Loving-Kindness Supports the World

A Thai monk I know once taught me the phrase lokopatthambhika metta or “loving-kindness supports the world.”

But how? It is difficult to imagine, for the world seems supported, or certainly permeated, by darkness, evil, hatred, violence. You might think it must be a optimist/pessimist kind of thing, you know, where the glass is either half empty or half full. That’s not it, though. It is a whole other way of thinking. It’s like when John and Yoko said war is over, if you want it.

If we want it, metta or loving-kindness can be an active force. The Tevigga Sutta says,

And he lets his mind pervade one quarter of the world with thoughts of loving-kindness, and so the second, and so the third, and so the fourth. And thus the whole wide world, above, below, around, and everywhere, does he continue to pervade with a heart of loving-kindness, far-reaching, grown great, and beyond measure.”

One of the Buddha’s desires was that his disciples would truly care for other beings. The Buddha knew it is very easy to understand our own sufferings, but a real challenge to understand the sufferings of another person. He said that is the real meaning of sincerity – having empathy for the situations of others. And it is not just understanding their suffering, it’s also understanding their behavior. When we develop insight into behavior and identify with the emotions that drive behavior, it’s not so easy to judge and condemn.

But, back to the question, how does loving-kindness support the world? Perhaps we can get a clue from these words by the great teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti:

The moment you have in your heart this extraordinary thing called love and feel the depth, the delight, the ecstasy of it, you will discover that for you the world is transformed.”

Loving-kindness supports the world through transformation.


Timeless Reality

Several weeks back I wrote about Jiddu Krishnamurti’s “timeless reality” and compared it to Buddhism’s “present moment.” The more I think about the two terms, the more timeless reality seems a better term for what we are trying to convey about meditation and awakening mind.

We often talk about the present moment as though it were something static, something that abides. As if we could capture the present moment and hold on to it. But we can’t. As soon as the present moment arises, it is gone, replaced by a new present moment.

So, how can we ‘be in the present moment’? How can we abide in something so fleeting? Even to call what we want to experience the ‘now’ still refers to a present that is constantly changing. Which is fine, because I don’t think we want to be in a present moment anyway. We’re really after something else . . .

As I’ve investigated Krishnamurti’s use of the phrase timeless reality, I have found that in some of his writings he is alluding to a sense of eternity. In other writings and talks, he refers to a kind of emptiness, a state of timelessness that has neither a beginning nor ending and is undisturbed by temporal reality – this is what I think we’re after.

shengyen2Master Sheng Yen (1930-2009) was a lineage holder of both the Linji (Rinzai) and Caodong (Soto) Ch’an (Zen) schools, and the founder of the Dharma Drum Mountain in Taiwan. In his book, Getting the Buddha Mind, he described this sense of timelessness in a different way:

The mind that is without even one thought is extremely bright and pure, but this doesn’t mean that it is blank. No thought means no characteristics, and blankness itself is a characteristic. In this condition the mind is unmoving, yet perceives everything very clearly. Although wisdom is empty, it is not without a function. What is this function? Without moving it reflects and illuminates everything. It is like the moon shining on water. Although each spot of water reflects a different image of the moon, the moon itself remains the same. But it doesn’t say, ‘I shine.’ It just shines.”


The Path of Fearlessness

Back in January, I wrote a post than included this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm: “Fearlessness is not only possible, it is the ultimate joy.”

I was writing about a memorial concert for musician Lou Reed who died in October from liver cancer after receiving a transplant. I wrote, “As I face the same situation he [Reed] did, I think [the quote] should be my mantra.”

Some folks may have a natural sense of fearlessness. For others, like me, it is something that requires cultivation. I’ve had to get close to fear in order to let it go. I have learned that fearlessness is not necessarily synonymous with courage. It’s more a product of mindfulness, understanding how to live in the peace of the present moment.

abhaya-mudra2The Sanskrit word is abhaya. It means “not fearful,” “undaunted,” “security,” and “peace.” Fearlessness is represented by a hand gesture, the abhaya mudra that you see in paintings and statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas (right). The abhaya mudra is the “gesture of fearlessness and granting protection.”

Fearlessness is a virtue of the Bodhisattva’s practice of giving, and as Lama Anagarika Govinda points out in Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism, much more than that:

Fearlessness is the quality of all Bodhisattvas and of all those who tread the Bodhisattva-Path. For them life has lost its horrors and suffering its sting, for they imbue this earthly existence with new meaning, instead of despising and cursing it for its imperfections, as many do, who in the teachings of the Buddha try to find a pretext for their own negative conception of the world.”

Fear is one of the most basic of human emotions. Fear can be positive when it protects us from danger. Fear can also be negative, a danger in itself. Negative fear can produce unhealthy emotional and psychological states. Fear is often irrational, for instance fear of death is natural enough, but fear of survival?

Fear of samsara (this world of suffering) has led some Buddhists to think only of escape, imaging nirvana to mean extinction, an end to the cycle of birth and death. The Mahayana branch of Buddhism teaches that samsara is nirvana.

Our fears originate in thoughts about the future, the worry that something unfortunate might happen to us . . . at some future time. The present moment, however, seems peaceful because it provides a certain sense of safety. Within the present moment, there is freedom from fear. Something unfortunate is not happening to us now.

Actually, the future never arrives; it is not real. From the ultimate view, time doesn’t exist. For the past, present, and future to be real they would have to exist independently. Past, present, and future is a continuum of thought-moments. In this sense, the present moment is timeless. What we’re talking about here is a quality of timelessness.

In Foundations, Lama Govinda quotes Krishnamurti:

As long as the mind is tethered to the idea that action must be divided into past, present and future, there is identification through time and therefore a continuity from which arises the fear of death, the fear of the loss of love. To understand timeless reality, timeless life, action must be complete. But you cannot be aware of this timeless reality by searching for it.”

What Krishnamurti meant by timeless was “something that cannot be disturbed by circumstances, by thought or by human corruption.”  “Timeless reality” strikes me as an appropriate way to describe the present moment. If Krishnamurti had been Buddhist, he might have used the word emptiness.

In the Diamond Sutra, Subhuti asks the Buddha how to quiet his mind and fare on the bodhisattva path. He feels a need to search for the stillness in his mind and receive direction on how to proceed in the future, not realizing that what he seeks is already present. He poses this question in the second chapter, the remaining thirty chapters is just the Buddha answering this one question, and a single sentence in chapter 14 sums up his answer:

One should develop a mind that does not dwell anywhere.

In other words, cultivate a timeless mind. A mind that does not dwell anywhere is already quiet, and unafraid of the sufferings of the world. Because this timeless, quiet mind is undisturbed by thoughts of the future, it does not need to escape to some other place. Undaunted and peaceful, it becomes intimate with fear, and then recognizes that as the Heart Sutra tells us, within emptiness there is no fear.

This is the ultimate side of the problem. From the conventional side, it would be a mistake to dismiss the future and live unprepared. But the point is to be unattached to the idea of the future, and to control fear, not let it control us.

In a post last month, I quoted Shantideva, “Mind, be strong.” Fearlessness is another aspect of the patience Shantideva was discussing. The past is gone and the future does not arrive. The strength of fearlessness is the strength of the patience and equanimity that comes from quieting the mind. The path of fearlessness is the path of the Bodhisattva, and Bodhisattvas are joyful in the knowledge that suffering are nirvana.

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Sources: Thich Nhat Hanh, Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm, HarperOne, 2012, 6; Lama Anagarika Govinda, Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism, Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1969, 270-272; Jiddu Krishnamurti, Freedom from the Known, HarperSanFrancisco, 2009, 9


What We Call Love and Enlightenment

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the Indian philosopher, Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895–1986). He was only 14 he met one of the leaders of the Theosophical Society who tried to groom him as the next “World Teacher,” a concept loosely based on Maitreya, the so-called future Buddha.

In 1929, Krishnamurti, then 34, rebelled against the World Teacher gig and disbanded the organization created to support him. From then on, he was a sort of roving iconoclast, who considered himself unaffiliated with any nationality, religion, or philosophy. He wrote books, traveled the world speaking to audiences large and small, and punched holes in many a cherished notion.

At first glance, it might appear that Krishnamurti’s philosophical view is at odds with Buddhism. That would certainly be the case with some traditional Buddhist concepts, but overall Krishnamurti had great respect for the Buddha and his dharma. Asked once which of the great religious leaders came closest to teaching and realizing the ultimate truth, Krishnamurti replied ‘‘Oh! the Buddha . . . the Buddha comes closer to the basic truths and facts of life than any other. Although I am not myself a Buddhist, of course.’’ [1]

He made these comments on the subject of love in 1983 [2]:

One of our difficulties is that we have associated love with pleasure, with sex, and for most of us love also means jealousy, anxiety, possessiveness, attachment. That is what we call love . . . Is love the opposite of hate? If it is the opposite of hate, then it is not love . . . Love cannot have an opposite. Love cannot be where there is jealousy, ambition, aggressiveness.

And where there is a quality of love, from that arises compassion. Where there is compassion, there is intelligence – but not the intelligence of self-interest, or the intelligence of thought, or the intelligence of a great deal of knowledge. Compassion has nothing to do with knowledge.

Only with compassion is there that intelligence that gives humanity security, stability, a vast sense of strength.”

You’ll notice that Krishnamurti says the word “intelligence” several times. As he used it, intelligence did not refer to mental capacity, but rather to the faculty of recognizing that which is false, seeing that we are “surrounded by false illusory things.”

Here is what he had to say about enlightenment in 1973 [3]:

Enlightenment is not a fixed place. There is no fixed place. All one has to do is understand the chaos, the disorder in which we live. In the understanding of that we have order and there comes clarity, there comes certainty. And that certainty is not the invention of thought. That certainty is intelligence. And when you have all this, when the mind sees all this very clearly, the door opens. What lies beyond is not namable. It cannot be described, and anyone who describes it has never seen it.”

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[1] Susunaga Weeraperuma, Living and dying from moment to moment, Motilal Banarsidass, 1996

[2] [3] Selection from “What is Creation?” from the public talk at Brockwood Park on Sept. 4, 1983, “Enlightenment is Not a Fixed Place” from the public talk in San Francisco on March 18, 1973, in This Light in Oneself, Shambhala Publications, Ltd., 1999


Inspector Maigret on Non-duality

I’ve always been a fan of detective stories, and over the years, one of the detectives I have enjoyed the most is Jules Maigret, Commissaire de la Police Judiciaire, the creation of Georges Simenon. The Maigret novels are short, and written in a spare and simple style. Deceptively simple. Maigret is a detective who’s often more interested in whydunit, than whodunit. I can’t recall the Inspector ever using a gun. His weapon of choice is his psychological insight.

There’s a certain Buddhist/Taoist quality about Maigret. As Pierre Weisz wrote in his essay, Simenon and ‘Le Commissaire,’ “Maigret’s great asset is being there.” Maigret has his own unique way of working cases, and many times, he’s like Lao Tzu’s sage, who “goes about doing nothing.” It may seem like he’s doing nothing, perhaps strolling along the banks of the Seine smoking his pipe, or having a casual beer in a small Paris cafe, but actually he’s deep into an investigation of the causes and conditions behind the actions of both the guilty and the innocent.

My cable company carries the MHZ Network (KCET) which has “International Mysteries,” currently featuring Beck, a Swedish police detective, based on the novels by Sjowall and Wahloo, who were pioneers of Scandinavian crime fiction in the ‘60s and ‘70s; Inspector Montablano, created by Italian writer Andrea Camilleri, an absolutely great series (and great books); and Maigret. The Maigret series was produced for French TV in the 1990s and are set in the times of the novels.

I was watching “Maigret and the Candle Auction” last night, and I forget what the other character said to provoke this response, but Maigret said, “Happiness is just dormant sadness.”

It seemed to me that Maigret was making an important point about non-duality. That was probably not his intent, and possibly not Simenon’s either, assuming the line was taken from the book.

It reminded me of something I read by Krishnamurti not long ago:

There is sorrow. My son is dead. I do not move away. Where is the duality? It is only when I say I have lost my companion, my son, that duality comes into being.

Even though we talk about the cessation of suffering, there really is none. Suffering is never completely absent. Sadness at the loss of a loved one, for instance, never leaves. Not even after decades. I know. Like Buddha Nature the potential for suffering exists within us always, and can arise at any time. Peace is just dormant suffering.

Sadness and happiness are advaita: two, but not two. They are non-dual. Duality comes into being when we begin to make distinctions and comparisons. And cessation comes into being when we stop suffering from ruling, and ruining, our lives.

When the mind exists undisturbed in the Way,
nothing in the world can offend,
and when a thing can no longer offend,
it ceases to exist in the old way.

Seng-ts’an, Verses on the Heart-Mind

Just in case you’d like to learn more about the novels of George Simenon and his character, Inspector Maigret, hop over to pattinase, the blog of Patti Abbott, a writer of short stories, and check out Friday’s Forgotten Books. This week the bloggers at taking a look at Simenon’s work.