, small little spark of light that is still left in them and encourage it, pray for it to grow so they may be transformed.

You know, the Buddha encountered a mass murderer named Angulimala. The name Angulimala means, I think, 99 fingers.

Audience Member: Angulimala means finger garland in Pali.

ChiSing: Yeah. He made a necklace out of people's fingers that he killed, and he had 99 so far. And this guy saw the Buddha in this nearby village and everyone else had fled because they were so scared. Here was the Buddha walking vivaciously, mindfully, and it just angered Angulimala. Anyway, to make a long story short, Angulimala basically said, "Hey! Stop!" And the Buddha kept walking, and that just made Angulimala even more angry. He was so angry, so he ran. He said, "I said stop, you monk!" and said the Buddha smiled at him and looked at him with eyes of love and understanding and compassion, and the Buddha said, "I stopped a long time ago. It is you who have not yet stopped." And Angulimala was like, "What? What are you talking about?" And the Buddha said, "I stopped my hatred, greed, delusion, and suffering a long time ago. You, my friend, still have yet to stop all of that suffering and aversion and hatred and anger. But if you will follow my way, I will show you how."

And for some reason, Angulimala was so shocked by this monk's loving kindness and his peaceful words, that just blew his mind away. Somehow it touched his heart. Something got touched somehow, and he just began to sob and cry, and he fell on his knees and begged the Buddha to please help him. And the Buddha made him a monk, and eventually he became one of the most peaceful monks with a good reputation, of compassion and kindness.

Anyway, the story goes on. That is just part of the story. There is also a sutra on the five ways of putting an end to anger that the Buddha taught. I love that sutra, and I hope you will read it sometime. Maybe we will send it by e-mail this week to you if you don't have a copy. It really is helpful to meditate on if we are angry with someone, how to process that and resolve that so that you can come to peace with that.

And so the last step in this lovingkindness meditation is to be able to send that love and light to all beings. You can even divide it up: all beings to the North, all beings to the South, the East, the West, all human beings, all animal beings, all whatever kind of beings, all female beings, all male beings, all Buddhist beings, all Hindu beings, all Christian beings, etc. You can divide it up into not just all beings on the earth, but all beings in all worlds.

But that is a basic outline of a traditional method, but in modern times, many teachers, including myself, we have come up with another step before the first step. The first step is to send that love to yourself, but many people in Western culture find it difficult to practice self-love for some reason, maybe because of our upbringing, our society, our culture, our religion, or whatever. But there is a lot of guilt about sending yourself love, and so a new step has to be created for our current situation.

So if you find it difficult to send yourself love, then you need to add the step receive love from others. Just feel the love that you have always received in your life. Just think about things that people have done that were so kind to you to show you how much they care—or even nature itself. It's there. The sun is always shining for you. The air is there for you to breathe. Trees are there always providing comfort.

Did you know scientifically they have finally proven that people who walk among trees regularly actually have less depression? The trees actually help you to feel better. I actually have experienced this. That's why when I used to live in the redwoods in California, whenever I felt ill physically or emotionally, I would go walk amongst the redwoods, and I always felt better. I didn't have any scientific proof. I just knew that's what I felt. And now, there are scientific studies on this. So even the trees are giving us love.

And the enlightened ones, our elder brothers and sisters in spirit, are sending us love, so visualize that if you want. Feel that. Receive it. Acknowledge it. Be grateful and receptive to the love of the Buddha of light or the Christ of light or whatever being that you relate to that symbolizes pure love and light. Just really, really, really receive it. When you receive it, it makes it so much easier then to give it to yourself when you realize how loved you are. It is then easy, much easier, to love yourself, and then you can get the ball rolling in extending that to other beings.

So a short teaching now on the four brahmaviharas. Brahma means infinite or divine, and vihara means a dwelling or abode. So brahmavihara you could translate as divine abode. It doesn't sound so American, but you could think of it as dwelling in the infinite qualities of the heart. So love has four major qualities according to the Buddha. One is maitri or metta. That is lovingkindness. That is the goodness of the heart. That is friendliness. And the Buddha of the future, Maitreya, his name means the Buddha of lovingkindness, the Buddha of friendship. So this is just pure lovingkindness, pure love, wanting someone to have many blessings and just wanting to extend happiness to all beings.

Now, when love encounters suffering, that love is expressed as compassion, which is karuna in Sanskrit and Pali. Compassion. So lovingkindness when it meets someone's suffering, that lovingkindness then expresses itself as karuna, as compassion, the desire and ability to relieve suffering.

And when that same lovingkindness encounters someone who is not suffering but actually rejoicing and a blessing—let's say they won the lottery—that same lovingkindness responds as mudita or sympathetic joy. It is the ability to rejoice and be happy in the blessings of others and in yourself as well instead of being jealous. When you see someone happy or getting blessed or getting a good job, like they finally got their goal met, then that true lovingkindness expresses itself as mudita, sympathetic joy, joy in the others blessings as your own.

And then the love to be truly love always must be founded on the foundational grounds of upeksha, or upekkha in Pali, equanimity, which is not a commonly used American word, but it basically means inclusiveness. It means nonattachment. It means nondiscrimination. It means equal love. So in other words, it has many layers of meaning. It serves to create a grounding for our love, because without it, we can get a little carried away. It is kind of like someone is drowning. You want to help them, but you have to be strong in yourself to help them, or else you may get drowned in the process, and then you both drown, which does not help either. Equanimity is that inner strength, that inner strength that comes from deep wisdom and peace. I like to translate it as peace actually.

So that gives a grounding to your love. Otherwise what happens is compassion might become—you may feel compassion for someone, but you get completely caught up in their drama. You get completely overwhelmed by the emotion of love and compassion, and you lose yourself in the process. You know, you're trying to help someone who is going through a particular suffering or drama, and you get all caught up in it yourself, and then you lose yourself. But if you have strong equanimity combined with love, then that love will have a groundedness and a centeredness so that it doesn't go off into that unevenness.

But here's the thing. If you develop great equanimity and peace and non-attachment, but you have not quite developed the lovingkindness part, then what happens is you may tend to be cold or indifferent or not caring, so you have to be careful. That is why these four qualities of the heart always need to be practiced together, and of course these four can be subdivided into two: lovingkindness and equanimity—but of course lovingkindness expresses itself into other ways as well, compassion and joy. So we need to balance in our meditation and life practice not only meditations on non-attachment, nonself, all that, and equanimity, but also balance your meditations with meditation on lovingkindness, compassion, gratitude, forgiveness, heartfulness.

In fact, in ancient China, many Buddhist masters advocated the dual practice of Zen and Pure Land because Zen was very strong with equanimity and Pure Land practice was very strong in the lovingkindness, compassion, and joy qualities. So by doing both, the Buddhist masters would see more balance in their students. And of course there are many different ways you can balance. It does not have to be Zen and Pure Land. In Hinduism, those who practice, say, advaita, many times will also practice bhakti. Advaita is very high wisdom of enlightened non-duality, but bhakti is devotional. So one teaches there is no separation between you and the divine. There's only the one. And bhakti teaches there is you and the other, and there is this relational infinite love kind of love connection. So is everything one, or is everything two? Well, maybe the truth is beyond one or two. But these are tools to help us develop wisdom and compassion and a love.

And I'm sure in Christianity, you have other ways of saying the same thing. In deep, mystical Christian teachings like Meister Eckhart and others, they talk about the oneness, that God and I are one or Christ and I are one or whatever. There is only one, but there is also the devotional aspects in Christianity, which is the creator and creation, and there is this love relationship between the two. You can see this embodied in the Christian teaching on the Trinity, for example. There is the father, who pours out love toward the son eternally, and the son pours out love toward the father eternally, and the love between the two is the relationship which is called the Holy Spirit, so there's always that dynamic. But yet, even though there are these three, they are one. There are not three gods. There is one, and yet they are in three.

So I do not take any of this stuff literally. You see how when you use it as a practice, it helps you to get in touch with a universal reality, which is the balance of oneness and relationship, so everything in our spiritual lives and everything in the universe is really this dance of oneness and relationship. Relationship and oneness. Unity, diversity. Diversity, unity. So don't take any of it literally, because they are only human words. The reality is to live it, to let it live through you, in you, and as you. Don't be too caught up and stuck on the words and concepts.

That is why I think religion is a good thing when you take it as a metaphor when you practice it, and it's not so good when you dogmatize it and literalize it. What matters is love, not the words that we use to talk about it. What matters is wisdom, not the philosophical constructs that we build around it. So, wisdom and love. Love and wisdom.


Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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