The Buddhist definition of love is simple: wanting others to be happy
Today’s meditation is on love. Not romantic love, but the Buddhist definition of love, which is simple: wanting others to be happy. It’s also sometimes called loving kindness.
The ordinary love we have is often wrapped up with more complex feelings: the feeling of attachment, of wanting something from another person, believing that their actions or their presence or their love will make us happy.
Ordinary love can be transactional, making bargains about what we’ll get in return for the love and affection we share with someone else. Whereas loving kindness is given freely without any expectation of anything in return.
Attachment is this feeling of believing your happiness comes from outside. And that if somebody loves you, pays attention to you, or gives you what you want, that you’ll be happy.
One of my teachers once described the difference between love and attachment by saying that love is wanting someone to be happy and attachment is wanting it to be me that makes that person happy. And so this selfless, unconditional, generous form of love, loving kindness, can be deliberately cultivated in a meditation.
And it begins, like all meditations, with adjusting our posture, finding a cross-legged seat on the floor or flat on a chair, straightening your spine, elevating your seat with a cushion, tilting your head slightly downward, relaxing all the muscles in your shoulders, your face, your eyes; half closing your eyes, touching your tongue to the roof of your mouth, slightly opening your lips.
Focus on the breath
We bring our focus to our breath coming into our nostrils. Or at our abdomen rising and falling.
And for one minute, focus clearly on the breath, without distraction, if you can. Make the intention that I’ll focus on my breath for one minute. And if other thoughts and feelings, or even pain, sensations in the body arise, try to let them pass by. Don’t pull them forward and don’t even push them away. Just let them gently pass by for one minute.
(Meditate silently on the breath for one minute)
Before you can love others, you must love yourself. Picture yourself sitting in front of you, just as you are. You know yourself. Don’t deny any of yourself.
How would you treat a dear friend who had your mixture of beautiful qualities, and some small faults, bad habits?
Try to accept everything about yourself, the same way you would for someone else that you dearly love; understanding the words and actions and thoughts you regret come from misunderstandings and conditioning and mistakes. Your motivation is good.
Wish yourself all the happiness and goodness that there is. You deserve it. Your very nature itself is good, kind, loving, compassionate, patient, and wise. And the disturbing thoughts and emotions are shallower, on the surface, not part of the innate goodness at the heart of your very being.
And imagine that all these good feelings become a warm energy at your heart; an energy you can feel, that also has a visible glow. And this energy expands from your heart on a beam of light to fill the body and mind of the you that sits before you.
Offer yourself all of the happiness and goodness that there is; that’s there latent, already inside you.
Loving people close to you and wishing them happiness
Now let that self in front of you dissolve into light. And from the field of light energy surrounding you, materialize first your mother on your left, whether she’s alive or not; your father on your right; behind you, relatives and friends, close colleagues. In front of you, materialize those you dislike, those who’ve hurt you; or greater enemies of your friends or people you care about, or of the whole world itself.
Surrounding all these people that we know or know of are all other beings extending around as far as you can see, in a great circle, all of humanity. They all want to be happy. None of them want to suffer. They’re all trying to make the best of their lives. Even the misguided, angry ones.
Of all these people you love beside and behind you, pick out someone you love dearly, one person: friend, family, child; someone, ideally whose love is less complex for you, simpler, pure.
Move them in front of you for a moment and focus solely on that person. See what’s going through their mind, how it is to be them, and all the things that you love about them.
And now imagine your love as that warm, bright energy at your heart again; that you can feel, that you can even see with your mind’s eye. Let your love flow out to that person.
You want everything good for that person. Offer them the material conditions for happiness of food and shelter and security and wealth. Offer them the inner conditions of happiness: mental stability, joy in being alone or with others, a wisdom that understands the true causes of happiness and cultivates these in everyday life.
And think what, specifically, this person needs, what they tell you they need, the material conditions they need. And also at the deepest level, what they need to be happy. With the light from your heart, offer this dear one to you everything they need.
And now this love, this warm energy at your heart, flows out on other beams to your friends and family and close colleagues beside and behind you. Think of each one, specifically, as the energy of your love travels to them. It’s not a vague cloud of friends and family around you. But let each one crystallize specifically in detail: their face moving, reacting; their body shifting; what they’re wearing.
And offer each of them all the causes of happiness, health, and security and financial well-being, freedom from problems, freedom sadness, a peaceful life, a long life, a clean, healthy environment.
For each of you close to me, may you have everything you need.
And also wish them the inner causes of happiness: inner joy, contentedness, the wisdom understanding cause and effect and our interdependence with one another. Wish that they reach that state beyond delusion and fear: the state of enlightenment, of continuous joy and love and connection.
Loving your enemies
Now think of those you have difficulty with in front of you. They also need and deserve your love. Energy flows from your heart to theirs. As it flows out of you, it’s replenished. See how your love is endless. It doesn’t run out.
Wish them to be free of confusion, free of anger, free of any selfishness that drives them. Sincerely wish them to have happiness, to have peace, to even reach that state of enlightenment.
Loving strangers and everyone everywhere
And then bring your attention to the strangers: billions of them surrounding in a great circle on all sides. Also send them love, wish them to be happy, to have everything they need.
As you do this, try and see them each as individuals: men, women, children; Black, brown, white; those in-between with non-binary identities; people who are sick and poor, people who are wealthy and powerful; people on every continent and on ships in the ocean, in airplanes flying overhead, and even a few in space, orbiting our planet.
Expand your love to other creatures: to all the dogs and cats and fish and chickens and cows on earth. Remember how cute and lovable these animals seem when you see them in a petting zoo or a farm. There are billions of lovable creatures on earth like this. And wish them happiness too. Each of them treasures their life. Each wants the pleasant and tries to escape the unpleasant.
And try to imagine a world where you could offer every creature on earth the specific things and conditions they need to live out a happy, peaceful life.
And we can end there, with this warm feeling toward all life on earth. Earth is such a precious place with such a vast diversity of life. And I can be a force for making each being I encounter just a little bit happier and safer.
May that be my life’s purpose.
This is true love: wishing all beings to be happy. And the side effect of this love, loving kindness, is to make myself happy; to give my own life meaning with the simple purpose of benefiting others.
Hosted by Scott Snibbe
Produced by Stephen Butler
Theme music by Bradley Parsons of Train Sound Studio