community builder 041: maitri

Seeing our children grow up and thrive in a peaceful world involves work that falls on us parents right here and now. But how can we contribute, when it seems the major decisions that steer the fate of nations are in the hands of a few, whose interests seem so far from our own? Sometimes it feels as if our voices don’t matter, that deep-pocketed power players are calling all the shots.

And yet, isn’t it said that we should be the change we wish to see in the world? How do the deeds of a single villager come to influence decisions in the halls of government?

Perhaps it’s not that our highest degree of effectiveness comes so much from a direction of strong-arming and coercion–a “power-over” thesis–but rather from the flow state of fearlessly being who we are (such easy words, such difficult work!) which naturally allows others to be who they are, a “power-with” thesis wherein healthy boundaries are maintained. And perhaps the energy emitted by one living deeply in truth is a silent inspiration for others to do the same. Perhaps this is what’s meant by the Daoist concept of “doing without doing”. And could it be that the insidious spreading of truth in this way is how the humble come to influence the rulers?

Those of high virtue do not act, yet nothing remains undone.

Daodejing 38

The notion that our true nature is Love (a force greater than and yet not exclusive of erotic urges and tribal affections) is a common thread that joins the great spiritual traditions of humanity whether separated by time or distance. Thus, the substance of our truth–of being who we are–must consonate with Love, and not dissonate with Love. That substance remains constant regardless of the external form it takes.

Maitri, a Sanskrit word commonly translated as loving-kindness, is an explicit practice in the Buddhist tradition, predating the Christian gospels by over four centuries yet agreeing with the essence of the latter’s exhortation to “love your neighbor as yourself”.

As one whose mind-heart has so often been, and still does become, agitated with anger and fear, I have found the practice of maitri to be a precious medicine. From even my own limited experience, I have directly witnessed how training the mind in this attitude reaffirms interconnectedness with all beings. It softens and dissolves hatred in the mind-heart. It is incompatible with cruelty and violence. It is humbling medicine, pulling the ego down from its own self-constructed pedestal. It fosters the desire to cultivate friendly relationships. It fosters the desire to not cultivate hostile relationships. Life is just a little less crazy.

Perhaps by establishing peace and durable happiness within ourselves, we help externalize the peaceful world we wish our children, and our children’s children, to grow up and thrive in.

The following is an excerpt from a Buddhist teaching. I hope it brings you benefit, and is as enriching to you as it has been for me.

Think: Happy, at rest, may all beings be happy at heart. Whatever beings there may be, weak or strong, without exception, long, large, middling, short, subtle, blatant, seen & unseen, near & far, born & seeking birth: May all beings be happy at heart. Let no one deceive another or despise anyone anywhere, or through anger or irritation wish for another to suffer. As a mother would risk her life to protect her child, her only child, even so should one cultivate a limitless heart with regard to all beings. With good will for the entire cosmos, cultivate a limitless heart: Above, below, & all around, unobstructed, without enmity or hate. Whether standing, walking, sitting, or lying down, as long as one is alert, one should be resolved on this mindfulness.

Gautama Buddha in Karaniya Metta Sutta, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

* * *

Points to Ponder/Reflection Questions:

In the Buddhist tradition, it’s said that the near enemy of maitri is attachment; its far enemy is hatred.

Just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, we can only abide in loving-kindness to the extent we abide in attachment and hatred. Thus, it’s not just a case of adding what’s good, but also subtracting what’s not good.

Who do you hate? Who do you intensely dislike? Why? Could it be that strong negative feelings are sourced in an unhealthy attachment to our own ideas of “should”?

We cannot give others what we don’t ourselves have. How can we share loving-kindness with others when we hate ourselves?

Where loving-kindness is, right discernment is. If right discernment is not there, then it is not really loving-kindness.

Sometimes the heart of loving-kindness appears as unloving.

Sometimes the heart of hatred appears as loving-kindness.

Our deeply-entrenched neural wiring gives rise to reflexive, automatic reactions. Sometimes it is extremely difficult to speak/act from any place other than our reflexive reactions. But it’s not impossible. Sometimes we must patiently retrain our minds over extended periods of time.

Our reflexive reactions are not essentially who we are. It is like the programming of a computer. Aren’t we endowed with sufficient consciousness to reflect upon the results of the current programming scheme, and to modify it as we see fit?

As conscious beings, we have an executive-level faculty of discernment which can be cultivated through practice. Discerning “this here is a reflexive reaction that brings harm”, we can muster the will to change. Discerning “this here is a reflexive reaction that brings benefit to all involved”, we can make an intentional decision to maintain that programming

The separative ego pits “me vs others” (and, by extension, us vs them); creating enemies is its natural and logical outcome. The consciousness of unity recognizes “me and others”; not creating enemies is its natural and logical outcome.

Blindly identifying with deeply entrenched habits, reflexive reactions automatically seem correct. Stepping back from and objectively examining deeply entrenched habits, we can challenge the correctness of reflexive reactions.

It takes a series of conscious, intentional decisions–borne of a desire to improve ourselves and contribute to the collective betterment–to create a mental space where we are open to other ideas, where we entertain the possibility that our entrenched thinking may be limited or even harmful.

Practicing benevolent attitudes such as maitri, we discern there is the noble path, the greatest good for the greatest number; here is the non-noble path, not the greatest good for the greatest number. One is then at a crossroads, where decision is necessary. The road forks. One cannot be on multiple paths at the same time any more than one can serve two masters simultaneously.

Lack of patience in small matters disrupts great plans.

Confucius, Analects, Ch. 15

Copyright (c) 2020, Justin Jaucian

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