During a discussion group on the theme of kindness, Exiquio Cooper-Anderson had an “Ah ha” moment about kindness. Twenty-four years old and a veteran of the Iraq War, he had been at the Abbey almost two months when he wrote this.
Q) What are the defining characteristics of kindness?
After contemplation, kindness seems to be dependent upon three parts:
- The recipient of the kindness
- The object of negation
- The action of kindness
I can be kind to myself, but during this meditation I was focusing kindness on others. The word that sticks out to me the most in the preceding statement is “others” – the recipient of the kindness. There are at least three things that I should consider about the recipient before acting if I wish to be kind.
First, I consider what the other person’s disposition is. Is this person happy? If so, I rejoice. If not, why not? What can I do to help bring happiness to this individual? This leads to the next consideration. What does this person want? What can I do to help this person to be happy? Do they want trivial things, meaningless trinkets? Do they want a smile, a hug, or maybe someone to talk to?
Is what they want something that is beneficial? Thus the next point: what does this person actually need? Not everything I want is good for me, and sometimes some things bring me harm. To facilitate harmful things for another person is not kindness.
The reverse is also to be considered: I should understand what is not the disposition of the individual by abandoning all personal prejudices and projections in order to deal with the person where they are right now. I need to consider what the person doesn’t want and whether or not they needs these things in their life at this moment.
Based upon this reflection, I can generate a well thought out method for acting kind to the individual. This method is free of false expectations and is beneficial for the recipient.
Next I must firmly confront the elusive, self-grasping ego inside me. This is the root cause of my resistance to offering true kindness and compassion to another individual. It gives rise to selfishness, jealousy, discrimination and other mental defilements that cause me to be reluctant to carry out my wish to be of benefit to others. By recognizing this stain on my way of thinking, I can avoid stepping in its filth. This will give me a clear path to develop a motivation that is free of self-centered thought.
With skillful methods and a pure motivation, I can act with kindness and with care for the recipient. This will enable me to be open and remain supportive regardless of the other person’s response.
Two primary reflections often generate kindness in me. First, when I encounter a situation that requires kindness such as someone requesting a few dollars to catch the bus, I try to reflect on how I felt all the times in the past when I was in need. How did the lack of something I needed or really wanted affect me?
I remember how hard it was to go to somebody and tell them I was in need. I also reflect on when my cry for help was turned down. How did I feel? I reflect on times when others offered help and the happiness this caused in me. Reflecting like this, I am usually able to overcome my reluctance to give to others.
The second reflection is relatively new to me and is simple in nature. I think back as far as possible and consider my condition. I once was a baby. Even with all my crying and bellyaching, many people took care of me by sustaining my life due to their own kindness.
A few years later I was in grade school. Many people contributed to making me a functional member of society. They taught me to read and write – two valuable skills that I use even today. Such kindness! Then I arrive at my teenage years. Despite all of my fighting and rebellion, someone still loved me enough to continue to provide for me. The list of other people’s compassion for me goes on and on. Bringing together all of these acts of kindness, I then vow to repay these wonderful beings by being kind to others.
Q) What prevents you from being kind?
When I think hard about this question, I see that all of the afflictions that cause me to be reluctant to act kindly are rooted in one huge problem: the self-centered ego. Selfishness wants everything good for the self, and nothing good for the other. Jealousy hates when the other has and the self doesn’t. Miserliness doesn’t feel the need to give what is “all mine.” The list of afflictions that prevent kindness goes on, but it becomes obvious with a little inspection that these all serve to protect the so-called self.
Q) How do you generate the causes of kindness and subdue the impeding factors?
I can cause my kindness and compassion to grow through various skillful means. One of the most powerful practices is the third verse of the Buddhist teaching, The Eight Verses of Thought Transformation:
In all actions I will examine my mind
And the moment a disturbing attitude arises,
Endangering myself and others,
I will firmly confront and avert it.
This verse speaks to the core of my being. In everything I do, big or small, important or not, I should be ever mindful. With this mindfulness being alert to every thought-cloud that blows across the sky of my mind, I will be able to notice the disturbing emotions as they arise. These disturbing attitudes prevent me from being happy and from being of the utmost benefit to other people.
These defilements, if left unchecked, cause me to harm myself and others. How can I be a kind and compassionate person in these circumstances? Without the slightest leniency in time or in effort, I must cut these afflictions off at their root. Obviously I need training on how to completely uproot these mental stains, but chopping them down as soon as they sprout can be extremely beneficial.
In order to subdue the impeding factors efficiently, I must destroy their cause. This is the ignorance that believes in the inherent existence of the self. This practice is a bit daunting for me now, but I do know that meditating upon a few simple facts helps me grow in strength.
I conceptually understand somewhat the following verse from Nagarjuna’s Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way:
If the self were the aggregates,
It would have arising and ceasing.
If it were different from the aggregates,
It would not have the characteristics of the aggregates.
If this self that I think is real truly exists, wherein does it lie? Is it an same as the structure that I call my body? If so, how come I don’t lose part of this self when I cut my hair, or trim my toenails? When I look at my fecal waste, how come I never say there goes my self? Didn’t that matter come from me?
Speaking of eating, what separates the food I eat from the self? We are what we eat, so is what I eat also the self? Does someone lose part of the self as they lose the abilities of their mental faculties? If one believes in rebirth, then the idea of the self being the aggregates falls flat on its face. But either way, I don’t think that there is a self that is my body or my mind.
If the self is not the aggregates, then surely it must be a separate entity independent of the body, such as a soul. If this soul, which is me, is separate from my aggregates, why do I feel so bad when I stub my toe? Why would a soul feel the need to follow the body’s sexual urges? How can an independent soul experience the pain in my back? Common sense tells me that these experiences are all in the realm of my body. But what about my mind? Well, taking LSD alters the mind and things are experienced differently than they are. How could an independent soul be subject to that experience? What is it that this soul or self does anyway that makes it so independent?!
If there is no self that is one and the same with the body and mind, and if there is no self independent of them, then there can not be an independent self. By meditating on this fact, I can slowly overcome the delusion that causes me to become arrogant, lustful, and selfish. Then I will have the time and space needed to purely develop the characteristics that I want to have, such as real kindness.