Good morning. This morning I’m going to introduce the practice of maitri. I believe you were all given a hand-out that has on one side, The Four Limitless Ones, and on the other side, Limitless Maitri and Limitless Compassion practice. So first, if you would look at The Four Limitless Ones.
During this weekend, because of the very limited time, I’m going to spend most of the time on maitri and compassion. But, I’d like to read this to you:
May all beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.
This first line refers to maitri.
May we be free from suffering and the root of suffering.
And this second line refers to compassion.
May we never be separated from the great happiness devoid of suffering.
This refers to joy.
May we dwell in the great equanimity, free from passion, aggression and prejudice.
This refers to equanimity.These are the four qualities that we’re going to be working with for these two days. And the notion is that each of us has these qualities already, but possibly in a rather limited amount. When they’re called The Limitless Ones, it’s based on the premise that we start with the amount we have, no matter how limited it is, and we begin to nurture what we have, and then it will expand by itself until it’s actually limitless, beyond limits. As an experience, this is really to say that we touch in with what we already have. Then we begin to train in a way that, for the rest of our lives as we gradually work with this, it begins to expand far beyond what now seems possible, or even reasonable.
The practice I’m going to introduce this morning is The Limitless Maitri practice. It begins with developing maitri towards oneself by using the first line of the chant and changing it slightly to say, “May I enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.” In the second stage, developing maitri towards someone who you already feel gratitude or appreciation or love for them.
Last night, they made the announcement to ask you to make two lists, and this morning we’re going to make use of one of those lists.
About Gratitude and Appreciation
The first list was to just come up with at least one person or animal, that when you think of them now, right now today, that you already feel gratitude or appreciation or love—some sense of good heart towards this person just arises when you think of them. The reason I give it as like a homework assignment, and asked them to announce it last night, is because people have a lot of problems with this one. The second one, the compassion for people, sometimes is simpler, but this one is very difficult for a lot of people, for a lot of us.
I hope you were able to come up with at least one creature, that when you think of them… Now, it says here, “someone for whom you feel uncomplicated, sincere gratitude.” So, if it’s complicated, you can still use them. [laughter] “Uncomplicated,” sometimes people feel uncomplicated appreciation or love or gratitude for someone that was very kind to them in their childhood, or somebody that they know right now, or often people on the spiritual path feel this for their teacher—this kind of gratitude that’s uncomplicated. But, I think, more typically, we have people in our lives that we do feel appreciation toward, and we do feel love toward that’s genuine, and we can contact that right now, but along with it comes other feelings. So the point here is just to kind of zero in on the open heart and the loving heart and the kind heart, that part of it that you feel. And it’s fine that it has other things mixed up with it.
This word “happiness” also seems to be a tricky one. [laughs] I tell you when I talk to my own teachers about presenting these practices, and the obstacles that we as…. Almost universally, I was just in Europe, and it’s the same in Europe, you’ll be glad to know. This word “happiness,” people have a lot of difficulty with it. They say, “I don’t know if I want to wish myself, or someone else, happiness, because, you know, we learn a lot from our unhappiness and stuff, and besides if I wish them happiness, what’s really going to make them happy is stuff that also gets them in a lot of trouble, and for me, too.” It’s true, it can be a somewhat loaded term, I guess. Although it was meant in a very simple, naive way that all of us really would much prefer to feel some sense of joy, some sense of inspiration, light-heartedness, and delight than we would to be miserable and depressed all the time. You just say, “For goodness sake, could I have happiness, or could other people have happiness.”
But in working with this, one of the ways of phrasing this that seems to be more digestible for people is to think of happiness in a very profound sense of May I fulfill my potential—during this lifetime, from now until I die, may the days of my life add up to waking up and fulfilling my potential, actually connecting with the deep and rich potential that I have, and wishing that for other people as well.
Often that’s a lot more what we’re getting at, anyway, and that includes…you don’t exactly know, that could include what we call “sorrow” and what we call “joy,” whatever it is that nurtures us and wakes up and helps us to grow up and to fulfill our potential.
Toward the Completeness of Our Being
In terms of developing this maitri, this unconditional (and this is a key word), this unconditional good heart towards the completeness of our being. From that, being able to feel this uncomplicated good heart for the completeness, the complete picture, of other people’s being. If it helps you to think of it in terms of “May we all fulfill our potential,” then think of it that way. Whatever works for you.
Also, I’m going to suggest, because of the chant, that we use the words, May I enjoy happiness and the root of happiness, but you can use any words you want. In terms of aspiring, you can use whatever words work for you to say, May I connect with a sense of peace of mind, or non-aggression , or May I find the suffering that I’m going through now workable and be able to feel some sense of learning from this. Whatever words you want to use.
I think the key point here is that, when we start to do this practice, and I stress, somehow, this second stage of connecting with the good heart that you already feel as the main part of the practice.
With these kinds of practices, it’s really essential to start with what you already have and to cherish that.
And then, the rest of it, developing maitri for a good friend, saying May this good friend enjoy happiness and the root of happiness. Then, towards neutral people, which basically means all the many people in your life that when you meet them, you neither feel strong aversion or strong attraction— they’re just sort of neutral— which could be a lot of the people that are sitting in this room with you right now, that you’ve had minor contact with, and you haven’t yet developed aversion for them. [laughter] Maybe they’re sitting far enough away from you in the room that… Or, strong, like lusting after them. Just neutral people. And, there are probably people in stores that you go in every day of your life that are like this, and people that you pass on the street every day, and people at your work, that we call the neutral people.
Then, the fifth stage is the most difficult, and probably the most useful. Here it says “developing maitri toward an enemy.” May this person… All we have to do is think of them… this part is easy, most people don’t have too much trouble with this one. If I asked you to make a list of people that when you just think of them, you feel dislike… probably quite a long list. But, in any case, I’ve found in working with this that it’s not necessary to use the word “enemy.” In fact, it’s best to just use someone who you feel irritated with, like I say “difficult” person.
The magic of these practices is that you don’t have to crucify yourself with them. For instance, if there’s somebody who has been very cruel to you in your life, and you would like to develop some kind of good heart towards them, or have the relationship move in some way. But, it’s not someone that now when you think of them, you actually are afraid of them, you hate them, and you feel like you could never forgive them for what they’ve done to you. It’s not necessary to start with that person, or those people.
It sounds funny, but actually if you just work with someone that you feel irritated with because they’re sitting next to you in this hall and they keep moving, or you find yourself becoming aware of their out breath [laughter], because they breathe so loud, or whatever it is that irritates you. In community, it’s usually like the people who never wash their dishes, or never do their house job. I’m sure there are a lot of people like this… someone who cut in front of you on your way here, or wouldn’t let you get into line, or whatever.
If you work with where you feel irritation when you get to this stage, if you think of that situation or that person that irritates you, it’s very interesting, you can quickly get into contact with the feeling of just sort of shutting down. And that’s all that’s being asked here is that you get in touch with that feeling of shutting down. It doesn’t have to be a terrifying or overwhelming situation. In fact, it’s best to just start with something lightweight, but that brings up that feeling of resentment or irritation. And somehow by just working with that, it’s from that that your ability to deal with more and more difficult situations grows from really just working with what you have right now.
I think I’ll be making that point a lot: that this is a practice of starting where we are.
And, definitely, this is not a practice of living up to some hypothesis of what a good person is. That’s actually the opposite of maitri. If you said, “OK, I want to practice non-maitri.” [laughter] And I would say, “All right, I can tell you how to do that. Just hold an ideal in your mind of what a good person is, and then spend your whole life trying to live up
These practices are somewhat of a set-up, in a way. First of all, it asks that you say, “May I enjoy happiness and the root of happiness,” or, if you wanted to phrase it in a different way, May I fulfill my potential and find out what is the root of being able to do that—what actually would cause that to happen, what is the root of that kind of very profound happiness? Many people find this one much more difficult than any of the others—certainly more difficult than a good friend or a neutral. Suppose it is difficult for you to even say the words, May I be happy- wish yourself happiness? Needless to say, we say with a good friend, “May Mary, or Harry, or whoever, enjoy happiness and the root of happiness,” and then as you go towards neutral people, particularly when you get to the difficult person, it’s kind of just almost like a set-up for the fact that you’re going to feel all kinds of negative feelings.
You think that the whole point of this is to touch in with good heart, and in fact that is the idea of it to touch in with good heart. What’s actually very profound about the practice is by having the intention and the aspiration to touch in with your good heart, and the love that you already feel, and the appreciation that you already feel, by setting out to nurture that, part of the process is that you begin to become very intimate with all the obstacles to that.
A good example is when you think of this difficult person, and you feel resentment, normally you would think of that to being an obstacle to feeling love, and you say, “It’s impossible to think of this person that I dislike and then say, ‘May this dreadful John or Helen this person who all I have to do is visualize their face or say their name and I just feel such irritation.'” And then you’re supposed to mouth the words, May John or Helen be happy and actually find the root of happiness.
It’s kind of this paradox, or this squeeze, that is actually the power of this practice. It gets you in touch with the wholeness of human experience. It gets you in touch with your capacity to love and care and appreciate, and also it gets you in touch with your inability to do that, inability to contact those feelings.
Often when people do these practices, they feel very numb or they feel a lot of other things. And then you might say, “Oh, I’m failing at doing this practice, I can’t do it.”
I think the point that I want to make here is that we have to bring our full self to this practice. Maitri is based on connecting with your full self. And compassion is based on connecting with your full self. By “full self,” I mean your ability to open your heart, and your tendency to close your heart. Your ability to keep your mind open, and to look at things clearly without prejudice, and your tendency to feel a lot of prejudice, a lot of anger and disapproval and judgment all of these things are what I mean by our “full self.”
If any of you are in healing professions, the only way that it really works is if you bring your full self to working with the full self of person that you’re working with. If you come in as the professional or “the helper,” and see them as the invalid or the patient or the victim or “the messed up one,” you’re just disempowering that person, and you’re also harming yourself by clinging to some identity as being “the wise one” or the professional. And actually it’s this exploration of our full self, the exploration of our suffering, or our…what we usually call “our failings” or our “inabilities” this is just as important as connecting with our strengths, or the love and compassion and the caring that we already have.
The practice is about touching in with all of this. And letting go of this hypothesis: that this practice is about becoming some kind of ideal person, this “good” person that you hold in your mind as something that you’re trying to live up to. I’m emphasizing that because when you start doing this practice, and you start going through the stages of saying, “May I enjoy happiness and the root of happiness,” you’re going to think, Well, I’m supposed to feel that. And, if you don’t feel that, you’re going to feel like you’re not doing the practice.
What I’m saying is: just feel whatever you feel, acknowledge whatever comes up in each of these stages, whether it be numbness or resentment or actually gentleness and kindness. Acknowledge that. And whatever it is that’s coming up, say the words, “May I enjoy happiness and the root of happiness, May this loved one enjoy happiness and the root of happiness, May my good friend…” Maybe when you think of this friend and you say his or her name, maybe there’s this good heart, and then maybe right away some other feeling comes in, “Yeah, but what about yesterday when…”
Photo by Gregg Eller.