Transcript of the Second Session
We going to keep the schedule similar to how it was last time. I am following the methods used by the teachers, particularly Lama Rinchen, this course is based on her teachings. So I am following the methods she uses. There are three aspects: the first one is the listening to the teaching, and as I said it is sourced mainly from Lama Rinchen but also Lama Samten and other people. It has come from years of exploring this extraordinary thing of loving kindness. The second aspect is having time to practise and reflect, like we did last time. So that period after the coffee break: sitting, walking, sitting. And then just before lunch, time for questioning and commenting. The third one is actually the community. So getting to know each other, but in places that I have been practising in like Holy Isle there are sometimes people who want to maintain silence within the community. And it is quite an interesting thing to do when people are talking around you. And they wear little badges with ‘silent’ on it. So I have sourced some badges. They are over there. If anyone wants to remain silent for lunch – get a badge, and then we all know. If that is alright with everybody. There might be somebody who really wants to have a silent lunch.
The other thing I would like to suggest is that we drop the word ‘concept’ because all these are actually realistic things. We are impermanent, our birth is very precious, what we do does affect other people, we all suffer. So there is nothing conceptual about them at all. We are all actually living beings.
Today I invite us all to go into silence until lunch. And for those who wish to stay silent through lunch there are the badges for you to indicate this.
This time we are looking into the first immeasurable quality of loving kindness. Love and kindness. That is something that I have been exploring, puzzling about and questioning for many years now, so I am really grateful to have this opportunity to do this today because I know that, and I am sure others do (as well). My way of learning as a choreographer a different energy, as soon as it has to be put in front of an audience, a different energy, a different insight, and as a teacher, a different realisation. So Suggest that all of you one day go out and teach all this. And then other insights arise.
Love and kindness, – qualities we all crave in our lives. Some of you know this poem. I am going to start with this wonderful Hafiz poem, I have copies here for you – and it goes like this:
Everyone you see, you say to them “Love me.”
Of course you do not do this out loud: Otherwise,
Someone would call the cops.
Still, though, think about this,
This great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one
Who lives with a full moon in each eye
That is always saying,
With that sweet moon Language
What every other eye in this world
Is dying to Hear?
So today is about we can start to see the potential in ourselves and all other beings, and I mean all other beings, that potential for unlimited loving kindness. So how we become the one to offer love and kindness instead of waiting for another to give this to us?
I am currently involved in an organisation that is experiencing something that, I am sure, will be very familiar to you all. Two of the staff who used to love each other – and still do deep down – now cannot bear to be in the same room as the other. This happens all the time – people fall in love, then somewhere down the line this ardent love transforms into hatred, anger, jealousy and sometimes fear – all very toxic emotions. This happens not only in relationships: neighbours quarrel, sometimes viciously ending up in court. Sects differ and harden their opinions against each other. Countries go to war. So this immeasurable quality is a very powerful yet ineffable quality to consider. We cannot hold it, or grasp it, yet we know when it is lacking.
We can love someone dearly yet at the same time feel great hatred and anger towards them. We feel wounded and hurt by their opinions, actions and words. All outward display of loving kindness gets swallowed by our own suffering. I know in my own life there have been many, many times over the years when this transformation of love into anger, hurt and hatred has happened. Since practising the developing loving kindness meditation techniques I have learnt to be able to see the hurt and wounds in another, so this has helped me to move out of the narrow tunnel of my own pain and suffering and see the suffering of the other and wish that they may know this immeasurable quality of loving kindness in their own life.
This inability to be in the same room as another is like building a wall. When we experience pain we sometimes close down and make barriers. This is reflected physically in our history: The Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall, The Berlin Wall, The Israel-Palestine Wall… The Pope’s response to Mr Trump’s proposal to build a wall between Mexico and the USA was a quiet “I think building bridges is better than building walls.” But it seems to be more normal to build a wall than to open up and be vulnerable and build a bridge. We expect the world to act reasonably and make peace, to express love and kindness, but so often our internal environment is riddled with anguish and confusion. And the outer world reflects this internal pain and chaotic muddle.
As we turn our attention to this immeasurable quality it is helpful to go back to the source. The Sanskrit meaning for the four immeasurable helps us to understand them better: it is ‘brahma vihara’, or ’top district’. Many towns have a posh district or area, where the roads are smoother, the houses bigger, the gardens better kept. So the phrase ‘top district’ refers to something special, richer, more noble. This Sanskrit meaning is a very pure and clear definition for what is referred to the four residencies of the mind. Or those four immeasurable qualities that are essential to enlightenment, liberation and freedom.
Part of attaining that freedom is renunciation. This, renunciation, is important but renunciation is often seen as something quite difficult, a hair shirt, flagellation and sad.
But here we are renouncing whatever makes us suffer. Then we can rejoice.
The knowing of this, the what makes us suffer, takes time. We are in denial, we regress, we push things under the carpet. It requires courage to see what our blockages are. The blockages are anger, aversion, stupidity, pride and jealousy. You can use other words for those, I am sure you can think of some. And fear is not included in this mixture as it is a combination of all these negative emotions. We all have these five negative emotions. And the cocktail is different according to each person. So we have to look into ourselves. This can be quite joyous if the motivation is there. Through this investigation and realisation we can make ourselves lighter.
There are many methods to lighten our inner burdens. Take the catholic church, they have the sacrament of confession. This can be a liberating experience, it is a purification. This confessing, realising or acknowledging of our errors helps us to get rid of blocks. It is those habits that we don’t recognise or acknowledge that keep us dense and heavy.
To be able to see ourselves as how we are is very difficult. We are our own worst enemy when it comes to this. We solidify everything. That is when ‘shoulds’, ‘coulds, ‘musts and ‘oughts’ – those words are really good at solidifying things. Liberation comes from understanding that we are not really solid. I love what Celia just said, we are looking at everybody and by the time we see everybody they have already changed.
So liberation comes from understanding that we are not as real as we think we are, not really solid, not as real as we think we are. Ultimately there is no such thing as ‘I’ or ‘other’. Of course on a relative level we are here, we can’t pretend we are not here. We can’t walk through walls. So our practice is to dismantle all the defence mechanisms we have constructed that make us solid: these are all connected to the five poisons of anger, aversion, stupidity, pride and jealousy.
Contemplating the Four immeasurables help us to focus our mind and dismantle some of the delusions we hold about ourselves and the world around us.
And today we are considering the first immeasurable quality of loving kindness. Going back to the source, in Sanskrit this is ‘matraya’. This translates as softness, kindness, and an attitude of good will towards others and ourselves. Don’t forget ourselves, ‘may I be kind to myself’.
The first line of the four immeasurables wishing prayer is: ‘may all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness’. So we are back to karma, cause and effect, there. This wish for ourselves and others is a remedy for aversion and anger. These words and thoughts remind us to come back to the fact that everyone, and I mean everyone, is pure in nature, everyone, even murderers, our leaders, everyone. Their essential nature is pure. Sometimes this purity is thickly hidden, but all human beings have the potential for unlimited loving kindness and liberation. Take the word ‘Immeasurable’: it refers to that which is beyond measure, limitless and beyond judgement. It is also beyond duality. This wish forces us, it invites us, it encourages us to open to the vast scope of the mind and its limitless and totally pure nature, a mind beyond judgement.
Suzuki Roshi – I think I talked about him last timer and his book ‘A Crooked Cucumber’ He was a Zen Buddhist teacher in the 60s in San Fransisco. And he said ‘For the mind to be virtuous the mind has to be calm’. So loving kindness emerges from calmness. You know we have a kind day today. (The sun shining, not much wind) This calmness brings and encourages virtue and helps us from slipping into negative mind states. Cultivating calmness is connected to ‘shinnay’ practice, mind calming or peaceful mind meditations. We spend time on the mindfulness courses developing this form of meditation practice. First the relaxation, then the embodied awareness, then mind-calming skills. If the mind is agitated it won’t see clearly, then it gets easily caught up in its old conditioning and habits. So first we need to calm the mind. Through calming the mind we can gradually develop a positive outlook to everyone, we will be able to see the potential in everyone. Everyone has the potential for unlimited loving kindness. This takes a quiet mind, we can’t do it if the mind is agitated. Like the waves on a lake, you can’t see what is underwater, once the lake is still, then you can see the depth of the lake. If we are calm and quiet then we will not be in a defensive mood, if the mind is agitated we can get very defensive. In other words, we just go back into our old reactive habits. A lot of our suffering is that we live in a state of emergency all the time. This was brought home to me very vividly yesterday. I did a mindfulness tasting at Kings College Worcester, 13 – 14 year olds. So many of them were in high alert. Just asking them to do a relaxation and shut their eyes, because of that unconscious and habitual tendency of fear of missing out is so strong in their nature, to shut their eyes is unbelievably painful. So we talked about it and helped them to understand about that. But it is uninteresting one. We live with so many people like that. And it becomes so habitual – that real state of emergency. Technology, as we know – always on the phone or tablet, for example, puts us into ‘emergency’ situation all the time. This is not the best situation to be in if we wish to cultivate loving kindness. But we can’t blame technology, because it is wonderful but we just need to use it with more consciousness.
Good and beneficial Karma, the cause and effect part of our existence, arises from reflecting on and the understanding of the four preliminary foundation practices. Slowly, slowly we cultivate a calm mind whilst trying not to fall into the five poisons, (anger, pride, jealousy, stupidity and aversion). But when we do regress, what to do with negativity? Concentrate, despite the negative bit, on that there is a potential for goodness. Concentrate on the potential. The basis of all beings is goodness. For some reason it has been covered over, they have lost track of their goodness.Sometimes we lose track of our own goodness.
Loving kindness concentrates on goodness and compassion is about the suffering. So here we are exploring the potential in everyone for unlimited loving kindness, we haven’t yet investigated suffering and our capacity for compassion. Be precise about the distinctions, and how we can use our minds differently in differing situations, so we are not vague. If we stay vague we might not have the result we expect. This distinction is very useful, sometimes they get very muddled, so in loving kindness we are understanding the potential in ourselves and all others for unlimited loving kindness. Being able to see the potential in all others and in ourselves.
In cultivating loving kindness we gradually open our awareness to having softness towards others, ourselves, we become non-judgemental. We start to see and accept things as they are instead of wishing they were different. That is a real deep habit that we look at on our mindfulness courses. Over time we train ourselves from continually falling into the five poisons. This profound practice helps others as well as ourselves. Our happiness will only come when we have purified these five compulsivenesses or poisons. And the difference between true spontaneity and compulsiveness is that spontaneity requires awareness, whereas compulsiveness is more automatic.
It is very helpful, in fact imperative, that we develop a sense of calm.It is quite interesting that sentence. Without clinging having that deep intention of ‘Yes, I will use all those techniques, I will embed them in my body, my mind, so that I continually have those aspects, being able to calm myself when I notice that I am starting to get agitated. So whatever comes our way we keep our heart open, then we will not right away, habitually, put a block on our innately kind nature through our own judgment, our own fear, our anger, jealousy etc.
How to meditate on this? We start with the posture, then we use breathing regulation, then we check the mind. These simple steps help us to settle down. And we repeatedly come back into ourself, repeatedly settle down. This is where the regular practice starts to feed into our life, then we can notice: ‘Oh yes, I have got agitated, now I can settle down.’ The practice is about how to bring on this loving kindness towards all beings. So we calm ourselves then we start to cultivate loving kindness.
Traditionally cultivating loving kindness starts with recalling the mother. We have a couple of things in common in this room: the first one we were looking at last time is that we are all going to die. The second one is that we were all born and we were all born from a mother.our own mother, traditionally this is how they start all loving kindness mind training practices: our own mother. So traditional this is how all loving kindness practices begin. So if you have any resistance this is also very useful to look at.
Our own mother represents the continuity of life, and it is natural for a mother to love her child. There are, unfortunately, exceptions, but normally a mother loves her child unconditionally. When we meet someone, or are that person, whose parenting has been lacking, we use the reminder of the first few aspects of being a mother in our practice. There are different stages, and everybody has experienced the first couple of stages. So the mothering we have received might not have progressed to all five aspects in this practice. But the first three are a very powerful reminder of how we achieved this precious human life.
The first aspect to reflect on when cultivating loving kindness is remembering that the mother carries the developing baby in their womb. We think of our own mothers when they were young women and pregnant. She shares her food with the child, she is totally giving, and this is her big gift: the carrying of a child. There is discomfort in pregnancy. I was watching a pregnant woman walking, well waddling, in Monmouth this week. I could see that at the stage she was at there was discomfort in her body. It was an uncomfortable gait. The mother is also feeding the foetus with her own essence. This gestation period is an act of unconditional loving kindness. So we start this practice with going back, really visualising our mothers as the young women they were pregnant with us.
The second kindness is when the mother gives birth. This is a very big experience, and there are quite a few in here who have given birth, and some like myself haven’t, but I have was born, so we have all experienced one side it. It is a very bid experience and often very painful. And still today a dangerous time for the mother. Even with all our modern medicine and techniques a mother can die during birth. So we visualise that, the second stage of our visualisation of cultivating loving kindness.
The third kindness is that the mother takes care of the helpless baby; Here now we can maybe substitute the word ‘carer’ because this is much more shared, but it was traditionally the mother who did that. So if you want to open that up – it doesn’t have to be a father, a child can have two mothers, two fathers. So the third kindness is that the mother, the carer, takes care of this helpless baby, the newly born, who totally dependant on its carers for survival. Often we take this step for granted. It is actually amazing, so we develop gratitude for this. Also it is quite difficult when we are older sometimes to reimagine ourselves as that helpless baby. We like to think we are in control of our lives. So it is a really useful visualisation to open our hearts to it.
The fourth kindness is recalling that she helped us to walk and talk, she guided us through the first wave of our dealing with the outside world. Wished us, cleaned us, fed us, did all these things that we take for granted. But all these are compassionate and loving acts and are quite extraordinary. We sometime have resistance to recalling how helpless each one of us was when we were born, and how much we owe to her and others who cared for us in those first few months of our lives.
The fifth kindness is her, or our carers, teaching us how to be a good person. Traditionally in Buddhism the teaching of the Dharma. But in a secular way or if you are in the Christian tradition or another tradition, telling us and guiding us about what is right and wrong, the ethical aspect. Imbuing ethics in our nature. This can also include teaching us how to pray and how to be a good person.
Even if your connection to your mother was painful, she still went through the first two, three or four kindnesses. And hopefully you had in your life someone who offered the fifth kindness. At some stage, it might not have happened earlier, it might have happened later. This practice opens us to think of someone who has given you unconditional love, as a mother did through these stages of gestation, birth and guidance. Gradually gratitude without judgement can arise.
And I think this is really important because so many of our relationships when we are older are tainted with conditions. You now when we are doing the loving kindness practices in the mindfulness course I suggest pets, they are very handy because they love us unconditionally. And although we have a very good friend, a relative, we love them – there is always a ‘but’.
So going back to the practice we realise that we have had this absolutely unconditional love in the first few days, months or years of our life. To go back and really opener hearts and visualise those stages is very helpful, to be able to see others in the same way.
For the first session of our meditation practice after the tea break we focus on this aspect of gratitude for the mother, our mother. I have written this down for each of you as a reminder.
Saturday 15 October 2016 Mill House Farm
First half of Loving Kindness Morning Teachings: Saturday 15 October – Download
Second half of Loving Kindness Morning Teachings: Saturday 15 October – Download
The afternoon session: guide to cultivating Loving Kindness – Download
We haven’t done this on the course yet, but you may find this useful to help your meditation practice.
The Deep Belly Breathing Sequence – Download