The Practice of Loving-Kindness and the Greatest of All Offerings

Instead of self-importance, put others in the center. Do this at the aspirational level first. It’s not that you need to commit yourself to do anything outside of your mind. But, first get the priorities right.

A lot of people feel threatened by this, as if by aspiring they suddenly have to be engaged outwardly as well. That’s not true. Bodhisattvas are not allowed to do things like giving up their limbs for others until they arrive at the first bhumi, because they don’t yet have that strength. In the collection of advice to the bodhisattvas, the texts say to "act according to your capacity". We shouldn’t always feel pressured to do something outwardly. First it’s important that we get it straight in the mind.

Once it is straight in the mind, then test it. Mind needs something to cling to, other than self-importance. Unless you are meditating in the view of emptiness all the time, your mind needs something to cling to, something to occupy it.

So here cling to all others as your ‘self’. Don’t cling to your own body, speech and mind as the self, but instead to all the others who actually desire happiness and freedom from suffering—just as you do. Then pour all this affection that you are used to pouring on yourself toward others instead—the love, the care, the kindness, and the compassion. Think kindly, feel kindly, think and feel compassionately, then see what kind of mental feeling is produced by doing this.

From the thoughts and feelings that you generate, what kind of mental feelings arise in your mind?

Notice that in this situation you will find your mind getting very calm, very settled down, with a deep sense of purity dawning in your heart; your heart becoming more and more like the crystal clear pond of a very soothing spring. Here again you will see that when there is self-importance present, it ruins this feeling.

Somebody asked me recently, when you do this practice how do you know you’re not deluding yourself and really just caring for you? When you’re really practicing the method explained here, this method of loving-kindess, or maitri in Sanskrit, to whatever extent you are free of discomfort is identical to the degree of your freedom from self-importance. The degree to which you feel deeply free, is the measure of your lack of self-importance. The presence of self-importance will affect your degree of satisfaction, the degree of your purity, the degree of your calmness, and the degree of your clarity.

So this way you can determine what to let go. You don’t make the practice pure by not letting go. You can only make it pure by letting go and thereby making the thoughts and feelings more genuine and more sincere.

When you make your thoughts and feelings more genuine and sincere, you must aim to let go of the self-importance involved, the clinging-to-self which is present there. Then in, let’s say, five minutes, if you’re able to do this maitri practice—regardless of whether you felt prior to that like you had a dagger in your heart, so volatile and confused that you were almost in a delusional state—see how your state changes through this method during just five minutes of your mind contacting your well-being.

In the beginning, people may have to practice longer than five minutes to get this effect, but as you do more of this, it will take less time to create that effect. People who are really good at doing this can just recall one line of thought and immediately feel a sense of deep peace and calmness, of deep sanity and clarity. This is just by reciting that one line: “May all beings be happy and have the causes of happiness.” You don’t have to do hours of meditation because there’s no obstacle present.

In a classical text there is a verse that says: “The opposition of light is darkness.” When there is no darkness, the light has no obstruction to go through. So when you remove what’s obstructing, then what is already there naturally will come through immediately
This is called “the removal of obstacles”. For instance, in order to grow a seed we have to remove the obstacles. When the obstacles are removed, the seed grows very easily. Mental work is like that too when we do more and more meditation to remove the obstacles.

What we’re trying to cultivate is immeasurable loving-kindness and a calm-abiding mind, as well as a way of sustaining our mind in the peace and joy of its own positive qualities. That’s the objective goal. The obstacle here is self-importance and self-clinging with all the various ways that we have become habituated to our self-absorption. When that self-absorption is broken down over time, this positive side can then come alive without difficulty and manifest immediately in one’s mind. So try this.

Positive thought has the power to create positive feelings. Positive feelings have the power to counteract the negative feelings. When negative feelings are removed, you have also removed from the heart any kind of tendency, or opportunity, for negative feelings to arise. Then your mind is filled with positive feelings. These positive feelings include the happiness you feel right now as well as in the future. This leads to much greater things.

Not only does this sustain you right now, but by doing this practice your world becomes positive in the future. This world that we live in and the world of the next life become positive. Therefore this Four Immeasurables practice is known in Sanskrit as Brahmaviharas. It’s called Brahmaviharas because all the gods and goddesses in Brahma’s realm have been born through this method. I think this is a great way to find joy and happiness in one’s life.

Someone once asked me why this is so difficult for most people. It’s just that we’re so gullibly loyal to our self-importance. We’re so enmeshed in a deep passionate way with our self-importance. Shantideva speaks of remembering all the wrongdoings of your self-importance, and becoming vigilant to being less subservient to the self-importance and its reactions. This is what he suggests.

If the pain of our self-importance is not observed and experienced, it’s difficult for us to get untangled from it, and difficult to develop the mind’s freedom to respond according to our natural intelligence and wisdom.

So this is a sign of our offering to the wisdom mind. It’s actually a sign to the buddhas and bodhisattvas. It is said that being able to be patient in this way, to experience the pain that the self-importance has created and not react, is the greatest offering of all to the buddhas and bodhisattvas. Why? Because here you are beginning to honor their words, respect their words, and make sense of it for yourself rather than being subservient to the self-importance and the afflicting emotions.

Without this, despite how much the buddhas and bodhisattvas have said about the path of liberation, it remains only in the books, in someone else’s realization. It doesn’t become part of your experience. Even if you have respect toward someone else who has thus gone beyond, you’re not necessarily going beyond yourself.

No matter how much respect you pour into them for going beyond, it will never be equal to you coming onto this path yourself. That you are on the path pleases them much more than any other offerings you could make.

Since they have gone beyond, the offerings of any number of wonderful things does not matter to them as much as you getting beyond. This is therefore the greatest form of offering, and the greatest form of accumulating merit.

(Taken from NSS 2005 Talk 2)