Dilatato Corde 5:2
July - December, 2015
Historical marker on the corner of Fourth and Walnut, Louisville, Kentucky
Historical marker on the corner of Fourth and Walnut, Louisville, Kentucky

Author's note: This essay recapitulates and expands on comments I made during a discussion on Loving Kindness.

I would like to reflect about loving kindness[1] within the context of fostering bodhichitta[2].

Bodhichitta, the special attitude of a bodhisattva, is the determination to attain the state of buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings. The Tibetan word for buddha, sang-gye, means purified and developed. Therefore, what we are aiming for is a state of being completely purified of all mental problems and of having developed all good qualities and realizations, which helps us help others. In the state of buddhahood, one has fulfilled one’s own ultimate benefit, being free of all suffering, and has accomplished the ability to perfectly help others to get out of their suffering. When you say it like that, who wouldn’t want to be a buddha?
At this conference, two of the previous speakers used the Greek words scopus and telos in speak of the goal and end of the monastic life. In the context of my presentation, loving kindness might be considered a scopus, a goal; buddhahood would be the telos, the end. Loving kindness is a necessary step in generating the bodhisattva attitude, that is, bodhichitta. If I use the word “love” when speaking of bodhichitta, I take care to define the word so that people don’t get it mixed up with lust or attachment. Love means the wish for someone to be happy and to have the underlying causes of happiness.
With that understanding of the meaning of love, it now makes more sense to talk about loving oneself. Our old way of loving ourselves was misguided; we tried to get happiness the wrong way by grabbing at external objects. The essential causes of happiness are good karma, positive actions that we create with our body, speech, and mind. Cooperative causes would include conditions such as a healthy lifestyle, good companions, etc. By including the underlying causes of happiness, we can be better caretakers of ourselves; we can be our own guardian angels.
In Tibetan Buddhism, two separate streams – two separate methods for generating bodhichitta – came together. One method depends more on logic and the other on emotion[3].
In the logical method, love seems like a public policy decision. It just makes sense to wish for people to be happy. I’ll be better off, and they will be better off.
In the emotional method, we are challenged to feel a connection with others, and then, based on this feeling of connectedness, to have a type of love called endearing love or heart-warming love. We can describe this type of love as the love a mother has for her child. As soon as her child appears, the mother has an open-hearted loving concern. This kind of love is also seen in the good feeling that grandparents have for their grandchildren. For instance, when grandchildren appear on the stage at a school play, their grandparents see an extra glow around them. Grandparents love to show you pictures of their grandchildren and it’s easy to see how their hearts light up when they look at the pictures.
So a riddle that I keep coming back to is: Can you love people if you don’t like them? In other words, can you skip this heart-warming love, the love that gives you a sort of joy when looking at the other person, the love that sees them as good, as lovable?
After Rev. Heng Sure’s presentation on Loving Kindness, I was looking through a big coffee table book in the guesthouse library and came across a picture of a signpost in Louisville that reads:
Commonwealth of Kentucky
Merton had a sudden insight at this corner Mar. 18, 1958, that led him to redefine his monastic identity with greater involvement in social justice issues. He was “suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people….” He found them “walking around shining like the sun.”
Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
Presented by Thomas Merton Center Foundation
This sounds exactly like the heart-warming love that is included in what I’m calling the ‘emotional’ method for developing bodhichitta.
When I say, do you have to “like” people, this is what I mean: that you actually enjoying seeing them, being with them, thinking about them. They seem adorable to you. Their good qualities seem to shine out.
If we don’t automatically see their good qualities, we have to work on it—mechanically at first. A friend of mine often says, “Everybody has something good about them; with some people you just have to look harder.”
With normal people, we can usually think of something admirable about them if we just check honestly. In the case of very evil people, it’s possible for us to think that they are just trying to be happy in the wrong way; they are still doing the best they can. Buddhists will depend on the fact that all sentient beings have buddha nature [4]. Within the two aspects of buddha nature, we would probably focus on the developmental lineage, whatever little seeds of goodness that will eventually become their qualities of buddhahood. However, even the other side of buddha nature, the emptiness nature of their mindstream, could also help us have a positive attitude towards that evil person. Christians would probably say that even an evil person is an expression or a creation of God.
Based on an open-hearted, connected feeling, we then wish for that person to have happiness and the causes for happiness. To take it further, we would then decide to take a personal responsibility to make that happen. Then, we would decide that becoming a completely purified and developed person – a buddha – would be the best way to help others find ultimate happiness. That’s what should be driving all our personal work of meditation, study, and various activities.
So the main thing about loving kindness that I’d like to leave you with can be summed up in this riddle: Can you love someone if you don’t like them? I don’t think it’s a question that just needs a yes or no answer; it’s a question we can keep going back to until we have arrived at a genuine attainment of universal love.
[1] Sanskrit, maitri; Pali, metta. This term can also be translated “love,” but because of the way “love” is often understood in popular use, “loving kindness” seems preferable.
[2] Literally, awakening mind.
[3] This is a loose way of describing the tradition attributed to the enlightened being Manjushri which came down through Nagaarjuna and Shantideva – the logic method – and the tradition attributed to the enlightened being Maitreya written down by Asanga – the emotional method.
[4] Skt. tathaagata-garbha
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