Within Buddhism, loving-kindness (Sanskrit: maitri) is defined as the wish for all beings to have happiness and its causes. Compassion (Sanskrit: karuna) is defined as the wish for all beings to be free from suffering and its causes. Loving-kindness and compassion are traditionally practiced as two of the ‘Four Immeasurable Attitudes’ (Sanskrit: brahmaviharahs) – the other two being joy and equanimity. ‘Joy’ (as one of the four immeasurable attitudes) highlights the fact that authentic loving-kindness and compassion can only manifest from a mind that is infused with meditative bliss, and that has transmuted all afflictive mental states. Equanimity emphasizes the need for unconditionality in the cultivation of loving-kindness and compassion that are extended in equal and unlimited measure to all sentient beings (i.e., irrespective of whether we consider them to be a “friend” or an “enemy”).
‘Bodhichitta’ is a Sanskrit word that means the ‘mind of awakening’. Bodhichitta refers to an attitude or motivation to undertake spiritual practice for the primary purpose of benefitting others. People who adopt and act upon such an attitude are known as bodhisattvas (or aspirants thereof). The bodhisattva essentially dedicates their live (and all future lives) towards alleviating the suffering of other beings. From the Buddhist perspective, this represents a win-win situation because it not only aids other beings both materially and spiritually, but also helps us as practitioners to adopt a humble demeanour. Being humble is a favourable quality because it aids us in dismantling our attachment to the ‘ego-self’. As we discussed in our recent blog about ‘Mindwithness’, ego-attachment is considered to be the root-cause of all suffering.
As aspiring bodhisattvas we should try to allow loving-kindness and compassion to suffuse all of our actions. Being a bodhisattva doesn’t mean that we single-handedly have to “save the world”, or end poverty in the third world. If that was the case then we would have to conclude that all of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas had failed in fulfilling their role. Rather, what we should do is follow in the footsteps of all of the enlightened beings who have already walked the path to liberation. The first steps on this path involve us cultivating compassion and loving-kindness towards ourselves.
When we have unconditional love for our own being then all of our thoughts, words, and actions become an expression of that love. In fact, until we resolve the hatred and conflict within ourselves, we are not in a strong position to try to resolve the conflict and problems that exist in the world around us. If we try to convince others to live peacefully and responsibly when we have tension and conflict in our own hearts, then despite our best intentions, we are just going to create more suffering and confusion.
When we are gentle and kind towards ourselves, and when we have deep compassion for our own suffering and pain, then we begin to see the world in a very different way. We no longer experience life as a constant struggle or an unending flow of dissatisfaction. In fact, not only do we begin to see the world differently but the world begins to see us differently. We begin to tune into how to act skilfully in any given situation – phenomena begin to talk to us and the path becomes clearer and clearer. When unconditional kindness and compassion have flowered in the mind, the earth breathes out a huge sigh of relief. She relaxes a little because amidst all of the chaos and exploitation of her natural resources, the earth knows that she has a new friend and guardian – a child of the Buddhas who walks gently and gracefully upon her shoulders.
Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon