Offering love to a small number of families and friends is a learned and limited expression of a much larger capacity for love and compassion. We are not merely connected to one person or to a small group of people. We are seamlessly interconnected to all beings. We can neither survive nor flourish without the help and assistance of many others. Opening our heart to a small number of individuals is only preparation for a larger universal embrace which is the full expression of the capacity of the human heart.
We ordinarily categorize our relationships according to how they feel to us – pleasant, neutral or unpleasant. We care for our family, friends, and lover, are unconcerned for strangers, and avoid and disparage those that we find unpleasant. However, authentic love and compassion do not know these ordinary boundaries, boundaries that are based on learned personal preferences.
The practice of “equalizing” is an ancient approach to re-training our mind, to returning it to its natural, expansive, and impartial openness. This practice helps us to abandon learned preferences and view all individuals as equally deserving of love and compassion. We shift from self-cherishing, to other-cherishing, to a universal, non-exclusive, embrace. Equalizing is not an easy process. In the beginning it requires the cultivation of new understandings. Eventually, it becomes natural and effortless. Consider the following truths:
1. All beings without exception want to be happy, healthy, and free of suffering. All suffering has the same quality. What is so unique and special about my suffering and the suffering of my loved ones, when all individuals suffer in the same way? Why should I care for my suffering more than that of others? In wanting happiness and freedom from suffering we are all equal.
2. What we consider to be pleasant or unpleasant in another is largely the result of personal or cultural preferences. As a result, any one individual can be viewed as pleasant by some and unpleasant by others. The individual is not different. We all have the same tissues, cells, and essential nature. What differs is our personal preferences, and these are not etched in stone. They are learned, transient, and somewhat fickle. As we diminish the tendency to make distinctions amongst individuals, others increasingly appear more similar than dissimilar, and thus equally worthy of our affection and care.
3. No individual is all bad or all good. We all have some of each quality. One aspect or another may show at one time or another but they are both there. No permanent statement can be made about the benefit or harm caused to us by a particular person. This can change over time. We must be willing to see that we are all equal in containing a mixture of qualities.
4. Individuals who are friends today may lose our affection and tomorrow become enemies. And in a similar manner our enemies may become friends. As ordinary emotions, love, hatred, affection, and rejection are impermanent qualities.
5. We are all interconnected in many ways. We live together, love together, heal together, and die together. Recent scientific studies suggest that our influence on each other may extend beyond physical proximity. Our inter-connectedness can be experience as we directly interact with each other and by energetic forces that are non-local in nature.
6. At the center of our being – an open and present mind and heart – we are all precisely the same.
7. Health, happiness, and wholeness arise from learning to love and care for many others rather than seeking and demanding love from a few individuals.
Each of these points deserves considerable reflection. With time we will realize that in truth we are more equal than different. As we increasingly feel equal to others in deserving happiness and love, the boundaries that define others as friends or enemies will soften and collapse. When this occurs we are ready for the practice of exchanging.
We are now able to wish for all people what we initially desired for our self, and then learned to desire for our closest love ones – happiness and freedom from suffering. We discover that to give to another is to give to our self. To heal another is to heal our self. And this recognition places us directly on the path to a far-reaching health, happiness, and wholeness.
The practice of exchanging involves wishing for others what we have always wished for ourselves, happiness and love free of suffering. It is once again a practice the re-trains our mind. At the beginning it requires effort. In time it becomes natural and effortless.
Briefly. We close our eyes and quiet our mind. Then, on each out-breath, we send out happiness and peace to all others. On the in-breath we take in the stress, distress and suffering of others, allowing them to dissolve in our heart. We practice this for 10 minutes each day. During the day we may do the same as we go about our daily activities. That is how we over ride our tendency to want happiness and love exclusively for ourselves and a few loved ones. As our heart opens wider, we discover that what we sincerely give away to others returns to us in unexpected ways.
Consider the following words of Shantideva, a wise 9th century teacher
Whatever joy there is in this world
All comes from desiring others to be happy,
And whatever suffering there is in this world
All comes from my desiring to be happy.:
What need is there to know more?
The childish work for their own benefit,
The Buddha works for the benefit of others.
Take a look at the difference between them.