The more I study up on the brahma-viharas, the more it makes sense to me why I was able to create - so lavishly! - the messes that I did.
It's because of my intentions.
Not that my intentions in the recent past months were terrible. I wasn't waking up in the morning saying to myself, "Gee whiz, what can I do to hurt others today?" But I was living with a mind that teemed with envy and lust and I was concerned very much with "getting what I need to be happy / good enough." In other words, I was living in self-centeredness (or self-cherishing, as my Tibetan pals like to call it) without even fully realizing it.
This is something rather basic that it's taken a long time for me to fully understand: even if I'm not seeking actively to hurt others, I can still hurt others very effectively when my primary motive is to further my own pleasure and security. I tend to laser-in on that goal of "my own pleasure and security" with a magnetic focus that blinds me both to many facets of reality and to the feelings of those my actions might affect.
"So the first lesson of karma is that if you really want to be happy you can't trust that deep down you know the right thing to do, because that would foster complacency. Unskillful intentions would take over and you wouldn't even know it. Instead, you have to be heedful to recognize unskillful intentions for what they are and to act only on skillful ones. The way to ensure you'll stay heedful is to take your desire for happiness and spread it around." - Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Head & Heart Together: Bringing Wisdom to the Brahma-viharas
Hmmmm. That just about sums up my experience. It gives me great hope that Bhikkhu emphasizes that we can make ourselves more skillful at producing real happiness (as opposed to just pleasure that turns all-too-rapidly into pain) by "taking our desire for happiness and spreading it around." Because I can do that!
That's what metta meditation is.
It's a fairly basic axiom of spiritual development that if we want to live a good life we should try to be less self-centered. I don't think that I really understood the full import of that, though, until I read these words of the Venerable Lobsang Gyatso in Bodhicitta: Cultivating the Mind of Enlightenment:
Our self-centeredness is an attachment directed toward the self which we have been generating spontaneously from time without beginning. It is this which is the real enemy, this which is the actual embodiment of evil. We are mesmerized by it, as a child is by a brightly colored object. And while it seems to promise so much for us, it is actually wholly destructive. It thrusts us into the suffering of the three lower realms, and we can see that if in this present existence its power becomes overbearing it can lead us into unending conflicts and will eventually cost us this life.
Conversely the other-cherishing attitude is an extraordinarily positive intention which arises from correct logical reasoning. It is only our own failure to practice which stands in our way. If we did cultivate it, that would signify the onset of everything worthwhile. The relationship between the two attitudes is similar to the relationship between the attractive light in which the respective minds of attachment and affectionate love view others. Though they share the characteristic of seeing others in an appealing form, from every other viewpoint - attention, function, and effect - they are totally opposed to one another.
Well hot-damn. That really drove home to me what my problem has been - and what caused me so much pain in my last romantic drama - that I was inhabiting lustful attachment instead of affectionate love. That my attachment was part of delusional self-cherishing – and not even really "love" at all, because real love is non-grasping and other-cherishing.
For very many years I resisted the elementary notion that valuing others above myself is the way to go. "Oh, that's just being a doormat, that's just the way to be used, that's clap-trap designed to hypnotize people into sacrificing themselves for nationalistic, patriarchal or religious purposes," I thought to myself, "I won't go in for that - I'll help others but I'll keep my own well-being the priority so as not to over-extend myself. I'll make sure I get my own security and pleasure and status first and think about others in my spare time, after I get all my ducks lined up."
Well, as I'm now understanding, the most efficient way of fostering my own real well-being (i.e., deep peace of mind, sense of meaningfulness, authentic joy) is to do just this thing that my ego recoils from so very much: be willing to value and concern myself with the well-being of others more than with my own.
Through doing metta bhavana everyday, I'm even beginning to intuit the reason why life and karma do indeed work this way: because the world is a projection of mind, other beings aren't really separate from me - they're actually the greater part of me. My ego-character is just a little sliver of the hologram - "others" are the rest of it. When I'm wishing that all beings be happy, I'm actually wishing happiness for my whole self instead of for just a little delusional sliver of myself.
In other words - when I wish good things for you, dear reader, I'm actually wishing good things for me - because you are me and I am you and we are all together. Koo-koo-ka-choo.
What are your thoughts on self-cherishing vs. other-cherishing?
image: [Keith Williamson]