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Category Archives: Teachers & Teachings

What is Loving Kindness?

cherish - loving kindness

cherish © 2010 Mahala Mazerov

So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings:
Radiating kindness over the entire world
~ Buddha’s discourse on Loving Kindness

Thanks to all of you who are joining in the Summer of Loving Kindness Invitational, #SOLI. It’s a delight to see what you’re creating. I must admit to being very happy every time a new person joins in.

I’m also excited to discover that I’m noticing more and more kindness related offerings on the internet, whether they’re from #SOLI participants or not. This is exactly what I wanted — to turn my mind to loving kindness and discover it all around me on a more constant basis. I hope that’s happening for you, too.

We can all be mirrors of loving kindness everywhere.

[Just so you know, I'm writing it as "loving kindness" here in this post for the sake of the search engines. I'd like to have as many people as possible discovering and engaging in this awareness.]

As we explore our concepts of loving kindness inspired by the writing prompts or our own insights, I thought it would be helpful to share the Buddhist meaning of the word.

Many of you know the word Metta; it comes from the Pali language. (Some of you also know Maitri, which is Sanskrit.) It’s most often translated as loving kindness, but in truth there is no singular word in English that expresses the full breadth of the word. It’s more than affection or warm feelings, and very different from the attachment that forms with worldly love.

Some translators say it literally means “friendliness,” but that too is different from how we generally use the word.

When we love, when we feel friendliness for someone, we tend to exclude others. We think “I love you.” Or “This person is my friend. This group is my tribe. That person is a stranger. Those people are my adversaries.”

Metta does not set up such boundaries of exclusion. True loving kindness is extended to all humanity. That is what makes it a practice requiring (and worthy of) ongoing devotion.

The Buddha uses the image of a mother’s love for her only child as the epitome of love. It’s the loving kindness we should develop for all beings. When you consider how carefully this mother would attend to her child, how no self-sacrifice would be too great to see her child survive and flourish, you begin to grasp the full meaning of metta.  You come to understand what is being asked of you, and what a great gift you give to the world, even if you can only generate a small amount of loving kindness at a time.

If you’re a parent, I would love to hear how this description resonates with your experience.

For everyone: How can you bring the essence of loving kindness into your day?

Arizona In My Mind

Gwen Bell is a social media rockstar and an absolute sweetheart. She’s invited more-or-less the entire world to join her in writing about their Best of 2009 experiences with a different subject for each day of the month. Pretend it’s December 1st when the prompt was: Trip. What was your best trip in 2009?

stupa at sunrise © 2008 Mahala Mazerov

stupa at sunrise © 2008 Mahala Mazerov

My best trip this year is a trip I had to take in my mind. Plans to attend a meditation retreat with the most kind and generous teacher imaginable were repeatedly thwarted and finally canceled.

Four years ago, my first visit to this center, the landscape seemed unfamiliar and incongruous. American desert, cactus, scrub pine, red-robed monks navigating crumbling paths, and Tibetan prayer flags everywhere, snapping in the wind.

Now I know it as the place on earth where the sky is as familiar as my heart.

I amble up the road in darkness to catch the first light of sun splashing red rock hills and shining on the tip of the stupa. I reserve my usual seat in the meditation hall, just inside the door. Right now the hall with gleaming floors and traditionally patterned rugs is nearly empty. Soon it will fill with monks and nuns and a changing kaleidoscope of roughly 80 of my favorite people on the face of the earth. Shoulder to shoulder. Practicing together.

I wish I had words to tell you about my Guru so you could understand. We now have business gurus and exercise gurus. But capital G Guru is a loaded and misunderstood concept in the west. He’s not my father or my authority figure. He doesn’t tell me what to do, though I’ve asked many times, believe me.

I can say that he is an enlightened being and he knows how to merge his heart and mind with my own, showing me true nature. But I can’t really explain to you what that means. I have no idea what enlightenment is. I only know his wisdom and kindness seem more magnificent to me every year, yet he is not the one who’s changing. I don’t have words to describe his heart and mind merging, either. I only know something happens and some better, clearer, kinder (aaugh words!) part of myself is revealed through those moments.

My understanding is like an iceberg. I know only the very tip while the rest of the iceberg goes on for miles beyond my view.

I wish I could explain devotion. I wish I could explain how you cultivate it, because even some of my friends in the Sangha say they see my devotion and they don’t really know how to feel at. Really? I don’t understand. I don’t know. Just put Garchen Rinpoche in front of me or in my thoughts. Let me read one of the innumerable breathtaking prayers. I’ll struggle to hold back tears while wondering if my heart actually can explode from feeling so much love.

The retreat I missed was a special form, a “drubchen.” The word means Great Accomplishment. Everyone joins together during the day and people take shifts through the night so the practice and the mantra goes on around the clock.

My favorite shift starts around 4 AM. The lights in the room are dim, like practicing by candle light. Or butter lamps. My Guru is seated alone in the front, the other monks taking their turn sleeping. Scattered throughout the meditation hall are maybe three to six other practitioners chanting the mantra.

When you come in at that hour Garchen Rinpoche looks up and smiles at you as you settle in. Can you imagine?

After that happiness comesa feeling I can only describe as holy, mixed with some kind of of Noble Pride at taking your turn, holding the sacred responsibility of the practice.

If you stay through the morning, Rinpoche catches your eye and makes little eating motions, encouraging you to go for breakfast. Even though he’s been there longer, he stays in his seat. He’ll be there still when the sun has fully risen, when you’ve filled your belly and the full Sangha comes streaming in. He’ll be there when the practice begins a new cycle.

I wanted to go to Arizona so badly it hurt. But Garchen Rinpoche, the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha? All right here.

Always in my mind.

Army of Love and Compassion

Photography as Meditation: The Friday Flower. Sometimes just photos. Sometimes with writing. Appearing on Fridays.

better angels of our nature © 2009 Mahala Mazerov

better angels of our nature © 2009 Mahala Mazerov

When Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in prison for anti-apartheid activities, he was a strong voice for reconciliation and negotiation. His efforts, along with others such as Bishop Desmond Tutu, helped South Africa transition to a multi-racial democracy.

In an interview soon after he was freed, someone asked how he could bear to interact with advocates of the apartheid policies which had caused such suffering. How could he not hate them yet alone work beside them?

His reply was very simple. He said, “It is hard to hate someone you have prayed for every day.”

His words remind me of one of the stanzas in the 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva. This ancient teaching is one of my Teacher’s favorites. He encourages us to read the short text every day to train our minds in love and compassion.

Stanza 20:

If outer foes are destroyed while not subduing the enemy of one’s own hatred, enemies will only increase. Therefore, subduing one’s own mind with the army of love and compassion is the Bodhisattvas’ practice.

How can you subdue your own mind with the army of love and compassion?

Is there someone you need to pray for today? What prayers would you say?

The Dalai Lama on Waking Up:
Getting Out of Bed on the Way to Enlightenment

Photography as Meditation: The Friday Flower. Sometimes just photos. Sometimes with writing. Appearing on Fridays.

sun splashed © 2009 Mahala Mazerov

© 2009 Mahala Mazerov

How we start our morning influences our entire day.

Some of the fortunate, disciplined and/or devoted among us manage to start with meditation, yoga or some small ritual to ground the day in mindful awareness.

But most of us simply hope to take care of the needs of children, partners and pets with a minimum of stress, not gulp down breakfast and be organized enough to rush out the door without leaving anything behind. Even if we’re single or work at home, we spin our way into the chaos of the day far too rapidly.

From my experience, the influence of the day begins in our firsts fluttering moments between sleep and waking. When the alarm clock goes off, with one foot still in dream land and the other slipping out of bed to touch the floor, we’re in a supremely subtle and impressionable state.

This is a precious opportunity to infuse our day with love and awareness. A moment that can easily be lost or destroyed.

When I was an undergraduate in college, the first weeks of my freshman year were punctuated with violent nightmares just as I was waking up.

One morning I woke before my clock radio alarm and discovered I was waking, not to music, but to the local crime news report. In those moments before I was fully conscious I was hearing about beatings, break-ins and other crimes. I changed the station, as well as the time the radio played to ensure that I heard music and not reporting.

The nightmares ended instantly.

I’ve never forgotten how actively my mind is engaged, whether I’m aware of it or not.

Now my morning wake up is another way to bring meditation into my day, much like the prayers I regularly bring to mind. My clock plays dvd music as the wake-up alarm. I wake to music and familiar prayers in Tibetan.

…and I bring to mind these words by the Dalai Lama:

A Precious Human Life

“Every day, think as you wake up,
Today I am fortunate to have woken up,
I am alive, I have a precious human life,
I am not going to waste it
I am going to use
All my energies to develop myself.
To expand my heart out to others,
To achieve enlightenment for
The benefit of all beings,
I am going to have kind
Thoughts towards others,
I am not going to get angry,
Or think badly about others,
I am going to benefit others
As much as I can.”

How do you wake up on your way to enlightenment?

Pema Chodron, Skillful Answers to Disgraceful Questions

Many years ago I was in the audience while Pema Chodron was giving a public talk. During the question and answer period a young man stood up to ask a question.

I don’t remember the subject, but I do remember it was so outrageously inappropriate an actual gasp rose up from the audience.

Oblivious to our discomfort, the young man continued on for several minutes. When he finally became silent, all eyes turned to Ani Pema Chodron. What could she possibly say in response?

Taking in the question, taking her time, she finally leaned toward the microphone. She looked directly at the young man. Her voice filled with enthusiasm she exclaimed “What an extraordinary question!”

Then she closed her mouth and said nothing. She held the silence for a few moments while it slowly dawned on us she had no plans to say anything further. Then she cheerfully pointed at another raised hand and took the next question.

It was a stunning response. I do not know what the young man took away from that moment, but I know I’m not the only one who received an incredible teaching.

Since then I’ve used variations of that response when it was exactly what was called for. It makes a thundering statement while saying very little, and prevents getting hooked into any ugliness. Used skillfully, it cuts through so cleanly that nothing more needs to be said.

Like anything, it can probably be misused as a tactic when genuine dialog is what’s required. But when you need a skillful answer to a disgraceful question or an inappropriate comment, it works. Even if you’re not Pema Chodron.

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