Practicing True Love

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Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday evening, after our meditation, we will recite together the Five Mindfulness Trainings and focus our sharing on the Third Training, True Love.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings were offered to lay practitioners during the time of the Buddha as minimal moral guidelines for mindfulness living. The trainings identified five types of actions to avoid if one wishes to develop mindfulness, concentration, and insight:

  • killing,
  • stealing,
  • sexual misconduct,
  • lying, and,
  • consuming alcohol or other substances that lead to heedlessness.

In the late 20th century Thich Nhat Hanh rewrote the trainings to deal with the challenges of modern life, and to expand their scope from minimal ethics to aspirational ethics — how to live and love as a twenty-first century Bodhisattva. The Third Training was expanded from avoiding sexual misconduct to practicing True Love through cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness (The Four Brahma Viharas or The Four Abodes of the Noble Ones):

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society.

Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy. I will cultivate loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness which are the four basic elements of true love for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

In Teachings on Love, Thich Nhat Hanh explains each of the Brahma Viharas:

The first aspect of true love is maitri, the intention and capacity to offer joy and happiness. To develop that capacity, we have to practice looking and listening deeply so that we know what to do and what not to do to make others happy.

The second aspect of true love is karuna, the intention and capacity to relieve and transform suffering and lighten sorrows. Karuna is usually translated as “compassion,” but that is not exactly correct. “Compassion” is composed of com (“together with”) and passion (“to suffer”). But we do not need to suffer to remove suffering from another person. Doctors, for instance, can relieve their patients’ suffering without experiencing the same disease in themselves. If we suffer too much, we may be crushed and unable to help.

The third element of true love is mudita, joy. True love always brings joy to ourselves and to the one we love. If our love does not bring joy to both of us, it is not true love.

The fourth element of true love is upeksha, which means equanimity, nonattachment, nondiscrimination, evenmindedness, or letting go. Upe means “over,” and ksh means “to look.” You climb the mountain to be able to look over the whole situation, not bound by one side or the other. If your love has attachment, discrimination, prejudice, or clinging in it, it is not true love.

I like to think of the Four Brahma Viharas not as four distinct attitudes or values, but rather as four facets on a precious stone. They are different perspectives on a way of being in the world with a calm mind and an open heart, a way of living that enriches ourselves, others, and our earth.

Our sharing on Thursday will begin with the question: How do we actually practice True Love with our loved ones, our friends, and with the wider world? What encourages us and makes it easy? What discourages us and makes it hard?

You are invited to join us.

A related excerpt by Pat Enkyo O’Hara on the fallacy of waiting until we are enlightened is below.

Guardrails on the Path: A Five Mindfulness Trainings Study Group will meet on five Wednesday evenings between October 28th and December 9 and is open to all who are interested, whether they have taken the training or not. Guardrails on the Path may be of special interest to those who are considering taking the trainings as part of our regional Five Mindfulness Trainings transmission ceremony on January 2nd, 2016.

Also, spaces are still available for Everyday Intimacy, A Day of Practice offered this Saturday, October 17, 2015, 8:45 am to 3:30 pm, at Blueberry Gardens in Ashton, Maryland.

Many blessings,

Mitchell Ratner

The Fallacy of "Once I’m Enlightened"

By Pat Enkyo O’Hara from Most Intimate: A Zen Approach To Life’s Challenges

Followers of contemplative traditions often fall into the fallacy that, “Once I’m enlightened, once I’ve cooled myself down, once I’ve gotten myself together, then I’ll save the world, then I’ll be ready to enter the fire of life. But for now I need to withdraw and practice meditation.” Waiting to “get enlightened,” we miss our life, which is both inside and outside: our internal sense of self and everything around us. By waiting, withdrawing, we are separating our self from all of life, and we are denying the demand that we care for and take responsibility for life. When we wake up to suffering, we must act.