Buddhist family counselor Richard Prinz leads an analytical meditation on equanimity to develop compassion, introspection, love, and non-attachment for teenagers and their parents.
(This meditation is part two of our interview with Richard Prinz)
[00:00:00] Richard Prinz: We are going to do a Mahayana Buddhist meditation. You can look into this more with the book Bodhicitta by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, I really recommend it.
As His Holiness would say, it’s wise selfishness to practice these things, to be kind to others and to be empathetic because it helps our own well-being.
The beauty of Buddhism is that there are these methods, these step-by-step meditations that you can do to develop greater and greater compassion. And it’s not whether you have it or don’t have it, you can keep developing it.
So this is an analytical meditation.
There’s one type of meditation where you watch your breath and try to keep your focus on your breath. You practice mindfulness, if your attention wanders off, you bring it back. There is also introspection, you’re paying attention to what’s going on in your mind.
Analytical meditation is more about using the conceptual mind to think things through because we have certain conceptions about things that we take for granted, that we just accept. Maybe they’re unquestioned assumptions; we just think that’s the way it is.
But our mind is very flexible and we can train it to be more realistic so that our mind has less agitation. This is one of the definitions of happiness in Buddhism, when your mind’s not agitated. So this is an equalizing self with others. The principle cause of our happiness is our own mind not our body or speech.
We need to work on our own mind in order to be happier.
It’s not like, Oh, if everybody would just be nice to me, then I would be happy. It’s kind of out of our control. But our mind is very much something that we can gain some control of through training, through first being aware of what’s going on.
Sometimes when we do that, all of a sudden it seems like the meditation’s crazy. “I have all these thoughts going on that I didn’t have those before.”
No, it’s just that we’re more aware of what’s going on.
So it helps to calm the mind, we do that first with just a little bit of breathing and then equalizing self with others, a very start of scaffolding up to developing compassion and love and eventually bodhicitta, which is this strong affection and connection with all beings.
And wanting all beings to be free of suffering and have happiness and knowing that we need to develop ourselves in order to help bring that about.
Awareness of body and breath
So you wanna have a comfortable position. You can sit crosslegged or you can sit in a chair or you can lie down.
It’s good to have your back straight and be comfortable and just pay attention to your breath. Just breathe naturally, put your attention on your breathing so that you’re aware of the inhalation and the exhalation.
So we do a little bit of breathing just to calm our mind and bring our attention inside. And if you do this meditation on your own, you can lead yourself in much the same way.
Sometimes questions or doubts may come up and you can think about those as you’re developing this on your own.
Friends, enemies, and strangers, what’s the difference?
So equalizing self with others. This is to break down a little bit how we have this tendency to compartmentalize people into friend, enemy, or stranger. Generally speaking this is a contemplation. So you’re just contemplating along as I’m talking.
We may call people who are nice to us, who fulfill our needs, listen to us, friends.
Sometimes if somebody criticizes us or does something we don’t like or they hold a different political view, we say they are enemies.
Then there’s this whole vast array of people we call strangers.
We go out to lunch, we sit somewhere, we don’t know anybody else sitting there, and we think they’re just all strangers. We don’t have much feeling for them at all sort of indifference.
So let’s analyze this, is this a valid way to think? Does it help us to feel this way? Is it reasonable?
For one, we depend on others for our happiness—not just our friends—but when we go out to eat, there are people who wait on us. There are people who are cooking. There are people who brought the food there. If there weren’t other people eating there, the restaurant might have to close.
So in a way we depend on all the customers being there. We lose sight of that. Sometimes if we can’t get a table right away, we’re upset, or if we brought the wrong food, we get upset.
We can choose to broaden our perspective a bit and understand that we depend on others for our happiness.
We depend on others to help us understand reality, to develop our wisdom.
People taught us to read. Sometimes we lose sight of that. Somebody taught us to read, to write, all the teachers we had in school.
We are not alone
We depend on our parents for our body. We have a sense of it being very independent, sometimes independently existing. We don’t like those who hurt us and we like those who help us.
But it gets a little different when we start to think this way.
People we don’t even know are helping us right now, sending us the packages that we ordered in Amazon. People who made the packaging. And we are just so dependent on others for so many things.
All beings are equal and everyone helps each other.
Sometimes we think, Oh, the friend helps us more, the enemy doesn’t help us at all they hurt us. But even our boss, we may think, Oh, they really help us, they give us a job, but then we go to the grocery store and we don’t think about the grocery store clerk or the people who stock the shelves in the middle of the night.
So the more we can broaden our view of others, start thinking of others more, we start to see there’s a lot of equality here.
We are all equal in needing help. Everyone needs help. We’re not alone there.
Everyone needs help.
Sometimes we’re more sympathetic to friends. We’ll listen to their story and we’ll be more sympathetic. We think they need our help more because we understand their story but everyone has a story. Everyone has problems. We are totally the same in that regard, no different than anyone else.
We could break this down—and I’m talking about humans right now—but we talk about animals too.
They are no different in wanting help, needing help, and depending on others for happiness, it doesn’t matter what station in life. We’re all equal. And they help us in so many different ways, the animals in the ground, the worms are helping us. They want to be happy.
We think we have a market on problems because we experience them so strongly but everyone is having these experiences.
We’re not alone.
You can see how this can develop greater empathy for others, greater connection with others. People feel isolated sometimes or alone. We’re not alone, we’re totally connected to all these people.
People are doing things that help us, growing the crops that we eat, transporting them to warehouses, packaging them, getting them to stores, getting them to us.
We depend on all those people and they are just like, they all have problems. So that’s a big one.
We’re all equal in wanting to avoid suffering and wanting to obtain happiness.
Whenever we encounter anyone, we can think this way, they’re just like me, no matter what their ideology or their view.
Just like me, they want to be happy.
They don’t wanna suffer. That doesn’t mean that we don’t do things that create suffering. Even though we think it’s gonna bring us happiness.
We’re all tormented by delusions. We all have problems. We all see things in the wrong way sometimes.
We’re so equal with others.
These reasons are just on a relative level but if you think about it friend, enemy, stranger, are merely concepts that we put on other people. And you can use examples from your own life.
I work with work with teenagers and sometimes they talk about BFF; they’re my best friend forever.
Then next week they’ve had an argument and it’s because one person had expectations, certain ideas about what a best friend is and the other one had different ideas. This causes so much pain because we held that concept so strongly.
It doesn’t mean that we’re not nice to people. This doesn’t make us indifferent. It doesn’t make us avoid these relationships. But we go in with our eyes open.
We go in with wisdom knowing, I’m labeling this person. For example, somebody that you live with was a stranger at one time, then they became your best friend. Then maybe you get in a fight and you think, Why am I with this person?
So in one person it can be friend, enemy, stranger, all based on how they treat us or what we think of them or whether we don’t think of them at all. This makes our mind, like Lama Yeshe would say, like a yo-yo going up and down, up and down.
Walking down the street we are beat up by attraction and aversion. I like that person. I don’t like that person.
They’re all just like us. They want to be happy. They don’t wanna suffer.
These are not permanent. It’s not permanent.
Sometimes we think, Oh, that’s my friend. Or there’s my enemy. Or there’s a stranger.
Then we meet we meet a stranger and get to know them and they become our friend.
Just like me
So just to hold this realization in our minds about these relationships. It makes our mind more content, more even, and it’s the ground needed to develop appreciation, love, and compassion for all beings.
A big one is “I” and “others” are interdependent concepts, right? You’re an “other” to me and I’m an “other” to you.
I’m an “I” to me and you’re an “I” to you and it’s just words, there’s a relationship there but ultimately those are very dependent concepts. They don’t exist apart from each other.
Again, it’s not about becoming indifferent. If anything it’s to gain a deeper appreciation of how much we depend on others, how alike we are with others, how much friend, enemy, stranger depends on our concepts, which can be very limited in their scope.
Oh, they did a nice thing for me; I really liked that person. What if we just appreciated people and didn’t get into the division of friend, enemy, stranger?
One teen at my high school who was always fighting with her mother said, “Oh, I just had this realization, my mother’s my mother but she’s also a wife. She’s also an aunt. She’s also a sister. And I realize that she’s just a human being, just like me.”
Those are just categories. Those are just labels we put on people. She’s just like me.
We’re the same. We want to be happy. We don’t want to suffer. She’s just like me. She’s got a mind consciousness doing the best she can, just like me.
Check out Bodhicitta by Lama Zopa Rinpoche and you can go on to develop this deep caring for others.
And see how much their kindness—maybe not intentional—benefits us so much; the people in the grocery stores and maintaining services to our houses and gas and electricity and water. All the people involved, it’s such a kindness to us and makes our life so easier.
So we’ll bring the analytical meditation to a close by thinking of friend, enemy, stranger, and owning that we put those labels on other people.
There’s a much deeper way to think about other sentient beings that connects us even more. This doesn’t mean we don’t have people we call friends or people we disagree with or people we don’t know, but on a human level, we’re exactly the same, in so many ways.
Thank you. We’ll end there.
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