Awakening Through Love - Introduction
INTRODUCTION: UNLEASHING THE POWER OF LOVE
Everything that is most important to human beings is dependent upon love. Powerful and enduring love, grounded in wisdom, is the panacea to cure the ills of this world, starting with our own. We all have this curative power of goodness within us; all we need are the means to unveil it. This book provides
Strong, impartial love is indispensable for everything that matters most to us. We seek safety and well-being for ourselves, our families, our communities. But what is it that makes us feel truly safe and well? What makes intimate relationships and family life into a nourishing, life-affirming enclave rather than a place of unfulfilled expectations and recriminations? What makes children sense they are growing up in a warm, welcoming home and community, rather than a callous place of indifference? What makes our world feel blessed; a place where we feel free to explore our lives together, creatively and joyfully? Enduring love is required to make all such things possible.
Every human act is an expression of a basic motivation—a force of intent and will. In any moment that our motivation is narrowed by brittle self-concern, we are incapable of being fully present or available for others. In contrast, in those moments when we are motivated by a genuine, impartial care for others—a strong love that actually wishes those around us to be well and happy—we are vividly present and attentive; we become a genuine help and port of safety. This may sound simple, but it is not simplistic. It is an inescapable human truth. Those who learn to embody this truth have a joyful and fulfilling life; those who do not find themselves caught in continual struggle.
This book is for those who want to realize their capacity of love to the fullest, to apply its vivifying and protective energy to every part of their lives and world. The meditations here can help you to unveil your deepest goodness—a capacity of enduring love and wisdom that you may not have realized you already own, a power to benefit others all around you. This capability is not given to just a few people at the whim of fate—a select few to be admired from afar. Every one of us has this inner capacity. Its power can be revealed through specific practices available to anyone with a strong interest; it is just a matter of taking them up with diligence. Thousands before us have entered into these practices and experienced their life-transforming results.
So what is love? And how can a greater force of love, grounded in wisdom, help us to achieve everything that we most care about? If we all have such a capacity of love and wisdom, how can we bring it out and make it real in our lives? In this introduction, we will begin to address these questions. The following chapters then provide specific means to awaken our potential of wise, enduring love for the sake of all.
Buddhist Methods to Unleash Love’s Power
Many of the world’s religious and cultural traditions affirm the central importance of love and compassion. Yet Buddhism seems distinctive in providing exceptionally clear and specific methods to bring out our human capacity for enduring love, compassion, and the self-transcending wisdom that informs them. The essentials of these methods can be learned by anyone, no matter their religious affiliation.
Unconditional love and compassion, supported by sympathetic joy and equanimity, are among the essential qualities that the Buddha taught his followers to cultivate. Buddhist texts refer to these four powerful states of mind as the boundless attitudes. Love here is the powerful and enduring wish for beings to be deeply well and happy and to possess the inmost causes of such happiness. Compassion is the enduring wish for beings to be free from suffering and its inmost causes. Sympathetic joy is joy in the happiness of beings and in the means to their happiness. Equanimity is the deep wisdom beyond self-centeredness through which the three prior attitudes become impartial, all-inclusive, and steadfast. Buddhist traditions teach specific ways for people to cultivate these potent attitudes and to apply their power for the benefit of many others.
In texts that focus on the teaching of buddha nature, the Buddha declared that all the qualities of his enlightenment—including the capacities for such enduring love, compassion, and wisdom—abide within the very essence of beings’ minds. Our fundamental nature is that of the buddhas. But this innate goodness is thickly obscured by habits of thought that reduce others to mere objects of self-centered need. Buddhist traditions teach specific ways to cut through those obscuring patterns to unveil our natural goodness and to rediscover ourselves and all others as intrinsically holy.
In Tibetan Buddhism, one cultivates the four boundless attitudes to empower the emergence of what is called the spirit of enlightenment, or bodhichitta in Sanskrit—the resolve to completely realize one’s hidden goodness in order to meet the deepest needs of beings. The spirit of enlightenment is the power of love, compassion, and impartial wisdom stirring within the individual, impelling her to the fullest realization of her best potential for the sake of all.
When this profound resolve takes hold of a person’s heart and mind, it makes him or her into a bodhisattva, one whose life is directed to spiritual awakening on behalf of the world. For the bodhisattva, wise love and compassion become so enduring a motive power that her daily actions bring tremendous good into the lives of those around her. As the Dalai Lama frequently teaches, the challenge of our time is to learn how to take “universal responsibility.” That is what the bodhisattva path of enlightenment actually means—taking the responsibility to rediscover your life as your link to all others, to awaken the tremendous goodness hidden within you, and to act from there.
Love Is the Motive Force for Genuine Help
Love is the power to commune with someone’s fundamental goodness while wishing that person deep well-being and happiness. Any time we lack that genuine wish of love, we lack the motivation to be a significant help to others. Love is the motive power of help. We ache at the violence, pain, and hunger in our world, and inside us is a will to help. But “help” only helps if it is an active expression of love. Otherwise our attempts to help, limited by narrow self-concern, become rigid and too easily discouraged.
We may want to protect our dear ones, but who will protect them from us at those times when we worry just about ourselves and are not listening to them? The violence in the world that we hear about in the daily news and so decry—is it only caused by those “others”? Haven’t we all contributed to the coarsening atmosphere of intolerance and distrust whenever we’ve lacked a loving response and indulged our most self-centered tendencies? How can we make the world safer if we ourselves are not a stable port of safety? Can we be honest about this?
Strong love that wills the well-being and happiness of persons is essential to accomplish everything we most value for ourselves and others. Yet this simple truth is hardly discussed in modern culture, virtually unmentioned in newspapers and magazines. This is because contemporary, secular societies have little knowledge of how to unleash an enduring power of love. Not knowing how to do it, modern societies assume it can’t be done. So they look to experts for helping strategies while ignoring the role of motivation behind any attempt to help—as if only techniques mattered, not a genuine will to help.
Parents know it is love that nourishes their children. “Parenting strategies” are means to enact that love effectively. But the same principle applies everywhere else: helping strategies only help when they effectively carry out a genuine wish of care, of love—the wish for someone’s well-being and happiness. Otherwise, so-called “helping strategies” don’t help. Have you noticed?
After college, I entered the U.S. Peace Corps in the Philippines and worked in a tuberculosis program serving rural villages. Patients in this program needed to take their medicine each day for a year. If they stopped, their tuberculosis often returned in more virulent form. Unfortunately, monsoon rains deluged the region for several months each year, and the floods made it difficult for village patients to travel miles to the nearest clinic. Success required the health workers to carry the medicine to the villages during the rainy season, at great personal hardship.
Local government and international agencies invested many resources into the tuberculosis program, and many health workers were remarkably dedicated. But overall, the will to get the medicine to village patients during flood season was not strong enough to get the medicine out reliably. Lacking that, the human tendencies toward narrow self-concern, apathy, and prejudice against the rural poor rendered communities helpless to deal with the problem effectively. There just was not enough enduring love, care, and compassion to make the program work.
This experience partly motivated my exploration of Buddhist practice in Asia after my Peace Corps service. It appeared to me that real solutions to individual and communal suffering required more than material resources and techniques. Our methods for achieving social well-being may be sophisticated but in themselves are quite limited in effectiveness—wars, gross social inequities, and self-serving political battles continue to pervade our daily headlines. The problem is that the basic substance of social well-being isn’t strategy or technology—it is love, the will in our hearts for others around us to have happiness and contentment. If that is absent, no policy, no political party, no army, and no technology will protect us. Without an enduring motivation of genuine care for persons, the common good simply will not hold together, no matter how clever the plan or how advanced the technology. When a strong motive force of genuine care is present, and when that motive force is enacted through wise plans and methods, great benefit does come. We see this in the effective work of exemplary providers of service and aid here and abroad.
Love Empowers Social Service and Overcomes Burnout
At meditation workshops, I meet many people involved in social service—teachers, therapists, social workers, doctors, nurses, and activists. Many say they have lost their energy for service and have become burnt out. They ask what can be done to help them go on. When any of us wants to help, we need to ask ourselves: What is the motive force, the will behind the helping? How powerful is that intention and how long lasting? Is it just the weak commitment of a frail ego? If our motivation for serving others is tied to a strong desire for specific outcomes or for praise, our potential is limited. Because we can never completely control the results of our efforts, we may become easily frustrated and disheartened.
On the other hand, in any moment that a person’s motive is the simple, strong care for all involved, at least for that moment there is no burnout, no discouragement—love in action is sufficient. If one plan doesn’t work, another can be sought; no narrow expectations limit the freedom of love to try anew. Such a way of being is its own reward, for it expresses our inmost nature of fundamental goodness. Have you known such a person in your life, someone who embodied in her service to others a genuine regard and affection for each one, inspiring them to realize their best potential, whatever the result of the moment? It is the clarity and power of genuine care, a strong, stable love wishing others well, that makes enduring service possible.
Indeed, those who learn to embody an indomitable love become virtually unstoppable in their activity for others, because the motive force of their action is unaffected by short-term outcomes—people such as Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, Thich Nhat Hanh, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa. Some admire such figures from afar and think, “How special they are; I could never be like that.” But according to the Buddha, the power of active love in such people is a natural capacity that we all share.
Without Enduring Love, Relationships Don’t Work
The crucial importance of enduring love is obvious for family life. It brings a power of goodness and joy into our families, so children feel truly at home with us, fearless to explore who and what they are. It makes our relationships with spouse, partner, and friend profoundly safe, based upon deep mutual appreciation, reverence, and joy, instead of the brittle reactivity of mere self-protectiveness. It is the nurturing power of genuine love that protects and empowers all intimate relationships. But it is equally important for our lives at work. It is love, the operative wish for each person to have happiness, that makes our workplace into a zone of genuine care and protection for coworkers, clients, and customers, rather than an arena of unspoken jealousies and recriminations. Love protects us from our own worst tendencies to reduce others to mere objects of momentary need or want, triggering hostility and competition whenever our expectations are not met.
We can talk about “family values” as much as we wish, but the quality of our presence to partner, children, neighbors, colleagues, students, and clients depends entirely on the strength of our fundamental care for them. In simple terms: how strong is the quality of our love for those with whom we share our lives, how enduring our wish for their happiness? Whatever the strategies for a successful life promulgated in self-help books, and no matter how hard someone may thump a holy book to declare a particular belief as the answer to all life’s problems, none of those approaches works if the basic motive of genuine love, of actual care for persons, is not present.
No Real Solution to Violence Without Impartial Love and Wisdom
Someone might object—isn’t loving everyone unconditionally woefully unrealistic; being blind to how things work in the real world? According to the Buddhist teachings we will explore in this book, no such “real world” stands on its own, out there, apart from what we are all making of it. We make our world with each intention, each action, each thought we have of others, and each reaction to our own thought of them. Strong love and wisdom are what reveal the reality of self and others, so we can generate the kind of world that we really want.
In my own city of Boston there was a news story involving a jealous man who took revenge upon a former girlfriend by murdering her children. A friend of mine teaches in a school for youths from poor inner-city neighborhoods. Several of his students, deeply upset at the news, told him that they personally knew the murdered children. Then, one by one, these students recounted their own stories of friends and relatives who had been murdered, often by rival gangs who attacked others with little or no provocation. The students told him: “This is the world. This is how it is.”
When individuals and groups do not experience being loved— when whole communities lose hope that anyone cares—fear and violence are often seized upon as seeming protectors in the form of gangs, mobs, and communal hostility. The only apparent protection is to be on the strongest, most violent side. Indeed, when violent tendencies become so omnipresent that they completely suppress love and compassion, their projections of fear and hatred appear simply to be the world—as these students declared.
The attitudes of prejudice, hatred, and violence are so radically cut off from the realities of persons—so lost in projections of fear and malice—that they present the appearance of being objectively what persons are, what the world is. Current perpetrators of violence here and abroad often perceive themselves as the historical victims who finally get “justice” through violence. Meanwhile their own victims fantasize someday becoming the perpetrators so as to inflict their revenge in the name of “justice.” Hatred and prejudice drive a never-ending cycle of self-righteous revenge in the name of the good.
Fundamentally contrary to that dynamic are the all-inclusive attitudes of impartial love, compassion, and wisdom, which are attuned to the actual realities of persons beyond such projections. These attitudes sense and respond to persons accurately, as they really are, in the conditions shared by us all: layers of human suffering and fear that hide tremendous inner capacities for generosity and fundamental goodness. Unconditional love and wisdom embodied in a person’s life are the most powerful forces for remaking the world we experience together and for holding open the door for others to learn similarly.
The Aims and Audience of This Book
The purpose of this book is to provide fresh access to Buddhist practices of love, compassion, and wisdom for anyone who wishes to explore them. The freshness of this approach comes from the main tradition I speak from—the Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Dzogchen is Tibetan for “natural great perfection,” meaning that our fundamental being is already pure, perfect, and tranquil, primordially good, the very nature of the buddhas. Our intrinsic purity, however, is obscured by narrow self-clinging thought patterns that have become so habitual that we mistake these thoughts for our very being.
The path to embodying unconditional love and wisdom is not some overwhelmingly difficult struggle to make ourselves into something alien to our nature. Quite the opposite. Unconditional love and wisdom dawn as we come home to what we most deeply are. Our deepest wish is already impartial love; our deepest knowing already intuitive wisdom beyond self-clinging. We just need to learn to relax our grip on ourselves enough to allow those capacities to awaken within us and shine forth.
Efficient means of awakening have been passed down by great masters of Buddhist tradition, adapted to the hearts and minds of the people in diverse cultures throughout history. Such means are provided in the guided meditations of this book. My intention is to present them in a form that is readily accessible to our contemporary culture.
This book is aimed at two audiences: (1) people, no matter their religious affiliation, who seek fresh access to the heart of spirituality and clear, concrete ways to realize the power of love and compassion; (2) people long practiced in Buddhist traditions, who seek to reconnect with the simplicity of practice in a fresh way, to revitalize and deepen their continuing life in the Dharma.
While these techniques are transmitted from the Buddhist tradition, readers of other faiths are invited to take up the meditation practices and engage them through their own spiritual understandings. Feel free to explore how your faith may be informed and deepened by practices of love, compassion, and self-transcending wisdom transmitted here from Buddhism. For example, in the meditation of chapter 1 on receiving the wish of love, while I envision the Buddha at the center of a field of beings who radiate their wish of love, a Christian might envision Christ, a Hindu might envision Krishna, a Jew or Muslim simply the radiant power of God’s love.
Replicating the Transformative Effect of an Ancient Tradition
The content of this book is not merely of my own making. It is thoroughly dependent upon my teachers who transmitted these practices and on those students who have come to me over the years to learn them.
Most of my teachers have been Tibetans, and the guided meditations in this book translate my experience of Tibetan Buddhist practices. But this translation does not seek just to reproduce the literal context of their ancient tradition. Rather, it seeks to replicate the effect of their words on me over several decades of practice. These practices have woven themselves into a heart and mind patterned by my life as an American, formed by the symbols, myths, and perspectives of my culture. These teachers instigated in me a learning process that revealed some of my distinctively Western channels of receptivity to Buddhist truths. And anything that my own students have found helpful in my teaching has further informed and sharpened this learning process.
For example, the traditional door of entry into the path of the buddhas is to take refuge in the liberating qualities and powers of enlightenment. This means to rely completely upon the powers of unconditional love, compassion, and wisdom that are fully realized in the buddhas, evoked by the practices they transmitted (Dharma), and embodied in mature spiritual community (sangha). In Tibetan practice, such refuge is further empowered through the profound practice of union, merging one’s mind with the enlightened mind of one’s spiritual teachers, beyond separation of self and other.
Tibetans engage such profound practices of union first by ritually receiving the blessings of the buddhas from stylized Indo-Tibetan arrays of holy beings. These “blessings” are actually the liberating powers of love, compassion, and wisdom—capacities anyone can learn to open to. But the symbolic depictions that Tibetans use for opening to such powers may not function to the same depth for Westerners, at least not initially. Over time, the practices taught by my Tibetan teachers helped me to recall and receive the love and compassion that I had sensed in caring people and mentors throughout my entire life as a Westerner. I began to realize that the “blessings” of enlightenment had pervaded my world all along, embodied in countless wise and loving gestures. This made such blessings real to me, strengthening my capacity to receive them deeply from my Buddhist lineage teachers as well, thus replicating a key effect achieved by Tibetans through their symbolic forms.
In the chapters that follow, we will explore how the practice of receiving the radiant wish of love from loving people and spiritual mentors, and merging into oneness with them in that radiance, provides a way for contemporary people of all backgrounds to access these powerful Tibetan practices of refuge and union. In this way, by using channels of receptivity natural to us, we learn to let our inmost goodness commune with the inmost goodness of all who have loved us. Then, through the power of such communion, we are brought to rest in the limitless, radiant ground of such goodness: the deep wisdom of pure awareness beyond self-grasping. Through such practice, we begin to sense each aspect of life and every being as holy.
In 1978, shortly after I had finished my service in the Peace Corps, I met my first Tibetan Buddhist teachers, Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche, who connected me with other teachers close to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, including Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey and Geshe Lhundub Sopa. I spent fifteen years immersed in the study and practice of Tibetan teachings of love, compassion, and wisdom under their guidance, inspired especially by the ancient Kadam and Gelug masters of Tibet. Then I met Lama Surya Das, Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche, and Khenpo Sonam Tobgyal, who introduced me to the teachings of Dzogchen from their revered Nyingma lineage. After further years of practice under their guidance and inspiration, the teachings of love and compassion came newly alive for me in light of the Dzogchen view of innate wisdom, taking expression in the meditations transmitted in this book. In recent years, my understanding of the unity of compassion and primordial awareness has been further informed by the profound teaching and blessing of Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche and His Holiness Drukchen Rinpoche.
When Lama Surya Das asked me to help guide practices at meditation retreats, I found that, like him, the most effective way was not only to quote my teachers’ words, which I cherish, but also to speak from the effect of their words on my practice and life—my own experience of their teachings, however limited. The same approach has shaped the content of this book. My hope is that this process of translation may assist you to tap into your own innate reserves of love and wisdom.
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© John Makransky, Awakening Through Love (Wisdom Publications, 2007)
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