THE TOOLS of mindfulness discussed in this book, if you choose to take advantage of them, can surely transform your every experience. In the afterword to the this new edition, I’d like to take some time to emphasize the importance of another aspect of the Buddha’s path that goes hand in hand with mindfulness: metta, or loving friendliness. Without loving friendliness, our practice of mindfulness will never successfully break through our craving and rigid sense of self. Mindfulness, in turn, is a necessary basis for developing loving friendliness. The two are always developed together.
In the decade since this volume first appeared, much has happened in the world to increase people’s feelings of insecurity and fear. In this troubled climate, the importance of cultivating a deep sense of loving friendliness is especially crucial for our wellbeing, and it is the best hope for the future of the world. The concern for others embodied in loving friendliness is at the heart of the promise of the Buddha—you can see it everywhere in his teachings and in the way he lived his life.
Each of us is born with the capacity for loving friendliness. Yet only in a calm mind, a mind free from anger, greed, and jealousy, can the seeds of loving friendliness develop; only from the fertile ground of a peaceful mind can loving friendliness flower. We must nurture the seeds of loving friendliness in ourselves and in others, help them take root and mature.
I travel all over the world teaching the Dhamma, and consequently I spend a lot of time in airports. One day I was in Gatwick airport near London waiting for a flight. I had quite a bit of time, but for me having time on my hands is not a problem. In fact, it is a pleasure, since it means more opportunity for meditation! So there I was, sitting crosslegged on one of the airport benches with my eyes closed, while all around me people were coming and going, rushing to and from their flights. When meditating in situations like this, I fill my mind with thoughts of loving friendliness and compassion for everyone everywhere. With every breath, with every pulse, with every heartbeat, I try to allow my entire being to become permeated with the glow of loving friendliness.
In that busy airport, absorbed in feelings of metta, I was paying no attention to the hustle and bustle around me, but soon I had the sensation that someone was sitting quite close to me on the bench. I didn’t open my eyes but merely kept on with my meditation, radiating loving friendliness. Then I felt two tiny, tender hands reaching around my neck, and I slowly opened my eyes and discovered a very beautiful child, a little girl perhaps two years old. This little one, with bright blue eyes and a head covered in downy blond curls, had put her arms around me and was hugging me. I had seen this sweet child as I was people watching; she had had her hand grasped around her mother’s little finger. Apparently, the little girl had loosened herself from her mother’s hand and run over to me.
I looked over and saw that her mother had chased after her. Seeing her little girl with her arms around my neck, the mother asked me, “Please bless my little girl and let her go.” I did not know what language the child spoke, but I said to her in English, “Please go. Your mother has lots of kisses for you, lots of hugs, lots of toys, and lots of sweets. I have none of those things. Please go.” The child hung on to my neck and would not let go. Again, the mother folded her palms together and pleaded with me in a very kindly tone, “Please, sir, give her your blessing and let her go.”
By this time, other people in the airport were beginning to notice. They must have thought that I knew this child, that perhaps she was related to me somehow. Surely they thought there was some strong bond between us. But I had never before that day seen this lovely little child. I did not even know what language she spoke. Again, I urged her, “Please go. You and your mother have a plane to catch. You are late. Your mother has all your toys and candy. I have nothing. Please go.” But the little girl would not budge. She clung to me harder and harder. The mother then very gently took the little girl’s hands off my neck and asked me to bless her. “You are a very good little girl,” I said. “Your mother loves you very much. Hurry. You might miss your plane. Please go.” But still the little girl would not go. She was crying and crying. Finally the mother carefully snatched her up. The toddler was kicking and screaming. She was trying to get loose and come back to me. But this time the mother managed to carry her off to the plane. The last I saw of her she was still struggling to get loose and run back to me.
Maybe because of my robes, this little girl thought I was a Santa Claus or some kind of fairytale figure. But there is another possibility: At the time I was sitting on that bench, I was practicing metta, sending out thoughts of loving friendliness with every breath. Perhaps this little child felt this; children are extremely sensitive in these ways, their psyches absorb whatever feelings are around them. When you are angry, they feel those vibrations; and when you are full of love and compassion, they feel that too. This little girl may have been drawn to me by the feelings of loving friendliness she felt. There was a bond between us—the bond of loving friendliness.
THE FOUR SUBLIME STATES
Loving friendliness works miracles. We have the capacity to act with loving friendliness. We may not even know we have this quality in ourselves, but the power of loving friendliness is inside us all. Loving friendliness is one of the four sublime states defined by the Buddha, along with compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity. All four states are interrelated; we cannot develop one without the other.
One way to understand them is to think of different stages of parenthood. When a young woman finds out she is going to have a child, she feels a tremendous outpouring of love for the baby she will bear. She will do everything she can to protect the infant growing inside her. She will make every effort to make sure the baby is well and healthy. She is full of loving, hopeful thoughts for the child. Like metta, the feeling a new mother has for her infant is limitless and allembracing; and, like metta, it does not depend on actions or behavior of the one receiving our thoughts of loving friendliness.
As the infant grows older and starts to explore his world, the parents develop compassion. Every time the child scrapes his knee, falls down, or bumps his head, the parent feels the child’s pain. Some parents even say that when their child feels pain, it is as if they themselves were being hurt. There is no pity in this feeling; pity puts distance between others and ourselves. Compassion leads us to appropriate action; and the appropriate, compassionate action is just the pure, heartfelt hope that the pain stop and the child not suffer.
As time passes, the child heads off to school. Parents watch as the youngster makes friends, does well in school, sports, and other activities. Maybe the child does well on a spelling test, makes the baseball team, or gets elected class president. The parents are not jealous or resentful of their child’s success but are full of happiness for the child. This is appreciative joy. Thinking of how we would feel for our own child, we can feel this for others. Even when we think of others whose success exceeds our own, we can appreciate their achievement and rejoice in their happiness.
To continue in our example: Eventually, after many years, the child grows up. He finishes school and goes out on his own; perhaps he marries and starts a family. Now it is time for the parents to practice equanimity. Clearly, what the parents feel for the child is not indifference. It is an appreciation that they have done all that they could do for the child. They recognize their limitations. Of course the parents continue caring for and respecting their child, but they do so with awareness that they no longer steer the outcome of their child’s life. This is the practice of equanimity.
The ultimate goal of our practice of meditation is the cultivation of these four sublime states of loving friendliness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity.
The word metta comes from another Pali word, mitra, which means “friend.” That is why I prefer to use the phrase “loving friendliness” as a translation of metta, rather than “loving kindness.” The Sanskrit word mitra also refers to the sun at the center of our solar system that makes all life possible. Just as the sun’s rays provide energy for all living things, the warmth and radiance of metta flows in the heart of all living beings.
THE SEED IS IN ALL OF US
Different objects reflect the sun’s energy differently. Similarly, people differ in their ability to express loving friendliness. Some people seem naturally warmhearted, while others are more reserved and reluctant to open their hearts. Some people struggle to cultivate metta; others cultivate it without difficulty. But there is no one who is totally devoid of loving friendliness. We are all born with the instinct for metta. We can see it even in young babies who smile readily at the sight of another human face, any human face at all. Sadly, many people have no idea how much loving friendliness they have. Their innate capacity for loving friendliness may be buried under a heap of hatred, anger, and resentment accumulated through a lifetime—perhaps many lifetimes—of unwholesome thoughts and actions. But all of us can cultivate our heart, no matter what. We can nourish the seeds of loving friendliness until the force of loving friendliness blossoms in all our endeavors.
In the Buddha’s time, there was a man named Angulimala; this man was, to use the language of today, a serial killer, a mass murderer. He was so wretched that he wore around his neck a garland of fingers taken from the people he had slaughtered, and he planned to make the Buddha his thousandth victim. In spite of Angulimala’s reputation and his gruesome appearance, the Buddha nonetheless could see his capacity for loving friendliness. Thus, out of love and compassion—his own loving friendliness—the Buddha taught the Dhamma to this villainous murderer. As a result of the Buddha’s teaching, Angulimala threw away his sword and surrendered to the Buddha, joining the followers of the Buddha and becoming ordained.
As it turned out, Angulimala started his vicious killing spree many years earlier because a man whom Angulimala regarded as his teacher had (for unwholesome reasons of his own) directed him to do so. Angulimala was not by nature a cruel person, nor was he an evil person. In fact, he had been a kind boy. In his heart, there was loving friendliness, gentleness, and compassion. As soon as he became a monk, his true nature was revealed, and not long after his ordination, he became enlightened.
The story of Angulimala shows us that sometimes people can appear very cruel and wicked, yet we must realize they are not that way by nature. Circumstances in their lives make them act in unwholesome ways. In Angulimala’s case, he became a murderer because of his devotion to his teacher. For every one of us, not just violent criminals, there are countless causes and conditions—both wholesome and unwholesome—that make us act as we do.
In addition to the meditation offered earlier in this book, I’d like to offer another way to practice loving friendliness. Again, you start out in this meditation by banishing thoughts of selfhatred and condemnation. At the beginning of a meditation session, say the following sentences to yourself. And again, really feel the intention:
May my mind be filled with the thoughts of loving friendliness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity. May I be generous. May I be gentle. May I be relaxed. May I be happy and peaceful. May I be healthy. May my heart become soft. May my words be pleasing to others. May my actions be kind.
May all that I see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and think help me to cultivate loving friendliness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity. May all these experiences help me to cultivate thoughts of generosity and gentleness. May they all help me to relax. May they inspire friendly behavior. May these experiences be a source of peace and happiness. May they help me be free from fear, tension, anxiety, worry, and restlessness.
No matter where I go in the world, in any direction, may I greet people with happiness, peace, and friendliness. May I be protected in all directions from greed, anger, aversion, hatred, jealousy, and fear.
When we cultivate loving friendliness in ourselves, we learn to see that others have this kind, gentle nature—however well hidden it might be. Sometimes we have to dig very deep to find it, other times it might be nearer to the surface.
SEEING THROUGH THE DIRT
The Buddha told the story of a monk who finds a filthy piece of cloth on the road. The rag is so nasty, at first the monk does not even want to touch it. He kicks it with his foot to knock off some of the dirt. Disgusted, he gingerly picks it up with two fingers, holding it away from himself with contempt. Yet even as the monk does this, he sees potential in that scrap of dirty cloth, and takes it home and washes it—over and over and over. Eventually, the wash water runs clean, and from underneath the filth and grime, a useful piece of material is revealed. The monk sees that if he collects enough pieces, he could, perhaps, make this rag into part of a robe.
Likewise, because of a person’s nasty words, that person may seem totally worthless; it may be impossible to see that person’s potential for loving friendliness. But this is where the practice of Skillful Effort comes in. Underneath such a person’s rough exterior, you may find the warm, radiant jewel that is the person’s true nature.
A person may use very harsh words for others, yet sometimes still act with compassion and kindness. In spite of her words, her deeds may be good. The Buddha compared this kind of person to a pond covered by moss. In order to use that water, you must brush the moss aside. Similarly, we sometimes need to ignore a person’s superficial weaknesses to find her good heart.
But what if a person’s words are cruel and her actions too are unkind? Is she rotten through and through? Even a person like this may have a pure heart. Imagine you have been walking through a desert. You have no water with you, and there is no water anywhere around. You are hot and tired. With every step, you become thirstier and thirstier. You are desperate for water. Then you come across a cow’s footprint. There is water in the footprint, but not much because the footprint is not very deep. If you try to scoop up the water with your hand, it will become very muddy. You are so thirsty, you kneel down and bend over. Very slowly, you bring your mouth to the water and sip it, very carefully so as not to disturb the mud. Even though there is dirt all around, the little bit of water is still clear. You can quench your thirst. With similar effort, we can find a good heart even in a person who seems totally without redemption.
The meditation center where I most often teach is in the hills of the West Virginia countryside. When we first opened our center, there was a man down the road who was very unfriendly. I take a long walk every day, and, whenever I saw this man, I would wave to him. He would just frown at me and look away. Even so, I would always wave and think kindly of him, sending him metta. I was not phased by his attitude; I never gave up on him. Whenever I saw him, I waved. After about a year, his behavior changed. He stopped frowning. I felt wonderful. The practice of loving friendliness was beginning to bear fruit.
After another year, when I passed him on my walk, something miraculous happened. He drove past me and lifted one finger off the steering wheel. Again, I thought, “Oh, this is wonderful! Loving friendliness is working.” And yet another year passed as, day after day, I would wave to him and wish him well. The third year, he lifted two fingers in my direction. Then the next year, he lifted all four fingers off the wheel. More time passed. I was walking down the road as he turned into his driveway. He took his hand completely off the steering wheel, stuck it out the window, and waved back to me.
One day, not long after that, I saw this man parked on the side of one of the forest roads. He was sitting in the driver’s seat smoking a cigarette. I went over to him and we started talking. First we chatted just about the weather and then, little by little, his story unfolded: It turns out that, several years ago, he had been in a terrible accident—a tree had fallen on his truck. Almost every bone in his body had been broken, and he was left in a coma for some time. When I first started seeing him on the road, he was only beginning to recover. It was not because he was a mean person that he did not wave back to me; he did not wave back because he could not move all his fingers! Had I given up on him, I would never have known how good this man is. One day, when I had been away on a trip, he actually came by our center looking for me. He was worried because he hadn’t seen me walking in a while. Now we are friends.
PRACTICING LOVING FRIENDLINESS
The Buddha said, “By surveying the entire world with my mind, I have not come across anyone who loves others more than himself. Therefore one who loves himself should cultivate this loving friendliness.” Cultivate loving friendliness toward yourself first, with the intention of sharing your kind thoughts with others. Develop this feeling. Be full of kindness toward yourself. Accept yourself just as you are. Make peace with your shortcomings. Embrace even your weaknesses. Be gentle and forgiving with yourself as you are at this very moment. If thoughts arise as to how you should be such and such a way, let them go. Establish fully the depth of these feelings of goodwill and kindness. Let the power of loving friendliness saturate your entire body and mind. Relax in its warmth and radiance. Expend this feeling to your loved ones, to people you don’t know or feel neutrally about—and even to your adversaries!
Let each and every one of us imagine that our minds are free from greed, anger, aversion, jealousy, and fear. Let the thought of loving friendliness embrace us and envelop us. Let every cell, every drop of blood, every atom, every molecule of our entire bodies and minds be charged with the thought of friendliness. Let us relax our bodies. Let us relax our minds. Let our minds and bodies be filled with the thought of loving friendliness. Let the peace and tranquillity of loving friendliness pervade our entire being.
May all beings in all directions, all around the universe, have good hearts. Let them be happy, let them have good fortune, let them be kind, let them have good and caring friends. May all beings everywhere be filled with the feeling of loving friendliness—abundant, exalted, and measureless. May they be free from enmity, free from affliction and anxiety. May they live happily.
Just as we walk or run or swim to strengthen our bodies, the practice of loving friendliness on a regular basis strengthens our hearts. At first it may seem as if you are only going through the motions. But by associating with thoughts of
metta over and over, it becomes a habit, a good habit. In time, your heart grows stronger, and the response of loving friendliness becomes automatic. As our hearts become stronger, even toward difficult people we can think kind and loving thoughts.
May my adversaries be well, happy, and peaceful. May no harm come to them, may no difficulty come to them, may no pain come to them. May they always meet with success.
“Success?” some people ask. “How can we wish our adversaries success? What if they’re trying to kill me?” When we wish success for our adversaries, we don’t mean worldly success or success in doing something immoral or unethical; we mean success in the spiritual realm. Our adversaries are clearly not successful spiritually; if they were successful spiritually, they would not be acting in a way that causes us harm.
Whenever we say of our adversaries, “May they be successful,” we mean: ”May my enemies be free from anger, greed, and jealousy. May they have peace, comfort, and happiness.” Why is somebody cruel or unkind? Perhaps that person was brought up under unfortunate circumstances. Perhaps there are situations in that person’s life we don’t know about that cause him or her to act cruelly. The Buddha asked us to think of such people the same way we would if someone were suffering from a terrible illness. Do we get angry or upset with people who are ill? Or do we have sympathy and compassion for them? Perhaps even more than our loved ones, our adversaries deserve our kindness, for their suffering is so much greater. For these reasons, without any reservation, we should cultivate kind thoughts about them. We include them in our hearts just as we would those dearest to us.
May all those who have harmed us be free from greed, anger, aversion, hatred, jealousy, and fear. Let these thoughts of loving friendliness embrace them, envelop them. Let every cell, every drop of blood, every atom, every molecule of their entire bodies and minds be charged with thoughts of friendliness. Let them relax their bodies. Let them relax their minds. Let the peace and tranquillity pervade their entire being.
Practicing loving friendliness can change our habitual negative thought patterns and reinforce positive ones. When we practice metta meditation, our minds will become filled with peace and happiness. We will be relaxed. We gain concentration. When our mind becomes calm and peaceful, our hatred, anger, and resentment fade away. But loving friendliness is not limited to our thoughts. We must manifest it in our words and our actions. We cannot cultivate loving friendliness in isolation from the world.
You can start by thinking kind thoughts about everyone you have contact with every day. If you have mindfulness, you can do this every waking minute with everyone you deal with. Whenever you see someone, consider that, like yourself, that person wants happiness and wants to avoid suffering. We all feel that way. All beings feel that way. Even the tiniest insect recoils from harm. When we recognize that common ground, we see how closely we are all connected. The woman behind the checkout counter, the man who passes you on the expressway, the young couple walking across the street, the old man in the park feeding the birds. Whenever you see another being, any being, keep this in mind. Wish for them happiness, peace, and wellbeing. It is a practice that can change your life and the lives of those around you.
At first, you may experience resistance to this practice. Perhaps the practice seems forced. Perhaps you feel unable to bring yourself to feel these kinds of thoughts. Because of experiences in your own life, it may be easier to feel loving friendliness for some people and more difficult for others. Children, for example, often bring out our feelings of loving friendliness quite naturally; while with others, it may be more difficult. Watch the habits in your mind. Learn to recognize your negative emotions and start to break them down. With mindfulness, little by little you can change your responses.
Does sending someone thoughts of loving friendliness actually change the other person? Can practicing loving friendliness change the world? When you are sending loving friendliness to people who are far away or people you may not even know, of course, it is not possible to know the effect. But you can notice the effect that practicing loving friendliness has on your own peace of mind. What is important is the sincerity of your own wish for the happiness of others. Truly, the effect is immediate. The only way to find this out for yourself is to try it.
Practicing metta does not mean that we ignore the unwholesome actions of others. It simply means that we respond to such actions in an appropriate way. There was a prince named Abharaja Kumara. One day he went to the Buddha and asked whether the Buddha was ever harsh to others. At this time the prince had his little child on his lap. “Suppose, Prince, this little child of yours were to put a piece of wood in his mouth, what would you do?” asked the Buddha. “If he put a piece of wood in his mouth, I would hold the child very tightly between my legs and put my crooked index finger in his mouth. Though he might be crying and struggling in discomfort, I would pull the piece of wood out even if he bleeds,” said the prince. “Why would you do that?”
“Because I love my child. I want to save his life,” was his reply.
“Similarly, Prince, sometimes I have to be harsh on my disciples not out of cruelty, but out of love for them,” said the Buddha. Loving friendliness, not anger, motivated his actions.
The Buddha provided us with five very basic tools for dealing with others in a kindhearted way. These tools are the five precepts. Some people think of morality as restrictions on freedom, but in fact, these precepts liberate us. They free us from the suffering we cause ourselves and others when we act unkindly. These guidelines train us to protect others from harm; and, by protecting others, we protect ourselves. The precepts caution us to abstain from taking life, from stealing, from sexual misconduct, from speaking falsely or harshly, and from using intoxicants that cause us to act in an unmindful way.
Developing mindfulness through the practice of meditation also helps us relate to others with loving friendliness. On the cushion, we watch our minds as liking and disliking arise. We teach ourselves to relax our mind when such thoughts arise. We learn to see attachment and aversion as momentary states, and we learn to let them go. Meditation helps us look at the world in a new light and gives us a way out. The deeper we go in our practice, the more skills we develop.
DEALING WITH ANGER
When we are angry with someone, we often latch on to one particular aspect of that person. Usually it’s only a moment or two, enough for a few harsh words, a certain look, a thoughtless action. In our minds, the rest of that person drops away. All that is left is the part that pushed our buttons. When we do this, we are isolating one miniscule fraction of the whole person as something real and solid. We are not seeing all the factors and forces that shaped that person. We focus on only one aspect of that person—the part that made us angry.
Over the years, I have received many letters from prisoners who are seeking to learn the Dhamma. Some have done terrible things, even murder. And yet they see things differently now and want to change their lives. There was one letter that was particularly insightful and deeply touched my heart. In it, the writer described how the other inmates shouted and jeered whenever the guard appeared. The inmate tried to explain to the others that this guard was also a human being, but the others were blinded by hatred. All they could see, he said, was the uniform, not the man inside it.
When we are angry with someone, we can ask ourselves, “Am I angry at the hair on that person’s head? Am I angry at his skin? His teeth? His brain? His heart? His sense of humor? His tenderness? His generosity? His smile?” When we take the time to consider all the many elements and processes that make up a person, our anger naturally softens. Through the practice of mindfulness, we learn to see both ourselves and others more clearly. Understanding helps us to relate to others with loving friendliness. Within each of us is a core of goodness. In some, as in the case of Angulimala, we cannot see this true nature. Understanding the concept of “noself” softens our heart and helps us forgive the unkind actions of others. We learn to relate to ourselves and others with loving friendliness.
But, what if someone hurts you? What if someone insults you? You may want to retaliate—which is a very human response. But, where does that lead? “Hatred is never appeased by more hatred,” it says in the Dhammapada. An angry response only leads to more anger. If you respond to anger with loving friendliness, the other person’s anger will not increase. Slowly it may fade away.
“By love alone is anger appeased,” continues the verse in the Dhammapada.
An enemy of the Buddha named Devadatta concocted a scheme to kill the Buddha. Having enraged an elephant with alcohol, Devadatta let him loose at a time and a place Devadatta knew the Buddha would be. Everyone on the road ran away. Everyone who saw the Buddha warned him to run away. But the Buddha kept on walking. His devoted companion, the Venerable Ananda, thought he could stop the elephant. When Ananda stepped in front of the Buddha to try to protect him, the Buddha asked him to step aside; Ananda’s physical strength alone surely could not stop this elephant.
When the elephant reached the Buddha, his head was raised, his ears were upright and his trunk was lifted in a mad fury. The Buddha simply stood in front of him and radiated loving, compassionate thoughts toward the animal—and the elephant stopped in his tracks. The Buddha gently raised his hand up with his palm toward the beast, sending him waves of loving friendliness. The elephant knelt down before him, gentle as a lamb. With the power of loving friendliness alone, the Buddha had subdued the raging animal.
The response of anger to anger is a conditioned response; it is learned rather than innate. If we have been trained from childhood to be patient, kind, and gentle, then loving friendliness becomes part of our life. It becomes a habit. Otherwise anger becomes our habit. But even as adults, we can change our habitual responses. We can train ourselves to react in a different way.
There is another story from the Buddha’s life that teaches us how to respond to insults and harsh words. The Buddha’s rivals had bribed a prostitute named Cinca to insult and humiliate the Buddha. Cinca tied a bunch of sticks to her belly underneath her rough clothes in order to look like she was pregnant. While the Buddha was delivering a sermon to hundreds of people, she came right out in front of him and said, “You rogue. You pretend to be a saint preaching to all these people. But look what you have done to me! I am pregnant because of you.” Calmly, the Buddha spoke to her, without anger, without hatred. With his voice full of loving friendliness and compassion, he said to her, “Sister, you and I are the only ones who know what has happened.” Cinca was taken aback by the Buddha’s response. She was so shocked that on the way back she stumbled. The strings that were holding the bundle of sticks to her belly came loose. All the sticks fell to the ground, and everyone realized her ruse. Several people in the audience wanted to beat her, but the Buddha stopped them. “No, no. That is not the way you should treat her. We should help her understand the Dhamma. That is a much more effective punishment.” After the Buddha taught her the Dhamma, her entire personality changed. She too became gentle, kind, and compassionate.
When someone tries to make you angry or does something to hurt you, stay with your thoughts of loving friendliness toward that person. A person filled with thoughts of loving friendliness, the Buddha said, is like the earth. Someone may try to make the earth disappear by digging at it with a hoe or an ax, but that is a futile act. No amount of digging—not in one lifetime or many lifetimes— makes the earth vanish. The earth remains, unaffected, undiminished. Like the earth, a person full of loving friendliness is untouched by anger.
In another story from the Buddha’s life, there was a man named Akkosina, whose name means “not getting angry.” But in fact, this man was exactly the opposite: he was always getting angry. When he heard that the Buddha never got angry with anyone, he decided to visit him. He went up to the Buddha and scolded him for all sorts of things, insulting him and calling him awful names. At the end of his tirade, the Buddha asked this man if he had any friends and relatives. “Yes,” he replied. “When you visit them, do you take them gifts?” “Of course,” said the man. “I always bring them gifts.” “What happens if they don’t accept your gifts,” the Buddha asked. “Well, I just take them home and enjoy them with my own family.” “And likewise,” said the Buddha, “You have brought me a gift today that I don’t accept. You may take that gift home to your family.” With patience, wit, and loving friendliness, the Buddha invites us to change how we think about the “gift” of angry words.
If we respond to insults or angry words with mindfulness and loving friendliness, we are able to look closely at the whole situation. Perhaps that person did not know what he or she was saying. Perhaps the words were not meant to harm you. It may have been totally innocent or inadvertent. Perhaps it was your frame of mind at the time the words were spoken. Perhaps you did not hear the words clearly or misunderstood the context. It is also important to consider carefully what that person is saying. If you respond with anger, you will not hear the message behind the words. Perhaps that person is pointing out something you need to hear.
We all encounter people who push our buttons. Without mindfulness and loving friendliness, we respond automatically with anger or resentment. With mindfulness, we can watch how our mind responds to certain words and actions. Just as we do on the cushion, we can watch the arising of attachment and aversion. Mindfulness is like a safety net that cushions us against unwholesome actions. Mindfulness gives us time; time gives us choices. We don’t have to be swept away by our feelings. We can respond with wisdom rather than delusion.
UNIVERSAL LOVING FRIENDLINESS
Loving friendliness is not something we do sitting on a cushion in one place, thinking and thinking and thinking. We must let the power of loving friendliness shine through every encounter with others. Loving friendliness is the underlying principle behind all wholesome thoughts, words, and deeds. With loving friendliness, we recognize more clearly the needs of others and help them readily. With thoughts of loving friendliness we appreciate the success of others with warm feeling. We need loving friendliness in order to live and work with others in harmony. Loving friendliness protects us from the suffering caused by anger and jealousy. When we cultivate our loving friendliness, our compassion, our appreciative joy for others, and our equanimity, we not only make life more pleasant for those around us, our own lives become peaceful and happy. The power of loving friendliness, like the radiance of the sun, is beyond measure.
May all those who are imprisoned legally or illegally, all who are in police custody anywhere in the world meet with peace and happiness. May they be free from greed, anger, aversion, hatred, jealousy, and fear. Let their bodies and minds be filled with thoughts of loving friendliness. Let the peace and tranquillity of loving friendliness pervade their entire bodies and minds.
May all who are in hospitals suffering from numerous sicknesses meet with peace and happiness. May they be free from pain, afflictions, depression, disappointment, anxiety, and fear. Let these thoughts of loving friendliness embrace all of them, envelop them. Let their minds and bodies be filled with the thought of loving friendliness.
May all mothers who are in pain delivering babies meet with peace and happiness. Let every drop of blood, every cell, every atom, every molecule of their entire bodies and minds be charged with these thoughts of friendliness.
May all single parents taking care of their children meet with peace and happiness. May they have the patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome the inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life. May they be well, happy, and peaceful.
May all children abused by adults in numerous ways meet with peace and happiness. May they be filled with thoughts of loving friendliness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity. May they be gentle. May they be relaxed. May their hearts become soft. May their words be pleasing to others. May they be free from fear, tension, anxiety, worry, and restlessness.
May all rulers be gentle, kind, generous, and compassionate. May they have understanding of the oppressed, the underprivileged, the discriminated against, and the povertystricken. May their hearts melt at the suffering of their unfortunate citizens. Let these thoughts of loving friendliness embrace them, envelop them. Let every cell, every drop of blood, every atom, every molecule of their entire bodies and minds be charged with thoughts of friendliness. Let the peace and tranquillity of loving friendliness pervade their entire being.
May the oppressed and underprivileged, the povertystricken and those discriminated against, meet with peace and happiness. May they be free from pain, afflictions, depression, disappointment, anxiety, and fear. May all of them in all directions, all around the universe, be well, happy, and at peace. May they have the patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome the inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life. May these thoughts of loving friendliness embrace all of them, envelop them. May their minds and bodies be filled with thoughts of loving friendliness.
May all beings everywhere of every shape and form, with two legs, four legs, many legs, or no legs, born or coming to birth, in this realm or the next, have happy minds. May no one deceive another nor despise anyone anywhere. May no one wish harm to another. Toward all living beings, may I cultivate a boundless heart, above, below, and all around, unobstructed without hatred or resentment. May all beings be released from suffering and attain perfect peace.
Loving friendliness goes beyond all boundaries of religion, culture,geography, language, and nationality. It is a universal and ancient law that binds all of us together—no matter what form we may take. Loving friendliness should be practiced unconditionally. My enemy’s pain is my pain. His anger is my anger. His loving friendliness is my loving friendliness. If he is happy, I am happy. If he is peaceful, I am peaceful. If he is healthy, I am healthy. Just as we all share suffering regardless of our differences, we should all share our loving friendliness with every person everywhere. No one nation can stand alone without the help and support of other nations, nor can any one person exist in isolation. To survive, we need other living beings, beings who are bound to be different from us. That is simply the way things are. Because of the differences we have, the practice of loving friendliness is absolutely necessary. It is what ties all of us together.