Loving Kindness Meditation

Jan 20th, 2019

Image copyright: Daria Nepriakhina

Loving Kindness Meditation
 
This is what should be accomplished by the one who is wise,
Who seeks the good, and has obtained peace.
 
Let one be strenuous, upright, and sincere,
Without pride, easily contented, and joyous.
Let one not be submerged by the things of the world.
Let one not take upon oneself the burden of riches.
Let one’s senses be controlled.
Let one be wise but not puffed up and
Let one not desire great possessions even for one’s family.
Let one do nothing that is mean or that the wise would reprove.
 
May all beings be happy.
May they be joyous and live in safety,
All living beings, whether weak or strong,
In high or middle or low realms of existence.
Small or great, visible or invisible,
Near or far, born or to be born,
May all beings be happy.
 
Let no one deceive another nor despise any being in any state.
Let none by anger or hatred wish harm to another.
Even as a mother at the risk of her life
Watches over and protects her only child,
So with a boundless mind should one cherish all living things.
Suffusing love over the entire world,
Above, below, and all around, without limit,
So let one cultivate an infinite good will toward the whole world.
 
Standing or walking, sitting or lying down,
During all one’s waking hours,
Let one practice the way with gratitude.
 
Not holding to fixed views,
Endowed with insight,
Freed from sense appetites,
One who achieves the way
Will be freed from the duality of birth and death.

Translation used at SFZC.

This is a very common chant in several schools of Buddhism. It is understood as a way to generate feelings of metta or lovingkindness in practitioners. Lovingkindness is one of the four “divine abodes”. At San Francisco Zen Center it is the center of the “well-being ceremony” where the community comes together and offers merit to those who are sick, suffering, or in harmful situations. My dear friend Blanche Hartman and her husband Lou began to chant this every morning between breakfast and work meeting. This continued until Blanche was too ill to continue. Towards the end of Blanche’s life, every talk that she gave centered around lovingkindness, and she often said that it was her only practice. During the time I was trusted to help care for her, she often instructed me to “Just be kind”.

I continue Blanche’s practice of chanting this every morning and offering the merit to those who I know who are suffering. This practice has created a deep, settled, open-hearted start to my day. It has also created a question for me about what it means to truly practice lovingkindness.

In my mind, I think that a lot of folks confuse being kind with being silent in moments of difficulty, to sort of be a pushover. In my mind, this is exactly the opposite of what is being called for in this practice. Lovingkindness has to include confronting oppression in myself and others. It must include speaking up and speaking out. It must include not allowing ourselves or others to be mistreated, misunderstood, or trapped in greed, hatred, and delusion. So many people see the instruction to “just be kind” as a request to not make folks uncomfortable. I have heard on more than one occasion the call for lovingkindness being used to silence confrontations to someone’s inappropriate behavior. This can not possibly be the intention of the Buddha to shield oppressors or excuse our bad behavior.

When I first started working in multicultural communities, I often heard requests to create spaces that were “safe”. I think we have all heard, at least once, the call for “safe space”. What’s interesting for me in this has always been the question of safe for whom? What is meant by “safe”? Is “safe” free from discomfort or confrontation? I am grateful that more and more our teachers, leaders, mentors, etc are calling for an end to “safe” space in favor of “brave space”. Brave space is the space where I can be courageous in not just how I deal with others, but also brave in how I do the deep diving work it takes to really land in a place of kindness. Some of the largest moments of kindness for me have been moments of confrontations of my choices and behaviors. I am blessed to have people in my life who regularly hold me accountable to my vows. My friends who love me enough to bring to me instances of my failures of body speech and mind, are truly expressing kindness. It takes bravery to tell someone that they are not living out their best selves. It also takes lovingkindness. To me this is the most loving and kind someone can be. To help you find your blind spots, to offer you opportunities to make amends for shortcomings. This is what it means to love someone.

So let’s all truly practice metta by first learning how to bravely take our place. To love ourselves enough to truly inhabit our lives as it is in this very moment. And then from that place, begin to love others with honesty, to be kind enough to help each other see our shadows, and blindspots. To truly practice lovingkindness by telling the truth of liberation in each moment.

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