Classic and Contemporary Buddhist Works

A Heart Full of Peace - Selections

A HEART FULL OF PEACE

Love, compassion, and peace—these words are at the heart of spiritual endeavors. Although we intuitively resonate with their meaning and value, for most of us, the challenge is how to embody what we know: how to transform these words into a vibrant, life practice. In these times of conflict and uncertainty, this is not an abstract exercise. Peace in the world begins with us. In the following pages, we will explore different ways we can manifest these values as wise and skillful action in the world.

These teachings are based on the Buddhist traditions of the East, but their defining characteristic is not Eastern or Western, but rather, an allegiance to pragmatism and the very simple question: “What works?” What works to free the mind from suffering? What works to engender the heart of compassion? What works to awaken us from ignorance?

This pragmatism also illuminates an age-old question that continues to plague religious and other traditions: how can we hold strong differences of view in a larger context of unity, beyond discord and hostility? The answer is of vital importance, especially now, as we see the grand sweep of religious traditions often in violent conflict with one another.

Love, compassion, and peace do not belong to any religion or tradition. They are qualities in each one of us, qualities of our hearts and minds.

May All Beings Be Happy

The Sanskrit word maitri and the Pali word metta both mean “loving-kindness” or “loving care,” and refer to an attitude of friendliness, good will, and generosity of heart. When we are filled with loving-kindness and a sense of loving care, we have a very simple wish: May all beings be happy.

This kind of love has many qualities that distinguish it from our more usual experiences of love mixed with desire or attachment. Born of great generosity, metta is a caring and kindness that does not seek self-benefit. It does not look for anything in return or by way of exchange: “I will love you if you love me,” or “I will love you if you behave a certain way.” Because loving-kindness is never associated with anything harmful, it always arises from a purity of heart.

One of the unique aspects of metta is that it does not make distinctions among beings. When we feel love mixed with desire, this feeling is always for a limited number of people. We may love and desire one person, or maybe two or three at a time, or maybe several in series. But does anyone in this world desire all beings?

I make my mind my friend.

Japanese Samurai Poem

Loving-kindness, on the other hand, is extraordinary precisely because it can embrace all; there is no one who falls outside of its domain. That is why, when we encounter people who have developed this capacity to a great extent—the Dalai Lama, for example—we sense their tremendous kindness toward everyone. Loving-kindness is a feeling that blesses others and oneself with the simple wish, “Be happy.” The Japanese poet Issa expresses this openhearted feeling so well: “In the cherry blossom’s shade, there’s no such thing as a stranger.”

Although we may not always live in a steady state of loving feeling, through practice we can learn to touch it many times a day.

The Practice of Loving-Kindness for Oneself

One way to develop and strengthen metta within us is through the following specific meditation practice, which we start by extending loving feelings toward ourselves.

It’s very simple: At first, just sit in some comfortable position, and keeping an image or felt sense of yourself in mind, slowly repeat phrases of loving-kindness for yourself: May I be happy, may I be peaceful, may I be free of suffering. Say these or any other phrases that reflect feelings of care and well-wishing, over and over again. We do this not as an affirmation, but rather as an expression of a caring intention. As you repeat the words, focus the mind on this intention of kindness; it slowly grows into a powerful force in our lives.

Although the practice is straightforward, at times it can be extremely difficult. As you turn your attention inward and send loving wishes toward yourself, you might see a considerable amount of self-judgment or feelings of unworthiness. At these times, proceed gently, as if you were holding a young child. A line from an old Japanese Samurai poem expresses well this part of the practice: “I make my mind my friend.”

The Practice of Loving-Kindness for a Benefactor

After strengthening feelings of loving-kindness for ourselves, we then send these very same wishes to a benefactor, someone who has aided us in some way in our lives. This might be a parent, a teacher, or even someone we don’t know personally, but whose life has nonetheless had a positive influence on our own. One person who was having difficulty connecting with loving-kindness said that she opened to the feeling of metta most easily when she thought of her dog—a being who always gave her unquestioning love. Benefactors can take many forms.

In this part of the practice, hold the image or sense of that person (or other being) in your mind, as if you were talking directly to them, and then direct your intention of metta toward him or her: Be happy, be peaceful, be free of suffering.

This stage is often easier than directing metta toward ourselves, because we usually already have warm and caring feelings for those who have helped us.

 

How to cite this document:
© Joseph Goldstein, A Heart Full of Peace (Wisdom Publications, 2007)

Creative Commons License
This selection from A Heart Full of Peace by Joseph Goldstein is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://www.wisdompubs.org/book/heart-full-peace.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.wisdompubs.org/terms-use.