For the next few weeks this blog will include teachings about the four immeasurables. We will explore what teachers from various traditions say about these fundamental heart-opening practices. We invite you to read along with us during the next several weeks, and you can catch up on previous weeks here. And be sure to comment below and let us know how these practices resonate with you.
The Sanskrit word maitri and the Pali word metta both mean “lovingkindness” or “loving care,” and refer to an attitude of friendliness, goodwill, and generosity of heart. When we are filled with lovingkindness, we have a very simple wish: May all beings be happy. This kind of love has many qualities that distinguish it from our more usual experiences of love mixed with desire or attachment. Born of great generosity, metta is a caring and kindness that does not seek self-benefit. It does not look for anything in return: “I will love you if you love me,” or “I will love you if you behave a certain way.” Because lovingkindness is never associated with anything harmful, it always arises from a purity of heart. – Joseph Goldstein (Tricycle.org)
He goes on to say, “when we encounter people who have developed this capacity to a great extent—the Dalai Lama, for example—we sense their tremendous kindness toward everyone. Lovingkindness is a feeling that blesses others and oneself with the simple wish, “Be happy.” Tibetan Buddhists believe that H.H. the Dalai Lama is the manifestation of Avalokiteshvara, or Chenrezig (Tibet), Bodhisattva of Great Compassion. But we don’t have to be the Dalai Lama, if we practice metta meditation and the other immeasurables, we can open our own hearts.
This same Bodhisattva of Infinite Compassion is also known as Kuan Yin and Kannon (Japan). Kannon means “she who watches and hears” the sound of suffering beings. With her eleven heads to see in all directions and a thousand hands to help those in need, Kannon swiftly fulfills her vow to save all beings. The Thousand Arm Kannon (Senjyu Kannon, Jpn.) is one of the principal representations of this bodhisattva in Japanese Buddhism.
Joseph Goldstein is one of the first American vipassana teachers and a cofounder and guiding teacher of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. You can listen to a full teaching on lovingkindess and his description of the 3 components of lovingkindess here. Next week, we’ll look at a teaching from one of the other IMS cofounders, Sharon Salzberg.