Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Understanding Kindness, Really Really Understanding Kindness

The Kindness of All Living Beings

If I want no more or less than what I am given,
Then whatever I am given, by any living being, is supreme kindness.

What the tenets of Buddhism, and emptiness in particular, are suggesting is that until we understand that each and every living being is supremely kind to us, we cannot really understand how to relate to others (see previous blog on Relationships Without Attachment). Until we understand this in our hearts and minds–without hesitation, without reservation, without exception–the compassion which is at our core is unable to arise spontaneously and so we suffer unnecessarily.

It’s not that the belief “each and every living being is supremely kind to me” is true or not true. It is, from the Buddhist point of view, simply a perspective we need to work from.

For the sake of this blog and its exercises, just take the statement “Each and every living being is supremely kind to me” at its surface value. (1) Don’t think about changing any of the words; consider them non-negotiable. (2) Don’t try parsing the words into a meaning you like better. (3) Don’t think about connotations and denotations: whether spiders and trees are living beings, for example; whether each and every has to mean all, without even a single exception. (4) And don’t don’t get hung up on the act or action that another might do, simply sidestep that issue for now–eventually it will become clear why it is unimportant.

Consideration One

Consider that all our day-to-day needs are provided through the kindness of others. We brought nothing into this life, yet, the moment we were born, we were given what we needed–all provided through the kindness of others. Don’t drift off message here into thinking the it-would-have-been-better-ifs. Don’t drift off into the how it-should-have-beens. Simply consider how kind the universe is to have provided us with an infrastructure.

Seriously contemplate this understanding: Everything we now enjoy has been provided through the kindness of other beings, past or present.

Consider all the ways that is true. Consider how we are able live and move about in this life with very little effort on our own part. If we consider facilities such as roads, cars, trains, airplanes, ships, houses, restaurants, hotels, libraries, hospitals, shops, money and so on, it is clear that many people worked very hard to provide these things. Even though we make little or no contribution towards the provision of these facilities, they are all available to us and for us through the great kindness of others.

Consider how our general education, even the language or languages in learn, and our spiritual training were and continue to be provided by others. All of our realizations and insights into how to live are and were attained in dependence upon the kindness of others. Even our ability to learn to be more peaceful, to practice meditation and Buddhism, is available to use through the kindness of others.*

This supreme kindness of each and every living being is the gateway through which we see the unmitigated need to feel and realize compassion for all living beings. It is the gateway through which we develop this compassion by relying upon the understanding that because of the supreme kindness of all living beings, each and every living being is and should be an object of our compassion.

It is through the great kindness of all living beings that we have the opportunity to live better and more peacefully, and to make our family and friends and the world a better, more peaceful place, and to attain the supreme happiness that comes from enlightenment. Keeping ourselves in this perspective, it is clear that for us all living beings are supremely kind and precious.

From the depths of our hearts, then, we should contemplate Consideration Two (below). To do this, write out the contemplation so you can have it with you. Often during contemplations, the words morph into another meaning. Having it in writing with you will prevent this. Go for a half-hour walk, preferably outside in a park or field. Why outside? Because that’s where you will encounter other living beings whose presence will strengthen your contemplation. During the walk, let you body settle into the earth, feel your feet grounding you, develop a mindful awareness of your surroundings, and think about Consideration Two: validate it from every angle you can; consider its deeper meanings, and sense who you would become if indeed you unquestionably and wholeheartedly cherished every living being. Also, think about what effect this would have on you and your family and friends and your colleagues and the planet.

Consideration Two

Each and every living being is supremely kind to me. I cherish each and every living being.

Understanding and thinking in this way, we generate a warm heart and a feeling of being equally close to all living beings without exception. By continually contemplating and meditating on these two considerations, we maintain an open and warm heart and a feeling of being close to each and every living being, all the time, in every situation, without exceptions.

This is our practice, to continuously maintain an open and warm heart and a feeling of being close to each and every living being, all the time, in every situation, without exception. To maintain this open heart, this mind of universal compassion and love, we train ourselves in this new perspective through contemplation. The more we see all living beings as supremely kind to us the more we will spontaneously cherish them all. The deeper our understanding of this becomes, the broader our definition of “all livings beings” becomes, and the more and more peaceful and happy we find ourselves.

To continuously maintain an open and warm heart and a feeling of being close to each and every living being, all the time, in every situation, without exception, is the answer to the question: how do I relate to others without attachment? We relate to each and every one of them with compassion. We simply cherish each and every one of them.

There are others ways to reason the validity of this every-living-being-is-supremely-kind-to-me practice. Two of the most common are (1) understanding that everything I do is to relieve my suffering, then everything everyone else does is to relieve their suffering, therefore, regardless of the act, then whatever anyone is doing is an act of kindness so I must respond compassionately; and (2) if we see the actions of others, regardless of what they are, as simple opportunities for us to practice being unconditionally compassionate, then we can understand any action as an act of kindness.

This does not mean that all acts are to be condoned or approved. Obviously many acts are unwise and unskillful, like lying and stealing, and at the extremes, like child abuse and killing. What these contemplations suggest is that we can see past the specific acts and our labeling and judging of them, and when we do, a profound new level of peacefulness arises from within and anger and depression fall away.