Meditation is a method for acquainting our mind with virtue. The more familiar our mind is with virtue, the calmer and more peaceful it becomes. When our mind is peaceful we are free from worries and mental discomfort, and we experience true happiness. If we train our mind to become peaceful we shall be happy all the time, even in the most adverse conditions, but if our mind is not peaceful, then even if we have the most pleasant external conditions we shall not be happy. Therefore it is important to train our mind through meditation.
There are two types of meditation: analytical meditation and placement meditation. When we contemplate the meaning of a Dharma instruction that we have heard or read we are doing analytical meditation. By deeply contemplating the instruction, eventually we reach a conclusion or cause a specific virtuous state of mind to arise. This is the object of placement meditation. Having found our object through analytical meditation, we then concentrate on it single-pointedly for as long as possible to become deeply acquainted with it. This single-pointed concentration is placement meditation. Often, analytical meditation is called simply `contemplation’, and placement meditation simply `meditation’. Placement meditation depends upon contemplation, and contemplation depends upon listening to or reading Dharma instructions.
Since most of the problems we experience when we are new to meditation come from overstraining at placement meditation, it is important to be moderate and avoid becoming tense from exerting too much pressure. The effort we apply should be relaxed and steady, and whenever we become tired we should rest.
Loving Kindness Meditation
We sit in the meditation posture as explained above and prepare our mind for meditation with breathing meditation. If we like we can also engage in the preparatory prayers.
All living beings deserve to be cherished because of the tremendous kindness they have shown us. All our temporary and ultimate happiness arises through their kindness. Even our body is the result of the kindness of others. We did not bring it with us from our previous life – it developed from the union of our father’s sperm and mother’s ovum. Once we had been conceived our mother kindly allowed us to stay in her womb, nourishing our body with her blood and warmth, putting up with great discomfort, and finally going through the painful ordeal of childbirth for our sake. We came into this world naked and empty-handed and were immediately given a home, food, clothes, and everything else we needed. While we were a helpless baby our mother protected us from danger, fed us, cleaned us, and loved us. Without her kindness we would not be alive today.
Through receiving a constant supply of food, drink, and care, our body gradually grew from that of a tiny helpless baby to the body we have now. All this nourishment was directly or indirectly provided by countless living beings. Every cell of our body is therefore the result of others’ kindness. Even those who have never known their mother have received nourishment and loving care from other people. The mere fact that we are alive today is a testimony to the great kindness of others.
It is because we have this present body with human faculties that we are able to enjoy all the pleasures and opportunities of human life. Even simple pleasures such as going for a walk or watching a beautiful sunset can be seen to be a result of the kindness of innumerable living beings. Our skills and abilities all come from the kindness of others; we had to be taught how to eat, how to walk, how to talk, and how to read and write. Even the language we speak is not our own invention but the product of many generations. Without it we could not communicate with others nor share their ideas. We could not read this book, learn Dharma, nor even think clearly. All the facilities we take for granted, such as houses, cars, roads, shops, schools, hospitals, and cinemas, are produced solely through others’ kindness. When we travel by bus or car we take the roads for granted, but many people worked very hard to build them and make them safe for us to use.
The fact that some of the people who help us may have no intention of doing so is irrelevant. We receive benefit from their actions, so from our point of view this is a kindness. Rather than focusing on their motivation, which in any case we do not know, we should focus on the practical benefit we receive. Everyone who contributes in any way towards our happiness and well-being is deserving of our gratitude and respect. If we had to give back everything that others have given us, we would have nothing left at all.
We might argue that we are not given things freely but have to work for them. When we go shopping we have to pay, and when we eat in a restaurant we have to pay. We may have the use of a car, but we had to buy the car, and now we have to pay for petrol, tax, and insurance. No one gives us anything for free. But from where do we get this money? It is true that generally we have to work for our money, but it is others who employ us or buy our goods, and so indirectly it is they who provide us with money. Moreover, the reason we are able to do a particular job is that we have received the necessary training or education from other people. Wherever we look, we find only the kindness of others. We are all interconnected in a web of kindness from which it is impossible to separate ourself. Everything we have and everything we enjoy, including our very life, is due to the kindness of others. In fact, every happiness there is in the world arises as a result of others’ kindness.
Our spiritual development and the pure happiness of full enlightenment also depend upon the kindness of living beings. Buddhist centres, Dharma books, and meditation courses do not arise out of thin air but are the result of the hard work and dedication of many people. Our opportunity to read, contemplate, and meditate on Buddha’s teachings depends entirely upon the kindness of others. Moreover, as explained later, without living beings to give to, to test our patience, or to develop compassion for, we could never develop the virtuous qualities needed to attain enlightenment.
In short, we need others for our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Without others we are nothing. Our sense that we are an island, an independent, self-sufficient individual, bears no relation to reality. It is closer to the truth to picture ourself as a cell in the vast body of life, distinct yet intimately bound up with all living beings. We cannot exist without others, and they in turn are affected by everything we do. The idea that it is possible to secure our own welfare whilst neglecting that of others, or even at the expense of others, is completely unrealistic.
Contemplating the innumerable ways in which others help us, we should make a firm decision: `I must cherish all living beings because they are so kind to me.’ Based on this determination we develop a feeling of cherishing – a sense that all living beings are important and that their happiness matters. We try to mix our mind single-pointedly with this feeling and maintain it for as long as we can without forgetting it.
We dedicate all the virtues we have created in this meditation practice to the welfare of all living beings by reciting the dedication prayers.
5. Subsequent Practice
When we arise from meditation we try to maintain this mind of love, so that whenever we meet or remember someone we naturally think: `This person is important, this person’s happiness matters.’ In this way we can make cherishing living beings our main practice.