The Wisdom Blog: Classic & Contemporary Buddhism

The Dalai Lama on Practicing Love

by The Dalai Lama
July 22, 2015
Wed, 07/22/2015 - 10:00 -- The Dalai Lama

The following is an excerpt from chapter 11 of Buddhism: One Teacher, Many Traditions by the Dalai Lama and Thubten Chodron. The authors introduce this chapter with the following overview: “The four immeasurables or ‘boundless states’—love, compassion, joy, and equanimity—are widely taught and practiced in both the Pāli and Sanskrit traditions. They are called ‘immeasurable’ because they are directed toward immeasurable sentient beings with a mind free from partiality and because they are states of jhāna that are not limited by the five hindrances of the desire-realm mind. They are also called the brahmavihāras after the brahmā worlds of the first jhāna, where beings’ minds are gentle. Brahma also implies ‘pure,’ for these four are free from attachment, anger, and apathy. They are called vihāras, or ‘abodes,’ because they are peaceful resting places for our mind.” Below is the section on love.


Since hostility is the opposite of love and prevents its development, we begin by reflecting on the disadvantages of hostility and the benefits of fortitude. Hostility crushes trust and tears apart valued relationships; it destroys our merit and compels us to act in ways we later regret. Fortitude, or patience, is like a soothing balm. It attracts others to us and protects our virtue.

At the beginning, it is important to cultivate love toward specific people in a definite order. Do not begin the cultivation of any of the four immeasurables toward someone to whom you are or could be sexually attracted. The people should be alive because we don’t know what form the deceased are in now.

When cultivating love, begin by using yourself as an example. Contemplate repeatedly, “May I be happy and free from suffering. May I be free from hostility, affliction, and anxiety and live happily.” Generating love toward ourselves isn’t selfish because the goal is to generate love toward all beings, which includes ourselves. We, too, are worthy of love and kindness. This meditation counteracts self-hatred, freeing us to develop our potential.

Then contemplate, “Just as I want to be happy, so too do other beings.” Cultivate love for someone you respect and hold in high regard, such as your spiritual mentor or another teacher. If we begin by cultivating love for a dear one, attachment may easily arise under the guise of love; however, this will not happen toward someone you respect. Recalling the help you have received from this person, contemplate, “May he be happy and free from suffering. May he be free from hostility, affliction, and anxiety and live happily.”

Then extend your love more broadly, first to a dear friend, thinking in the same way as above. When the mind is malleable, generate love for a neutral person, seeing her as a very dear friend. When you can do this, cultivate love for an enemy, seeing her as neutral. “Enemy” means someone you are hostile or critical toward. The person does not have to be one who reciprocates those disturbing emotions.

This step can be difficult because anger or the wish for revenge may arise toward those who have harmed you. If you cannot get past these disturbing emotions, return to meditating on love toward one of the previous persons, and when the mind is drenched in that feeling, again generate love for the enemy.

If hostility persists, apply an antidote, such as the ones offered below. If one doesn’t release the anger, try another. Begin by remembering the disadvantages of hostility. The Buddha details seven disadvantages of anger (AN 7:64): While an enemy may wish us to be ugly, experience pain, lack prosperity, wealth, a good reputation, harmonious relationships, and have an unfortunate rebirth, we bring all these upon ourselves through our own anger. Letting our mind dwell in animosity destroys our virtue and inhibits our spiritual progress.

Hearing others’ disturbing speech often triggers anger in the mind. Here the Buddha counsels us (MN 21:11):

…you should train thus: “Our minds will remain unaffected, and we shall utter no evil words; we shall abide compassionate for their welfare, with a mind of love, without inner hate. We shall abide pervading that person with a mind imbued with love, and starting with him, we shall abide pervading the all encompassing world with a mind imbued with love, abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without malice.”

This is love in the state of jhāna (Vism 9:44). Such love will carry over when we leave the jhāna state and return to an everyday state of mind. Even if we have not attained jhāna, training our mind to approach all beings with a loving attitude will overwhelm our discomfort, suspicion, and malice and imbue us with ease and affection for all.

Reflecting on the person’s good qualities when he is in a congenial situation enables us to dispel our critical attitude. We can then recall this when he creates trouble. If it is difficult to see any good qualities in the person, generate compassion for him, thinking of the destructive kamma he is creating and the suffering he will experience as a result. There is no use wishing harm to someone who is bringing harm upon himself. It is better to generate compassion for him.

Thinking of the Buddha’s responses to aggression in his previous lives as a bodhisatta can inspire us to forgive others for their faults. The Jātaka collection tells many stories of the bodhisatta’s previous lives in which he responded to aggressors with compassion.

Reflecting that all sentient beings have been our mother, father, siblings, and children, we see that they have all benefited us in the past and that it is therefore unfitting to harbor enmity for them. Our affection and gratitude for others then overpowers any resentment.

We can also ask ourselves, “Who am I angry at? Among the five aggregates in dependence on which this person is called so-and-so, what aggregate am I angry with?” Searching for the real person who is the source of our anger becomes like painting in space.

Another suggestion is to give the person a gift. Others’ hostility toward us and ours toward them subsides when a gift is given and received earnestly.

Once the anger and resentment have dissipated, cultivate love toward the enemy just as you did toward the others.

Reciting the formula “May you be happy and free from suffering! May you be free from hostility, affliction, and anxiety and live happily!” is a tool to help us generate the mental state those words indicate. If the recitation becomes mechanical, express the meaning in your own words. Alternatively, think in more detail about the types of happiness you wish someone to have and imagine her having them. Make the meditation more personal. Slowly your love will arise and gain momentum. After a while the meditation will carry on by itself without need to use the formula.

The next step is to “break down the barriers” by seeing the five individuals—yourself, the respected person, the friend, the neutral person, and the enemy—as equal and generate love for them equally. When the barriers between the five people have been broken down and you are able to extend love equally to all five, simultaneously the counterpart sign appears and access concentration is attained. Repeatedly practicing the counterpart sign, you will attain the full concentration of the first jhāna. With this, the five hindrances have been suppressed, the five absorption factors are present, and the liberation of mind by love (mettācetovimutti) is attained. It is so called because in that absorption the mind is liberated from anger and hostility. This is also called “love as a divine abode.”

Only upon gaining the first jhāna, a meditator (MN 43:31):

…abides pervading one quarter with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth; so above, below, around, and everywhere, and to all as to himself, he abides pervading the entire world with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without malice.

To gain this further development of love, extend love to one direction—the east—so that it pervades all sentient beings there. When doing this, begin small, thinking of one dwelling and extending love to everyone there. Then expand love to two dwellings and, gradually, to the town, state, and so forth in one direction. When that meditation is firm, gradually add the beings in the other three cardinal directions, the four intermediate directions, and up and down—radiating love in each place, one by one.

Then extend love everywhere without specifying a particular direction, realm of existence, social status, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and so on. Unmarred by negative feelings, grief, or suffering, this immeasurable love is pure, impartial, and unconditional.

Together with extending the range of your love, intensify it by remembering that in our beginningless rebirths we have all been each other’s mothers. This helps to break down feelings of separateness and open our hearts to love all beings as if they were our children. The Mettā Sutta says, “As a mother would, with all her life, protect her only child, so one should develop a boundless heart toward all beings.”

Practicing love as a divine abode entails practicing it at all times when you are awake and in all postures—sitting, standing, lying down, and walking. As meditation continues, the second and third jhānas in the fourfold schema will be gained.

In the early stages of cultivating love, thought and imagination are necessary. But once love is aroused and becomes strong and stable, these are unnecessary. The mind becomes absorbed in the experience of love, and radiating love takes on a momentum of its own.

The liberation of mind by love is practiced with universal pervasion by extending it to all beings, then all breathing things, all creatures, all persons, and all those with a personality. While these five terms are synonymous, meditating on them individually gives us different perspectives on the object of our love. The liberation of mind by love is practiced with specific pervasion by extending love to groups of women, men, ariyas, ordinary beings, devas, human beings, and those born in unfortunate realms.

The liberation of mind by love is cultivated to pervade the ten directions in ten ways, by thinking as above toward all beings in the ten directions and then thinking of the twelve types of beings—the five unspecific and the seven specific—in each of the directions. In addition, each of the phrases in the formula—“be free from hostility,” “be free from affliction,” “be free from anxiety,” and “live happily”—is one meditative absorption, so when combined there are quite a number.

The Buddha said that practitioners of the liberation of mind through love will experience eleven benefits (AN 11:15):

You sleep well; you awaken happily; you do not have bad dreams; you are pleasing to human beings; you are pleasing to spirits; deities protect you; fire, poison, and weapons do not injure you; your mind quickly becomes concentrated; your facial complexion is serene; you die unconfused; and if you do not penetrate further, you fare on to the brahmā world.

Using the liberation of mind by love as the basis for developing insight, you can attain arahantship. This is done by meditating in a jhāna, then leaving that state and analyzing its components. Through doing this, you see that even this blissful state of concentration is impermanent, unsatisfactory, and selfless. Such insight into the three characteristics will lead to the realization of nibbāna and the eradication of all fetters.

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