Talking Dharma – Talking Kindness
When we walk the Dharma journey and live it on the basis of kindness, we cause less harm to ourselves, others and the world around us. It is not possible to exist as a human being without actually causing harm so our Dharma life is focused on doing the least amount of harm possible within our own life circumstances and in a way that is appropriate to each experience. If our motivational intent is to do no harm then it follows that in all instances we will be seeking to do the least harm possible to ourselves, others and the world around us even if we inevitably do harm.
We find in the ancient Buddhist texts that the Buddha first taught about the awareness and development of kindness to a group of followers who had been practicing meditation in the forest. Apparently, they were scared that the spirits of the forest did not want them there and would attack them and cause them harm. This is quite bizarre in that the Buddha himself would have had no sense of such things as spirits existing, other than as a figment of the imagination, possibly arising as a result of a fear of the dark or some ingrained superstitious belief. Whatever the reason was, it was clear to him that somehow that fear had caused them to worry. Of course when one is worrying it is not very helpful when you are trying to meditate as this thing we call mind will not be able to settle. So, to try and help his followers overcome this perceived threat, the Buddha taught them the awareness of kindness meditation practice. Within that communication he set out the need to forgive everyone for everything and he taught them how to live a life of kindness, with a willingness to help others and to cause the least amount of harm possible.
This communication is known within classical Buddhism as the Karaniya Metta Sutta and is found in the Pali Canon. What follows is an interpretation of that text within the context of secular western Buddhism.
If you are aware of what is helpful for you to realize peace of mind you will know that you have no option but to live the Dharma journey with integrity. The journey begins as a potential by a person who goes for refuge in accord with the eight-step journey and supported by the five ethical training principles. This person will be gentle spoken, flexible and not conceited. As a result of living a simplistic life they will become contented with fewer worries as they are living an uncomplicated life. They will guard the gateways to their senses to maintain calmness of mind, practice awareness at all times, be respectful of others and avoid group think and behaviour that may influence them to think, speak and act in a way that could be pointed out to them as unhelpful by a wise friend. They will meditate in this way. May all beings be safe and secure. May all beings experience contentment. They will consider every living thing without exception. The weak, the strong, from the smallest to the largest, whether you can see them or not, living nearby or far away, beings living now or yet to arise. May no one deceive or look down on anyone anywhere, for any reason. Whether through experiencing anger or through reacting to someone else, may no one want another to worry. As strongly as a mother, perhaps risking her life, cherishes her child, her only child, develop an unlimited concern for all beings. Develop an unlimited concern of friendliness for the entire universe, expressing kindness above, below, and all around, beyond all narrowness, beyond all rivalry, beyond all unhelpful states of mind. Whether you are staying in one place or travelling, sitting down or in bed, in all your waking hours rest in this awareness, which will realize peace of mind right here and now. In this way, you will come to let go of views, be spontaneously ethical, and realize appropriate view. Leaving behind want for sense pleasures, from the rounds of re-becoming you will ﬁnally be completely free.
It is said that after hearing the Budda communicate this, his followers went back to the same place in the forest but this time without the fear. They had been given the appropriate tools by the Buddha to process that fear and see it for what it was and how to prevent it from arising again. They had trust in the Buddha. As they recited the phrases of kindness he had shown them, they began to experience a sense of calm appreciation for the silence and solitude of the forest. The fear of being attacked fell away and what were previously considered dangerous animals were now thought of as friendly. It was as if the birds of the forest were singing just for them. The bugs, midges and mosquitoes no longer bothered them. Even if they were bit they were content with providing a benefit to whatever bit them. As they opened their minds to the actuality of interconnectedness their environment became a safe haven.
When we are acting on the basis of kindness ourselves, we naturally experience kindness from others. It is a two-way process. Kindness is the perfect antidote to fear, as well as many other forms of worrying. I know this to be the case. I have tested and challenged this approach in one of the most hostile environments you could think of. For thirty years I worked as a front-line, uniformed Police officer and Detective in some of the toughest areas of London. Kindness and a smile have saved my life on more than one occasion and prevented serious injury on countless others. As a young man I could never quite understand why everybody else seemed so angry. Violence never made any sense to me. There was a real need that arose for me when I was about thirteen to try and understand what anger and violence was. I decided to challenge the school bully to a fight for no other reason than he was the biggest and toughest person I knew and I had witnessed him doing some really horrible things to others. My own group of friends thought I was crazy and to some extent it could be said I was. There was no fear present as the time grew nearer for the fight to take place on the piece of rough ground opposite the school. I wasn’t the slightest bit angry as we squared up to each other and he started to verbally abuse me. As he began to take his jacket off his arms were more or less pinned back behind him and I saw an opening. I hit him once on the chin, his jaw broke, he fell backwards and he was out like a light. Whilst the crowd went wild and cheered me on I just stood there, calm as a cucumber with a sense of regret but not guilt. When he came round I was still by his side tending to him and apologised for hurting him. I will never forget his words. He said. “Thank you. I deserved that.” He refused to name me as his attacker and we became very close friends. He gave up being a bully and when others came to seek revenge he would never fight back but just apologise and take what they had to give him.
It needs to be pointed out that sometimes kindness is not a two way process and does not result in physical safety for everyone. There is no magical mystical stuff going on here. What came to mind as I was writing this was an image of people who acted out of compassion and kindness to help Jews from being sent to their deaths in Nazi concentration camp and were imprisoned, tortured or killed themselves as a result. We can see all around us that in actuality kind people are persecuted and subject to violence because of the colour of their skin, their sexual orientation, or their choice of religion. What the Buddha was pointing to in this communication, I suggest, is not so much about physical safety but more about the quality of our state of mind. Not so much an external safety but an inner one. I read a story once about a Tibetan Buddhist nun who was beaten and raped by Communist soldiers during the reoccupation of Tibet in 1959. Although her physical body was violated, her years of kindness practice allowed to her to withdraw inwards to a place of safety within her mind. She allowed kindness to extend mercy and met her attackers with forgiveness and compassion. She understood the deep state of confusion that these men were in and knew that although they were physically hurting her they were also harming themselves psychologically and would eventually experience the result of their actions. In such circumstances, kindness does not protect us against being physically hurt, but it does have the potential to protect us from unhelpful states of mind and all of the worrying that comes with them. Kindness has the potential to protect us from the extra layer of worrying we create through want, not want and confusion, and in that way it makes the world a safer, kinder place.
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