Loving Oneself and Others

This evening we will discuss loving oneself and others. It is a very important topic. Loving self and others is not just important to talk about, but also important in one's daily life. From the Buddhist point of view, without love it is very hard to experience the deeper meaning of the highest yoga tantra. Therefore loving oneself and others is very important.. To understand what this means we must know the definition of love. Love is the wish that we and others should be happy. Love wishes for the benefit of self and others without any expectations. That is the academic definition of the term. All beings, human and non-human, young and old, have a natural desire for happiness. Everyone deserves happiness and no one deserves suffering. So love is most basic and important.

Love has to start with oneself. Love for oneself is most important for the beginning practitioner. It is very important to love oneself. In the tantric practice one cannot have a bad opinion of oneself, one must view oneself and others as deities. Therefore, loving oneself is very important. Loving oneself has to be practiced to recognize who we are. We all have the buddha nature. Everyone has the qualities of a buddha: love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. All these great qualities are within oneself. Therefore, we have buddha nature and can love oneself. When we recognize our own buddha nature we recognize everyone has these qualities. The only difference is that some recognize these qualities and some do not.

At practice time we start first with whomever has shown love to us. This can be our parents, friends, grand parents, or adopted parents. We have to recognize and remember who loves us. That is very important for the beginning meditation. It has to start with recognizing the love others have given us. We have to remember their kindness again and again. We don't have to remember the negative feelings, but should remember the kindness that others have shown us. From remembering this some warm feeling will develop. So a feeling rises of love toward that person. We will wish that they be happy and that we can help them. That rises naturally in the heart. That is very important at practice time. Then slowly the feeling must extend to others, not just for oneself and the one who has loved us. Since others have the same desire for happiness that we do, our love must pervade to others. That doesn't mean our love decreases for those who have loved us. Our love only increases as it spreads to others.

It is important to use some method in our practice, like reciting the four immeasurables. Just reciting the words is not enough. Intellectual understanding has great power, but it must be brought down into the heart. Meditation wisdom comes from bringing the feeling into the heart. We will develop a feeling of joy and happiness and understand the meaning of love. Again and again we must practice until a feeling of unconditional love arises spontaneously for others. So the feeling of love must pervade to others. Our minds will see the bigger picture, that love is meant not just for those who love us. But pervading our love in this way does not diminish our love for those close to us it only increases it.

If our life is not happy, no matter how much we have, it doesn't mean anything to us. We all wish to be happy and all need the external causes for happiness: shelter, food, and clothes. People who do not have these cannot experience happiness unless they are great masters. External causes will bring temporary happiness, but this is unstable and can change at any time. I don't mean we should not have it, but we should recognize it is not stable. So we should not be chasing after the external causes of happiness. It is not so healthy. When we have the necessities, we should be satisfied. Desire is amazingly endless. By taking advantage of possessing the external necessities, we should use the opportunity to look for the inner sources of happiness.

We have to take care of our emotions and not follow the negative emotions. It is human nature to experience emotions. That is normal. But when they go beyond their proper boundary and we get upset, our emotions are not normal. There is something wrong there. When we are calm and peaceful, some emotions are okay. A little bit of upset is normal. But to be upset twenty four hours a day is not normal. That will obscure reality. Our nature is to be calm, happy, and experience joy. We can always do better by cultivating meditation and the techniques of Buddhist meditation. So try to develop outer happiness and inner happiness as well. Just to pursue the outer sources of happiness is not healthy, in my opinion.

Our body contains the causes of enlightenment, so this is the best time to cultivate meditation. I believe that there is life after life, but in this life it is very important to wake up and experience the inner qualities. So we should concentrate on cultivating the wish that other people be happy in our heart. At the start the feeling will come and go. Keep meditating and at some point you will experience true insight.

Sometimes it is easy to love others and at other times it is a challenge. But in the beginning just start with those close to us. Remember their kindness. Once we understand their kindness that brings a feeling of joy. Loving oneself and others is most important. Everyone desires happiness. During practice time slowly extend it to others, such as old and new friends. Then someday we will be able to develop love to others we don't like. How can we develop love for our enemy? I always think of the enemy as someone who creates harm for others. There is probably a better definition for the term. When I develop love toward them, I find it helpful not to judge the person, but to look at their emotions and how their mind is deluded. That is how I am able to feel some love for them. Of course, we should not judge ourselves either. We should consider how miserable this person must be from their negative emotions. Slowly it will become possible to develop love for the enemy we don't like. This exercise takes effort, but when we practice it, we will develop great joy. Until we develop love and compassion to our enemy we are a little bit stuck.

I'm not saying it is easy. That is human nature. In Tibet there is a saying that when pots are put together they make a lot of noise. So we always have conflicts with the people we know. But developing love is important for the enlightened mind. The Buddhist point of view is that we need to develop love for our enemy or if we can't do that, just leave those feeling alone and not think negative thoughts towards them. The reason why is that if we develop love for those who have negative thoughts for us, there is not room for the negativity to have any effect. But if we reinforce each others negativities it will lead to a bad karmic result.

So this practice begins in seated meditation meditation, where we practice loving others without expectations. Once this develops enough, it is important to apply it in action. It is important to apply it with generosity towards others. It's not enough just to have kind feelings. Buddha taught we should practice generosity. Generosity doesn't just mean sharing wealth. It also means sharing feelings with others, good times and bad times. Remembering people's birthdays and sharing holidays with them. This shows that I care for you and love you. Love in action is generosity and patience. Be patient with others. When we love others we must be patient. Patience plays an important role in loving oneself and others. In Christianity it is said patience is a virtue. Why is it a virtue? My understanding is that it brings happiness, closeness, and love. Patience is most important when we practice love with an enemy. Be patient and mindful. Patience plays a very important role between individuals and countries. Wisdom also plays a very important role. Patience and generosity cannot be separated from wisdom. Wisdom means mindfulness. Without mindfulness there is no meditation practice. With mindfulness whatever we do is meditation. Sitting meditation is important so that we understand that we can apply mindfulness to all situations. Mindfulness sees what is needed in a situation. So generosity, patience, and wisdom are love in action.

Even if we are just sharing a cup of tea with others, if love is there it is very joyful. If we share a meal with those we love, the food becomes nectar and medicine. If feelings of hate are there, our food becomes poison. When we go to sleep at night we do so with joy and without disturbance of mind. Our dreams will be peaceful and joyful. Without love, our sleep will be disturbed or not come at all, and we will have to take drugs. So we need to see the value of love. Love is the source of happiness and the root of every Buddhist practice. The pratimoksha vows stem from love. Bodhicitta has to start from love. Tantric yoga also has to start from love. With love, compassion rises naturally, so naturally bodhicitta is there. So all the practices are there and doing them is wonderful.

I am confident we can develop love. I find it was easy to develop for myself and my friends, but difficult to develop for my enemies. So practice loving oneself and others. When I get up early in the morning I try to practice it immediately by reciting the four immeasurables. It changes my day. Then it is easy to resume a feeling of love and compassion when negative emotions arise.

It is wonderful when we can share ideas and our understanding of philosophy and Buddhist studies. But practice is a little different. In practice our understanding of philosophy is not so helpful. If we consider philosophy our minds will run away. At practice time try to mix what you have learned with your heart and try to relax in that. That is what I have found. It is wonderful to study, but we cannot stop there. We have to bring the meaning into the heart and just relax. See how long you can remain in that nature. Each day it will be better and better. All Buddhists and especially Lord Jigten Sumgon have emphasized the aspiration prayers. So these are my thoughts. If you find them useful, take it and if not, leave it. So is there anything you would like to discuss or share? It is challenging to bring spiritual ideas into daily life.

Q: Is it helpful to take a break from daily life and do a retreat in order to bring back spirituality to daily life?

A: I find it helpful to do retreat, but coming back into daily life is a challenge. In retreat no one will challenge you. If we can practice with our family then practicing anywhere else is easy. Living in a monastery is a different lifestyle. Living with a family and practicing dharma is a big challenge. When someone tells me they can do this, I'm very proud of them. If you are working and leading a daily life and at the same time practicing the dharma, that is amazing. I sometimes wonder how people can do this. It makes me very happy to see someone doing this.

Q: Do you think with all the hatred and war which are going on today, understanding our enemy is very difficult? When we consider they also have families who they love and think where their hatred comes from, then we can feel love.

A: We must wake up and not cause harm for others. Nonviolence for self and others is very important. It is very sad when we hear stories like the bridge that collapsed. We should consider what is responsible for this.

August 3, 2007
Susquehanna Yoga Center