Kuan Yin, Bodhisattva of Compassion. Photo by Lisa Matthews.
Jack Kornfield on starting this time-honored heart-opening practice.
In our culture, people find it difficult to direct loving kindness towards themselves. We may feel unworthy, selfish, or shouldn’t be happy when other people are suffering. Rather than practicing loving kindness with ourselves, which is traditionally the norm, I find it more helpful to start with those we naturally love and care most. One of the beautiful principles of compassion and loving-kindness is that we start where it works, where it is easiest. We open our hearts in the most natural way, and then gradually direct our loving-kindness to the areas where it is more difficult.
First, sit down comfortably and relaxed, with your eyes closed. Feel how you sit here in this mystery of human life. Take your place halfway between heaven and earth, as the Buddha did, and then pay kind attention to yourself. Feel how your body sits and your breath breathes naturally.
Think about someone who is important to you and who you love very much. Then let natural phrases come into your mind and heart with good wishes for them. Some of the traditional ones are: “May you be safe and protected”, “May you be healthy and strong” and “May you be really happy”.
Then, introduce yourself to a second person who is important to you and express the same good wishes and intentions to them.
Next, imagine these two people you love offering you their loving kindness. Imagine how they look at you with care and love when they say, “May you, too, be safe and protected. May you be healthy and strong. May you be really happy. “
Record their good wishes. Now turn it to yourself. Sometimes people put their hand on their heart or body while repeating the sentences: “May I be safe and protected. May I be healthy and strong. May I be really happy. “
With the same care, open your eyes, look around the room, and offer your loving kindness to everyone around you. Feel how great it is to spread the field of loving-kindness.
Think of yourself now as a beacon spreading the light of goodness like a beacon in your city, across the country, across the world, even on distant planets. Think: “May all beings far and near, all beings young and old, beings in all directions be held with great loving kindness. May they be safe and secure. May they be healthy and strong. May they be really happy. “
The Buddha said that the awakened heart of loving-kindness and freedom is our birthright as human beings. “If these things weren’t possible,” he said, “I wouldn’t teach them. But because they are possible for you, I offer these teachings of the Dharma of Awakening. “
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