In-depth series of teachings on The Jewel Ornament of Liberation and how practitioners in today’s world might approach traditional texts written hundreds of years ago.
Loving-Kindness and Compassion, pt. 2Download
Participants report their experience with previous week’s meditation assignment; a tale of warm fuzzies and cold pricklies; reactions to giving and receiving kindness; three steps to staying present when receiving kindness: recognizing, acknowledging, and appreciating; the natural response (love) to staying present in kindness; extending this response to “all sentient beings”; the difference between loving-kindness and compassion; the contraction that occurs in the presence of suffering that prevents loving-kindness and compassion from arising; meditation for the upcoming week: what do I actually trust? The Jewel Ornament of Liberation by Gampopa, commentary on Chapter 7.
[NOTE: The following was recorded on February 12, 2008 and is the 17th class in the Then and Now Series. Due to technical difficulties this recording starts a few minutes into the session, as participants discuss their experiences with the previous week’s guided meditation on kindness.]
Art: …the things my parents did that were loving to me. And then later I started to remember what recent events people do, to be nice. And I just take it for granted. I realize that now.
Ken: Mmm hmm. What do you experience in your body when somebody’s kind to you?
Art: Sort of an opening and sort of a relaxation.
Ken: Mmm hmm. What do you experience emotionally?
Art: A joy and a sort of a happiness.
Ken: Okay and what I understood you to say is that reflecting on this made you more aware of kindness you receive on a day-to-day basis.
Raquel: I didn’t actually experience anything like that.
Ken: Well, there isn’t one right experience here.
Raquel: The thing I noticed the most was the difference in how I experienced other peoples kindness over the phone versus in person. Over the phone there’s enough distance that I feel like I can actually feel it and take it in and hear it. Whereas in person it’s kind of…I don’t know if it’s I don’t have the capacity to be with my uncomfortable feelings, but I kind of just hardly feel it.
Ken: This is very interesting. So I’m am going to ask you to go a step further here.
Raquel: All right.
Ken: What is the difference in your physical experience, between the phone and in person.
Raquel: In person, with the experience I’m thinking of, of someone’s kindness, I felt embarrassed and like—
Ken: Your physical body—
Raquel: My body felt like curling over.
Ken: Okay. Curling up into a ball?
Raquel: Curling up. It felt tense, awkward.
Ken: Okay. And over the phone?
Raquel: And over the phone, I almost want to say I felt like somebody. But I felt good, I felt [sigh] my body again, upright and, hmmm, what’s distinguishable in the body? I think I just was remembering more of the emotional stuff, but physically upright, kind of—
Ken: Something straightened up?
Raquel: Upright, straight posture. Yeah.
Ken: Okay, so very different from the in person experience.
Ken: Okay. Emotionally, what do you experience in person?
Raquel: I just felt like tied up in knots. I felt embarrassed.
Raquel: Self-conscious. Like, was I worth the kindness? “It’s so kind.” You know kind of those—
Ken: Then the stories start up.
Raquel: Yeah. I guess there were stories.
Ken: And over the phone, what did you experience emotionally?
Raquel: I felt real joy. I felt so like happy and content and I actually felt like, “Yeah!” I felt like I deserved it! Like it was an appropriate act of kindness, and I felt like I could take it in.
Ken: So, I think it would be good for you to keep observing that contrast.
Raquel: Yeah. It happened to be over the same issue. And so it was like really easy to see the different way I responded.
Ken: Yes. Okay. Cara.
Cara: How did I feel physically?
Ken: Yes. When you contemplated receiving kindness.
Cara: When I contemplated it or when I received it?
Cara: I think when I contemplated it, it’s too intangible, and I have to like sort of make up a story or go to something. But when I did receive it, I felt free and I felt light and I felt cared for.
Ken: Okay. Alex.
Alex: I wasn’t here last week.
Ken: All right. Randye.
Randye: I received two kindnesses that I was attentive to last week. And one was via email and the other was by phone. And one was small and one was large. And the thing that surprised me most was that there was no difference in my response. So either the vehicle or the size of the kindness didn’t matter. And the feeling was a tightness in my belly, a almost cringing, and a tightening in my throat, very notable lump in my throat, initially. It changed after a moment or two, but. And the feeling was guilt and shame. Unworthiness. And it was no difference for the small favor as for the large favor. That was kind of what was striking about that.
Randye: And then it shifted into a feeling: very open and wanting to cry. It was really nice.
Ken: Okay. Leslie, did you have a chance with these? Okay. Diane?
Diane: Well, I tried this actually with two different situations that happened in my past. And they both started out the same. In the body, it was like this stomach thing, like anxiety. And then, in the one instance then it went to the heart, almost like there was a wall. Like there was a shutting down. What I finally realized—it took me a while to accept the kindness from this person—and when I finally realized what was going on, then it was overwhelming. Just like a dam breaking. And the other incident was with someone that I was—
Ken: Like a dam breaking into what?
Diane: Into just being overwhelmed that this person who was a total stranger was so kind to me.
Ken: You’ve used the word overwhelmed twice. Open that up a little bit. What’s the physical experience of overwhelm. And is it overwhelm, or is there some other quality?
Diane: No, it’s like a flush.
Ken: A flush.
Ken: Okay. Hot?
Ken: Right. Sticky?
Diane: An uncomfortable hot.
Ken: An uncomfortable hot. Okay. When somebody is kind to you?
Ken: Okay. Emotions connected with this?
Diane: Yeah. I just wanted it to stop.
Ken: Fear? Okay. Fear of?
Diane: Fear of the consequences of the kindness. As if there was something attached to it.
Ken: Ah. Okay. So that’s some of the story.
Diane: Yeah. The other shoe was going to drop. Fear that it would be given and then taken away.
Ken: Taken away. Okay. All right. Shame?
Diane: Not in this instance that I was working with, no I didn’t experience that.
Diane: Embarrassment. Yeah.
Ken: Mmm hmm. Okay. Interesting.
Ken: Okay. Molly?
Molly: I thought of something in my recent past. And I broke it into the receiving kindness and then letting the kindness in. And when I was working with just receiving the kindness there was a real negative emotional reaction to that, like a real gripping.
Ken: There’s a gripping in your body?
Molly: In my body, and emotionally, like overwhelming sadness. Like Diane was talking about—
Ken: Overwhelming sadness?
Diane: Sadness, yeah. Great sadness. But then it felt like there was another layer when I let it in. Which was more of a relaxing in my body, and a kind of an ease emotionally, or joy, something like that. But then very quickly after that, it turned into “How do I keep this? How can I get more of it? How do I hold on to it?”
Ken: Sounds like the hungry ghost realm.
Molly: Yeah. Yeah.
Ken: Okay. Lynea.
Lynea: I didn’t have the chance to—
Ken: Oh, that’s right. Yes, you were indisposed. Okay.
Ken: Kind of interesting, isn’t it? A good number of you, very uncomfortable with being on the receiving end of kindness. All kinds of feelings of discomfort, fear, embarrassment, shame, you name it. Which reminds me of a story that I heard, many many years ago. Back in the 70s. It was told to me by a kind of brilliant, somewhat insane psychologist in Canada. It’s called the Warm Fuzzies and the Cold Pricklies. Have I told you this one, Lynea? Okay.
Once upon a time, there was a valley. And in this valley there dwelled a number of people. And they all went around their affairs. You know, buying from each other, and growing crops and raising children. And just the normal things that one would do in a rural valley. The unusual thing about this valley, or the people in this valley, is that everybody always carried a satchel. And whenever they met, they would reach into their satchel and they’d take out a warm fuzzy and give it to the other person. The other person would give them a warm fuzzy. Now warm fuzzies didn’t do very much, they just made you feel warm and fuzzy.
Nobody knew where the warm fuzzies came from. But nobody worried about it very much, because whenever they reached in the satchel there was always a warm fuzzy there. And so they just went about quite happily. One day, the wicked witch moved into the valley and saw what was going on, and thought this was not good at all. So she invented cold pricklies. And she gave everybody another satchel. And said, “These are called pricklies and you should take care of the warm fuzzies, and just be very careful, because they may run out. But you will always have lots of cold pricklies.”
Now, cold pricklies, when you received a cold prickly from somebody, you didn’t feel very good. You felt cold and prickly. And then you began to think about the warm fuzzies. So more and more people would give each other cold pricklies because they weren’t sure about the warm fuzzies. And the strange is the number of warm fuzzies seemed to get less and less. At least people were sharing them much less. And you really didn’t like receiving a warm fuzzy from somebody when you gave them a cold prickly. That made you feel really uncomfortable.
So after a while people were just giving each other cold pricklies. And the valley wasn’t nearly as happy a place as it used to be. Except there was one woman who just ignored everybody, ignored the witch. And she just went around giving warm fuzzies to everybody. And she never seemed to run out of warm fuzzies. And everybody felt really uncomfortable when they met her, because they knew they were going to get a warm fuzzy from her. And they were going to give her a cold prickly. Eventually the wicked witch heard about this woman and she pointed to the woman and said, “She’s a witch.” And so they burned her.
Well, it kind of fits with everybody’s experience here, no? What do you like about this story, Raquel?
Raquel: It’s a bad ending.
Ken: Give Raquel a microphone, would you, Chuck?
Raquel: I don’t have anything to say.
Ken: Do you recognize anything in this story?
Ken: What, if I may ask?
Raquel: Well, I don’t know if it’s the same thing but for me since I’m struggling to take in and feel people’s kindness, which seems like a very ordinary thing to be able to do. You feel sort of damned.
Ken: Damned! That’s a little strong!
Raquel: Well, I was thinking of, you know, when they got burned. You feel burned, I should say. But not by anybody else except yourself, I guess, in a situation.
Ken: So this puts you in touch with something in you.
Raquel: Mmm hmm.
Ken: But it’s interesting, in your case if there’s a certain physical distance, a separation, then you can take it in. But if the person’s right there in front of you, changes things.
Raquel: Yeah, its like the intensity of a person being right there, just rises to a level, and it just—I don’t know.
Ken: Okay. I’m going to turn this around and ask you a couple of questions if I may.
Raquel: Oh, great!
Ken: Thank you. If you are kind to somebody, how does it feel? What do you experience in your body when you are kind to somebody. And it can be quite, you know, a small kindness, like opening the door for somebody. Which is an act of kindness. How does it feel to you?
Raquel: Yeah. It’s easier for me to do that. I feel…do I have to go through the whole body?
Ken: Yes. [Laughter] I’m so glad you’re learning this.
Raquel: I mean it feels like a lot of the same sensations as over the phone in receiving kindness. You know I felt kind of upright posture. I actually think I tend to feel my breath. I feel, sometimes I do have to admit though, sometimes I do still feel like light kind of slight waves of awkwardness.
Ken: But nothing like when you are on the receiving end?
Raquel: Yeah, no.
Ken: Okay. And does it make a difference whether there’s a physical separation or whether it’s in person?
Raquel: It still makes a difference, yeah.
Ken: What’s the difference?
Raquel: I feel more comfortable, more distance. [Laughing] Yeah.
Ken: Okay. All right. Anybody else? What’s it like to give kindness? Randye?
Randye: First I’d like to thank everybody for sharing. Because I used to think I was the only person who was uncomfortable receiving kindness.
Randye: I was brought up with, you know, “Tis better to give than receive.” and I enjoy giving. And it feels good. Now I’m wondering, because maybe I’m making people uncomfortable.
Ken: That’s a really good reason to stop being kind! [Laughter]
Randye: But you know the idea of the cold pricklies doesn’t do it either. There’s very much a connecting sense in giving, which for me is kind of absent in the receiving. The feeling of being connected with the person.
Ken: This is very interesting, when you give you feel connected with the person, when you receive—
Randye: I don’t. Until I make a conscious effort to literally do some cognitive restructuring to remind myself that it’s giving the other person pleasure to give me something.
Ken: So you have to construct quite an elaborate thing.
Randye: I have to actually construct that in order to feel that connection. Whereas it comes very naturally when I give.
Ken: Interesting, Okay. Molly? Lynea? Diane?
Diane: Well, I just have a comment I’m sort of back on Raquel. I’m always a beat or two behind here.
Ken: So she’s not completely alone?
Diane: No. Well I’m thinking for her issue is a physical distance. I did this with two specific situations and my issue was trust. Emotional distance. So, in the other example that I used, it was very easy for me to receive. The kindness was a very different feeling in the body and everything. And I think it was…when I thought about it afterwards, it was the trust I had with that individual, as opposed to the other situation I was dealing with a perfect stranger.
Ken: So if you know the person and you trust them, then it’s easier to receive?
Ken: And if it’s from a perfect stranger?
Diane: Well it’s a crap shoot. [Laughter] I mean, really, you know, when the stories go, you know, there’s all this stuff. Is it punitive? Is it conditional? Is the other shoe going to drop? Is it going to be taken away? All that stuff.
Ken: Yeah, is it manipulative? Okay. Molly? Lynea? On giving kindness.
Molly: I was just going to say that feeling, of my ghost realm, where I just want more of it, I don’t feel that at all when I give kindness. It’s just really great to get, I mean it feels really good. But I don’t feel any kind of like connection to them feeling like they need more from me. I don’t think that’s going on. So that means there’s some kind of like…like Diane was saying, a connection.
Ken: Okay, Lynea.
Lynea: There’s something about giving kindness that feels like doing something,and that I’m moving away from when I’m actually giving kindness.
Ken: Can you try that one again?
Lynea: Yes. I didn’t do this exact exercise. But oddly enough I had played with something along these lines. But it was explicitly receiving love or giving love. And it was in a different context. And my experience was that I feel that either like I’m moving forward, or I have to drop back and relax to actually experience either one. And that otherwise if I’m giving kindness, there’s this I’m like, doing something. But really when I feel like I’ve actually given kindness, with hindsight, it’s when I’m not trying to do anything.
Ken: Oh, okay. All right. Chuck?
Chuck: I think on both the giving and receiving I assumed that it wasn’t manipulative. That you could trust the person, or I could be just myself and give them something. And not expect them to give me something. And vice versa when they give me something that they didn’t really expect something back out of me. So that’s the way I felt that.
Ken: So you didn’t have a lot of stories going?
Ken: Okay. Cara and Leslie, either of you want to add anything? Cara?
Cara: I feel like I should say that I don’t like to get kindness. Because I was the only one that said that I like it.
Cara: [Sarcastically] Don’t! Don’t be nice to me, I don’t deserve it. No. [Laughter] I think that I definitely get more out of giving it than I do getting it. But as a nanny I don’t really get much of a choice in terms of whether or not I want to be kind because my job is to be kind. And in some ways I think that’s been better because it’s helped me to develop a brighter attitude towards adversity or expectations. So even when I feel physically disinclined to be kind—
Ken: You’re just—
Cara: I just move into that place of knowing that that’s what’s expected of me. And then I don’t struggle so much.
Ken: Okay. What about receiving kindness?
Cara: I’m in a really good place for it right now! [Laughter] No, I mean, I’m surrounded at the moment by people who are very able and capable and willing to be kind. With very few expectations. And that’s not been the case my entire life. Or in anyone else’s. But right now I feel very comfortable with it. But I don’t really expect it from people.
Ken: Well this isn’t about expecting it. I mean, what’s come out of this discussion is that many of you experience very palpable differences between receiving kindness and giving kindness. And for the most part you seem to be more comfortable giving kindness than receiving it.
Now I am going to just throw this out for consideration. No, actually I’m just going to make a question of it.
Something that would be good for all of you to look at is: “What in me is uncomfortable receiving kindness?” Now, you just said, Cara, “Don’t be kind to me, I don’t deserve it.” And that was similar to things that other people were expressing. Now you notice that there’s a story connected with receiving kindness. Cara?
Cara: I had an interesting dialogue with you like two weeks ago…
Cara: …where you said that. And I totally thought of it with the deserving thing. That I told you that I had spent years anticipating something that I wasn’t going to get. And I was ready, like just kind of like building up all my engines for the fight, you know. Because I wasn’t going to get this thing. And then, like in the turn of a switch or not even that much effort, I got exactly what I had anticipated not getting. And I was so…I had convinced myself that the person or people who were supposed to give me this thing, had so much malice for me. I couldn’t even wrap my head around the fact that I got what I wanted. And then I felt this tremendous, almost disappointment because…
Ken: You hadn’t had to fight.
Cara: It didn’t reinforce my suspicions. In fact it—
Ken: Blew them out of the water.
Cara: Totally! And, you know, I said that to you, and you said, “Yes, yes, okay.” And it really made me think about just what you just said.
So, the discomfort with receiving kindness, is, in my opinion, something that is conditioned into us. I don’t think it’s natural. And, the reason I wanted you to explore this, is that meditation, the cultivation of loving kindness, is based on an appreciation of what it is to receive kindness. Which is why I think a lot of people have a real problem with this practice. If we’re only comfortable giving kindness, it can be—I won’t say it always is—a way of protecting a certain sense of self. A certain idea of ourselves. We can give. But it doesn’t really actually move us into an experience of no separation.
The meditations in the Tibetan tradition on cultivating loving kindness are based on reflecting on the kindness that we have received from our mothers. Now, in traditional societies that was usually pretty straightforward. Mothers took care of themselves during pregnancy. Had the child, and nursed the child, and took care of it and so forth. And brought the child up and provided a nurturing environment. In the nuclear family or in even single-parent homes, the demands placed on the mother can be quite great. And there can…particularly in this country there are whole generations in which there have been weaknesses, shall we say, in parenting. So that there’s a lot of disconnection, or lack of connection, that takes place. And so a lot of people in this culture don’t feel nurtured by their mothers in one way or another. And are not open to receiving kindness. It makes them feel vulnerable or uncomfortable, or all of this stuff coming up. So, these meditations have been quite problematic for many people and I think that’s largely due to their personal family experience and the conditioning that’s come out of it.
One of the consequences of that, was that when I was writing Wake Up to Your Life, I practiced these meditations in retreat and appreciated the power of them, but was well aware of these difficulties. And so I went through them very very carefully and found that the meditation on receiving kindness from the mother actually breaks down into three distinct reflections. And those are: One is recognizing kindness, the second is receiving kindness, and the third is appreciating kindness. Now…it might be better worded, recognizing kindness, acknowledging kindness and accepting kindness.
Now the first of those, there are a few people in this culture that have some entitlement issues. And so it’s very difficult for them to recognize kindness. They just feel that when people are kind to them that’s just what they’re due. And that’s what the first section of these meditations, I think, are about. We ordinarily don’t think of the mother carrying us during the pregnancy as an act of kindness. But it is. She goes through various discomforts, and forms of pain and so forth, during the pregnancy. And in most cases willingly accepts them, because she is already thinking of the welfare of the child and creating a space for the child in her life. Then there’s the actual pain at birth and so forth. And then nursing and providing everything that the child needs, and just being there for child, completely. Now we, as I say, many people don’t think of that as kindness, but that’s actually what is happening. So the first step is recognizing kindness. And I think one of the things that is very fruitful here is actually to go through one’s day just checking through all of the times that people are kind to you in the course of a normal day.
There’s a point here. It slipped my mind. I hope it’ll come back. Ah, that was it.
Courtesy is the social expression of loving kindness. So, good manners are a formal expression of loving kindness. And it is quite astonishing how in certain sections of society good manners have completely disappeared. Just treating people with respect and politeness is not a value and doesn’t happen and if you do you are regarded with suspicion. All of these, to me, indicate a absence, in some sense, of an ethic of loving kindness in a culture. So that’s the first step, is recognizing kindness.
And the second, is acknowledging it, which involves opening. Now, almost necessarily, when we acknowledge kindness…well let’s get your views on this.
When you acknowledge that somebody is kind, was kind to you or has been kind to you, what do you experience in your body? You can just think about that right now. What happens in your body when you say, “Oh yeah, this person was kind to me. And that was a nice thing they did.” What happens in your body? Randye?
Randye: I actually feel in my chest physically, my heart softening and opening.
Ken: Okay, Leslie?
Leslie: I say the same thing. I feel my heart opening and also a relaxation in my jaw.
Student: A warm fuzzy.
Ken: A warm fuzzy. Okay. Now how does that feel? Okay. How long can you stay in that? Cara?
Cara: Not long.
Ken: What happens?
Cara: The next thing.
Ken: Well, let’s suppose there isn’t a next thing immediately. Just you think, “Okay, this person was really nice to me. They’re very kind.” And so there’s that softening, that relaxing, that opening in the heart et cetera. How long do you stay there? Raquel?
Raquel: It depends how far they are from me! [Laughter]
Ken: They’re right in front of you. One, two milliseconds.
Raquel: Well, I have a question. So are you saying when…how far into this are you when you’ve acknowledged? Have you succeeded in staying with it and then you’re sort of resting in that acknowledgement or is that…
Ken: Let’s just take a very, very small example, okay? We’re in class tonight, and you come to the door and Chuck opens it for you. What happens? Yeah, right.
Raquel: My jaw clenches a little, just a little. I mean, you know it’s not…
Raquel: It’s like boop!
Ken: Yeah, I’m going to suggest that something happens…
Raquel: Like note.
Raquel: Kind of like note.
Ken: I’m going to suggest that something happens before it clenches.
Raquel: Okay, what are you going to suggest?
Ken: Is there a little bit of an opening first?
Raquel: Yes, first, that’s right.
Ken: So, it goes shwhoomp.
Ken: Don’t expect people to open doors for you Raquel. [Laughter] Okay. Randye?
Randye: I think it was Diane that said something about strings attached. And the conditioning and like from my own personal experience. And I’ve done a lot of work in therapy on this. Jewish mothers are good at guilt.
Ken; Yeah, it’s a lot like Catholic mothers.
Randye: And what, you know, what is given there’s an expectation of return, usually with interest. And to differentiate what Cara said, it’s not that I don’t like receiving kindness, I’m uncomfortable. But then I like it. As soon as I realize that there are not strings attached to it.
Ken: But this is what I was talking about earlier. When I said that in our culture, for whatever reasons, there’s conditioning. But what I want to get at is, and Raquel was very generous in this, is that in the act of kindness, when we acknowledge that we have received kindness, there’s a natural opening. Now, our conditioning is such, for some of us, that as soon as that opening happens, it triggers a whole bunch of other stuff—all these associations etc. So it just closes down and closes down quite hard in some cases. But the natural unconditioned response to acknowledging kindness, is an opening. Okay. Cara? You’re scowling at me.
Cara: No I’m not. I’m thinking and I’m hoping that I’m making more sense than I did with my last comment about the thing I got. Because that was weird. What struck me when you were talking earlier, is that old adage that we teach kids, especially at Christmas, “Tis better to give than receive.” And I think that that pervades a lot of our societal interactions. That you get to have big face if you can be kind. But if you are constantly on the receiving end of kindness or charity, then you must be weak or not pulling your weight. And that’s what causes some of the closing, or like Diane said about, you know, waiting for the other shoe to drop, like the pulley of expectations to come up.
Ken: Sure, I think there are a lot of sources of conditioning, but one has to remember that the aim of this practice is to be able to be present in the world without conditioning. That’s what we are actually aiming at. And also, this whole section, you may recall from our discussion last week, is a way of not withdrawing from the world and just being content in our own happiness. But a way of actively engaging the welfare and being helpful to others. But it needs to come as a natural response to things, not as a contrived or conditioned response.
There’s one thing that I should have included earlier this evening. This is a very good time to bring it up.
In the discussion of loving kindness and also of compassion Gampopa says there are three frames of reference for loving kindness. There’s loving kindness when the frame of reference is sentient beings. Loving kindness when the frame of reference—and both these are termed reality or phenomena. I want to change that translation to experience. And then there’s loving kindness and compassion also which is non-referential. Now, Gampopa only discusses the first. And goes through this process that I’ve been picking apart a bit. Where you think of one’s mother, and from my point of view, go through the three steps: recognizing kindness received; acknowledging that it was actually kindness. And the third one, which we haven’t discussed yet, but will now, is appreciating what that kindness does for us. So that because we were nurtured by our mother, we actually were able to live. We survived! And I want to come back to that appreciation in a minute. But first I want to complete the thought on the three frames.
The second frame of reference is, not just consideration of others through this reflective process, but from the way I understand it, it’s experiential. That is, when we have the experience of loving kindness ourselves, and we know what that does for us, then it’s very easy to feel loving kindness for others. And then the third frame of reference is no reference. That is, it’s loving kindness as the natural expression of awake mind. And in this Buddhism is very clear, and you actually find something like this in the Heart Sutra, that when the mind is clear, there is no fear, and it naturally expresses itself as loving kindness and compassion. You see others and you want them to be happy. And it isn’t coming from any consideration or reflection, it’s just natural expression of that awareness.
Now, I want to turn to the third step that I just mentioned. Appreciating loving kindness. When we receive loving kindness from someone. It could be our mother, it could be camp counselor, it could be a teacher, in either elementary or high school or college. Could be a relative, like an uncle an aunt or somebody like that. And as Diane has pointed out, I think it’s quite important. Kindness is not kindness if there’s a string attached. So when I say, we’re on the receiving end of kindness, what I mean is, it’s something that is done to us, or given to us, and there is no string attached. Okay.
What happens in you when you are on the receiving end of that? What actually happens in you physically and emotionally? And even cognitively. Anybody? Or let’s put it in the past. When you receive that kind of attention, because it is a kind of attention, what happens, what difference, if any does it make in your life? Randye?
Randye: When I experience that genuine kindness, that’s the kind of melting opening heart and that sensation of wanting to cry. But it’s not sad tears, it’s happy tears.
Ken: Okay. Thank you. Anybody else? Molly? Like you really want to talk about this.
Molly: Well, I was just going to say, that, relief…
Ken: Relief? Okay.
Molly: Kind of opening, joy. Kind of I can be myself, or…freedom.
Ken: I can be myself, I can be free.
Molly: Like recognition, maybe.
Ken: Yeah. Sounds like that’s quite powerful.
Ken: Yeah. Okay. Anybody else? Randye again.
Randye: This is just a p.s., because you also ask, you know what do you feel afterwards. And that’s that I feel more inclined to be kind to others.
Ken: Yes. But I just want to focus on, what that experience of kindness does for you. Yeah? Raquel?
Raquel: I was going to say it has made me feel like anything’s possible.
Ken: Okay. I’m going to put this in more formal language. When you are on the receiving end of loving kindness, then you feel no separation from the world. I mean, you feel like you have a place in the world. And I think that Brugh Joy tells the probably apocryphal story, but it’s just lovely anyway, of this family in a restaurant. And the waitress comes and takes the order. And mother says something, father says something and the sister says something then the five or six year old boy says, “I’d like a hot dog.” And the mother says, “No, he doesn’t want a hot dog, and he’ll have x, y, and x.” And the waitress takes everything down and when she finishes noting everything she turns to the boy and says, “Would you like that with mustard or relish?” And the boy says “Ooh, and says something. And she goes away and he looks at everybody and says, ”She thinks I’m a person!“
The experience of loving kindness, or when we receive kindness is that there’s no longer any separation from the world. We are in the world. And there are a lot of other things which Gampopa goes into. We’re shown how to function in the world etc. But it really comes down to not feeling any separation. This is very powerful.
Now, when you open to these three steps. You recognize that someone was kind to you. You can acknowledge that it was an act of kindness which may have put them at some inconvenience themselves. So it was something freely given, that they didn’t need to do. And it produces this kind of experience in you. Possibly a change or a shift in the way that you understand the relationship with the world. What is the natural inclination at that point? Or what do you feel? I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. What do you feel for that person? Leslie?
Ken: Love. Exactly. That’s what you feel. And so this is why this whole meditation on loving kindness is based on being able to experience receiving kindness because when we let that experience in, it cuts through all of our conditioning and gives rise to the natural expression of love. Which you can, in this context, define as a radiant warmth. And it’s just there. It’s not something that’s contrived. It’s not something that is manufactured or artificial. It comes directly out of letting the experience of receiving kindness in. [Unintelligible] And the natural response is loving kindness. And that’s what we feel for others, that radiant warmth. We just want that person to be happy, we don’t care about, you know, the details or anything like that. It’s just a very, very natural thing.
This is the quality of loving kindness that Gampopa is encouraging us to cultivate, because when that feeling arises, the idea that we’re just going to be happy by ourselves, and not worry about anybody else, just, it can’t take hold. It doesn’t work. Because that is a form of separation from the world. With that expression, that love coming out of us quite naturally, there’s a much deeper sense of no separation in which we feel an intimate connection with that person.
Now the next thing that happens in the chapter, as you may recall, is that you extend this to all sentient beings. And the way it is extended to all sentient beings is by considering that every being in the course of time without beginning and samsara has been our mother innumerable times. And so we should naturally feel this for all beings. How does this work for you? See a bunch of people here are shaking their heads.
Again this is a mythic expression. It’s based on a world view. But we can interpret or work with it in a somewhat different way. And I think what people have described about their discomfort with receiving kindness allows us to explore this quite easily.
Are there parts of you that can receive kindness relatively easily, and in which that natural love can be elicited quite easily? Okay? Are there parts of you that it is more difficult? Raquel?
Raquel: Yeah. I was actually going to ask about that. When you just asked us, you know, ”Think of a camp counselor,“ or whatever. And I thought of a high school teacher who was so kind. And I did have this feeling of love, you know, from them. And it wasn’t this awkward, you know, embarrassed thing. And then in another example it’s totally different. So I guess I was just wondering, could it just be a reaction to the feeling of no separation? Or not? What’s it a reaction to? I mean it’s not a reaction to Chuck or anyone actually there. It seems like it’s like a reaction to a feeling.
Ken: Well I think that there are two possibilities here. One is it can be a reaction to a feeling of no separation, which, if we have a very strongly defined sense of self, as being separate from the world, suddenly feeling ourselves without any barrier can be very disturbing, or frightening. And so there can be a withdrawal from that experience. And then I think the other source is what Diana was referring to earlier is that there are certain associations of receiving kindness when something, when it has been given with strings. And we’ve had to pay a price for being open. So now we distrust the feeling of being open and responsive that way. And that’s why I told the story of the warm fuzzies and the cold pricklies. Which is about that exactly.
So, in terms of cultivating this, instead of thinking of all sentient beings as being my mother or mothers at one point or another, one might think of it in terms of, ”Can I receive kindness in every area of my psyche, my personality?“ And we quickly come to appreciate that there are certain areas of us, for most of us, that are very uncomfortable of receiving kindness. They’ve been threatened or possibly even traumatized in the past. And they’re closed. So, working at this meditation, or this form of meditation, is a way of actually opening up those closed areas in ourselves. And that is, to my mind, the function of fostering loving kindness for all beings without limit, That it’s a different way of coming to open to loving kindness in every aspect of our mind.
Do you see how those two things are different ways of saying the same thing? Because what are all sentient beings? All sentient beings is the totality of our experience. So if we can let loving kindness pervade every aspect of experience, then we’ll have loving kindness for all beings.
Now this is very doable. I mean in terms of many of the meditations that we do in Buddhism, this one’s actually not that hard. I remember one of my students who, when she was working on this, recalls coming out of a yoga class, actually feeling complete loving kindness for all beings. And then another part of her saying, ”This is nauseatingly sick and sweet.“ But it’s actually quite easy. If one can sit with the discomfort of receiving kindness, and, in just the way that I was pointing out to you earlier, and recognize that the basis of that is all conditioning. And when you recognize the basis of it as all conditioning it becomes possible to let that in. And the natural response is this love, this radiant warmth that just goes out.
Cara, you had a question or a comment.
Cara: Just, sorry, per ”the strings attached.“ I mean, what if we are working really diligently in this meditation and trying to cultivate that awareness? But at the same time, I guess an example I would use…I thought I misheard you when you said, ”How do we feel when we receive loving kindness.“ But I thought you said, because you had used an example of the strings attached,, how do we feel when we experience the strings attached form of loving kindness?
Cara: And so, I sort of went onto a, you know, ”white hot pokers“ kind of realm.
Ken: Yes. Hell realm.
Cara: Hell realm. And that’s a place that I have discovered I’m actually very comfortable from reacting from. But I find that people whom I’ve experienced that sort of kindness from won’t…I don’t know, I feel like I’m still ”getting it.“ And part of me just can’t believe that they’re genuine this time. And so as much as I want to be compassionate towards them, I feel like there’s still a pretty big barrier.
Cara: But isn’t it valid that there’s a barrier? I mean, how do you? Isn’t it reasonable? I mean…
Ken: Well. There are these people being kind. Okay?
Cara: They want something, maybe.
Ken: They want something, maybe?
Cara: They have historically.
Ken: Yes. Let me differentiate here. In order to develop loving kindness in this way, one needs to have experienced receiving kindness with no strings attached. And it’s that core experience, or that experience you take as the core. Now, afterwards, I mean once you’ve connected with that feeling, then you can think, ”Well this person , well they’re being kind to me. But really they really want something from me.“ Maybe you can see that. Maybe it’s made quite explicit. Does that prevent you, now that you know what loving kindness is, feeling loving kindness for them? You don’t want to, I know, but do you get my point?
Cara: No, I think I want to. But the human response is, well if I can feel that for them then why can’t I relate to them. Why can’t I have, you know…
Ken: Well. Let’s be very clear here. We can feel loving kindness for others. It doesn’t mean that we have to trust them with everything and be open, you know. To be quite realistic. There’s an old Tibetan expression saying ”Think of all beings with compassion, but keep your hand on your wallet.“
Now. The point here, is when we feel that loving kindness, there’s a radiant warmth we feel that just goes out. There’s an opening to the world just as it is. And a reduction in the sense of separation. Probably we are going to see things more clearly as a result of that. And so our actions are going to be more appropriate for that. And if we see that someone is trying to manipulate us, we’ll see that. But we won’t regard that person as an enemy. We’ll just see that as, ”That’s what’s happening there.“ And so we don’t close to that person, but we will still interact with them judiciously.
Alex, did you have a…?
Alex: Yeah, I was kind of thinking as you were talking about this that it’s difficult to sort of synchronize the giving and receiving of kindness. That a lot of times it can happen, I think, that someone would intend to really be kind. But it’s maybe not exactly what somebody wanted or it’s also difficult to try to do something kind and then really understand what somebody wants.
So it seems like as you are talking about this, it’s kind of specifically at one person, kindness of one’s mothers. But, receiving kindness from more than one person or receiving kindness again and again and again. And receiving what you wanted. Those things I think are a way to think about it rather than really specifically, you know, thinking of one specific example. It’s kind of…you might even feel tension. One person is very kind and another person is not kind. You feel a lot of stress. So that if it’s less focused, maybe to me, I would think that hasthe potential to change how I feel or respond to the situations.
Ken: Well, you bring up a very good point here Alex. There are several different methods for cultivating loving kindness. Gampopa presents this one. And the one that I outlined in Wake Up to Your Life is a little different, because it brings attention to the reaction of closing down. And you use the experience of receiving kindness from anybody as a way of penetrating that reaction of closing down.
In the Theravadan tradition you start by being kind to yourself. You know, ”May I be safe, happy and free from harm,“ and when you’ve cultivated that and can feel that for yourself, then you start expressing that to other people. In some of his talks, the Dalai Lama said none of these methods worked for him. And he was given another method by one of his instructors, which consisted of weighing what was good for a group of people versus what was good for an individual. It was this method that worked for him. And so we need to find a method that works for us. You seem to have found a way of working with this that works for you. And so I would encourage you to explore these different methods and find one which actually works for you.
Lynnea: I feel like I might have asked you this question like in some other class, but I’m still confused. Whenever we start talking about loving kindness or the practices around it, I start not knowing what are loving kindness meditations and what are compassion. I just don’t understand the difference because the internal response I’m having is that working with compassion, somehow, at least in my experience, however I feel like I’m approaching it, asks me to experience the contradictions. I think I already asked the question. So I’ll stop.
Ken: I love it! I just love the confidence you have in me! You understand the question, so answer. [Laughter]
Lynea: Well, you nodded and I kept on going, so.
Ken: Okay. Well, I was just going to go into compassion, but since you’ve asked, what I understood you to ask, ”What’s the difference between loving kindness and compassion?“
Lynnea: Yes. And this is going to sound horrible, but this is what’s going on in my head, is that loving kindness feels like compassion-lite.
Ken: Well. One could construe it that way. But here’s one way to get at the difference. Think of all of the people in your world right now. And we’re not being particularly idealistic. You know, so please don’t aspire to perfection in this right now. Think of all the people in the world that you’d like them to be happy. And you can genuinely feel: ”Yeah, well, so I’d like them to be happy. I’d like this person to be happy.“ Okay? Now, of those people, if they were actually suffering, which of those would you step in to help? Now, is it exactly the same group, or is it a smaller sub-group? Lynea? Since you asked this question.
Lynea: Stepping in to help asks more.
Ken: It does.
Lynea: Then I feel like in the recognizing kindness in others, recognizing kindness from that second group where I had a harder time stepping in. At least for me, goes into a space of compassion, to even see kindness there.
Ken: Yep. So it’s a smaller group.
Ken: That’s the difference. And I can kind of appreciate Lynea’s characterization of loving kindness as ”compassion-lite.“ It’s actually a different quality. Loving kindness is an ecstatic practice or state. It’s an opening. And, as I said, it’s kind of a radiant warmth. Compassion has a much stronger quality of actual presence. And it’s the willingness to be present with another person’s pain. And not have to get rid of it in order for you to be comfortable.
So the meditations on compassion bite a little, are heavier meditations. And you can see this is in—we’re looking in Konchog Gyaltsen—in the meditations on loving kindness you’re focusing on the receiving of kindness. Which naturally when you really take in receiving kindness with no strings attached, and appreciate what it does for your life. As I said earlier, then there’s this natural response of radiant warmth, wanting the other person to be happy. With no strings attached, in your direction either.
But now you take this person and you imagine them in the hell realms. Suppose my mother was in a place where someone beat her, cut her to pieces, cooked her, burned her in a fire, or suppose she was freezing cold and her body was blistering. You can recognize these as the descriptions of the hot and cold hells. So, you take a person that has been kind to you, so that you are feeling that warmth for them. Now imagine them suffering in extreme. What happens in you? And I think if you observe that almost immediately there’s a contraction and you just want to shrink away from that scene.
If you go onto Amazon.com, and look up Wake Up to Your Life, one of the reviews is extremely negative on the book. You read it? Yeah. Because he, I presume it’s a he, quotes a passage from the compassion meditations and excoriates me for, you know, ”What kind of Buddhist would ever write something so horrendous as this?“ Well he is experiencing the contraction very very vividly. [Unintelligible] Grrrr. And, now with loving kindness, what gets in the way of loving kindness is shutting down. Which you were describing Raquel, how you shut down. What gets in the way of compassion is withdrawing. Wanting to move away from that. And to open to this person who’s been kind to you, and now is suffering, and actually to be there, means we have to work through helplessness. We have to work through our own personal revulsion. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that we have to work through, until we can just be there and not want or be trying to control the situation. And that opens the possibility of being truly responsive to the situation. Not just taking care of it the way we would like to take care of it so we don’t have to be uncomfortable.
This making sense to you, Lynea? Okay. Is this differentiating it sufficiently? Okay.
So this is a whole other meditation in which you’re using this extremely vivid imagery. And you can use any of the imagery of the six realms. But here they’re presented very succinctly. If my mother was in a place where she suffered from thirst or hunger. Tortured by sickness, fever, fear and a feeling of helplessness. So that’s the hungry ghost realm, or the animal realm.
And then we have this wonderful one, also. If my mother was near a precipice over which she could fall for a thousand miles, was unaware of this danger and no one showed it to her, and once she fell into the abyss she would experience great suffering and be unable to climb out again. Well, this is a metaphorical description of the human and gods realms. Where everything is kind of okay but you don’t know how to act so you accumulate bad karma. And this throws you into the pits of conditioned reactivity and so forth.
So, in Wake Up to Your Life, I suggest you just actually use the imagery of all of the six realms. And again and again you’re going to be hitting this contraction in yourself. But when you can actually experience that contraction, it releases. And now you find yourself present with this very painful image, or scene, and the actual experience of compassion is one of intense yet exquisite pain. Because your heart is open and you’re present with the suffering of the other. And even though that is very painful, the exquisite part is that you know you are touching what is true. And as I’ve said earlier, I think in this series of classes, when we touch what is true, body and mind relax. Molly.
Molly: Open. You said, the open heart quality. Is it slightly different? Because before you were explaining open heart quality for loving kindness as being radiant. So…
Ken: Radiant. Yeah. Yes, this is much more a quality of just being present.
Molly: But you’re still saying open-heart.
Ken: Yeah. I mean, because you have the loving kindness there so that that open heart just doesn’t go away. But even though that your heart can be open, you can really want to just make the situation different so that they aren’t just suffering. But with compassion you can be there and accept exactly what is, without trying to separate from it yourself. And so you know what it’s like, when you see someone you care about very much, in pain, the tendency is to withdraw. You may not withdraw physically, but internally you want to withdraw. And to actually be with them and accept their pain is very difficult. And not have to do something about it. But only when you can be present with them in their pain, will you have any chance of seeing clearly what, if anything, should be done. Do you follow?
Raquel: Mmm hmm.
Ken: One of the most vivid examples I had of this, was years and years ago. When a woman, and I write about this in Wake Up to Your Life, was working on these meditations in a group I had. And she asked about her son who wasn’t doing very well, and was addicted to crystal meth. And in order to support his habit had started to deal. And she knew, because he wasn’t the brightest kid on the block, that he would eventually be arrested for dealing. Which carries a much heavier sentence, of course, than being arrested for possession. And she tried various interventions to get him into treatment. Nothing had worked. So, she’d been advised to arrange to have her son arrested for possession, so that he would get the treatment that he needed, in the system. Rather than risk having him arrested for dealing which would, mandatory sentences would mean like ten, fifteen years in jail—much worse.
Well this is a hell of a situation for a mother to be in. And she talked with me and one other person, who’s expert in this area, after class one evening. And at a certain point in our conversation, she said, ”I’m just looking for a good solution.“ And I looked at her, I said, ”In this situation there is no good solution. This is a terrible situation, there isn’t a good solution in this one.“ And when I said that something in her shifted. And she relaxed as I said it, because now she saw she was looking for a way out of it so nobody was going to feel any pain. That was the idea of a good solution, And when she took in that there wasn’t a good solution. That there was going to be pain whatever happened, then she could be present in the situation. And she said, just a few minutes later, ”I know what I need to do.“ I never knew what she did. But she found that clarity within herself from letting go of trying to avoid the pain and just being with it.
Molly: So her…just real quick…her wanting to evade the pain was her contracting and—
Ken: Yes. That was the contracting, exactly. Yes. Yep. Randye.
Randye: Two bits I’m getting for a check to see if I am getting it.
Randye: One, that in the distinction between loving kindness and compassion, I’m seeing loving kindness as an emotion and compassion as a behavior or a willingness to take action. Even if the action is, as you said, being present, which is an action of not running away. So with loving kindness there’s no desire to take a specific action. It’s an emotional…
Ken: I can understand how you came to that interpretation but I would say that it’s probably not the best way of looking at it. They’re both emotions. I like to refer to them as higher-level emotions, because they aren’t organized around a sense of self as the reactive emotions are like anger, and pride, and desire and so forth. They are organized around non-separation. Both of them.
And they have different qualities. As I said, one is radiant warmth and the other is expression of presence. You’re quite right in that compassion will feel like more of a demand for action. Which is what awakening mind, which is what we’re going to go into next, is all about. It’s feeling that others are suffering and so feeling that as a call to become so awake that one knows how to help them.
Randye: Okay, so then that sort of leads into the second question which is that loving kindness seems to be when everybody’s in a warm fuzzy place and compassion seems to be when at least one party is in a cold prickly place.
Ken: I’m not quite sure how you got there, Randye.
Randye: Well you don’t feel compassion for somebody where everything is going great. You feel compassion when somebody’s suffering.
Ken: Yes, but you can also feel loving kindness when people are suffering. Loving, I mean, the traditional definitions are: loving kindness is the wish that others be happy. Compassion is the wish that others not suffer.
Randye: So you don’t feel compassion for somebody who is happy?
Ken: What are you trying to get at here? No, no.
Ken: Yes, but…
Randye: Because my own feelings of loving kindness towards people is a positive feeling…
Randye: …whereas when I feel compassion it’s because I feel sorry for somebody or…
Ken: Ah, but compassion and feeling sorry are not the same. Not at all. Feeling sorry is based on the feeling—
Randye: Right. Bad. Yeah. that was not good. But it was more along that line.
Ken: In compassion there’s no feeling of superiority or anything like that.
Randye: Sorry—meaning regret that whatever’s happening is happening. Not—
Ken: I’m not even sure that’s…there’s a sadness. I’m not sure that there’s necessarily regret. In fact, I wouldn’t say that there’s regret because that’s wanting things to be other than they are.
Randye: To say, ”Gee, I wish this wasn’t happening to you.“ Isn’t that an expression of compassion?
Ken: It can be, but it may not be. It can be said in a lot of different ways. It seems to me you’re trying to understand this intellectually.
Randye: So what else is new?
Ken: Okay. Rather than try to understand it intellectually because, I think you’ll find it more fruitful to recall instances where you felt loving kindness, and just take that in. And recall instances when you felt compassion, and take that in. I generally find that working from an experiential basis is far more reliable than trying to understand. Because understanding doesn’t produce the feeling itself.
Randye: That’s actually exactly where I got to the point of thinking that loving kindness is something one shares when everybody’s in the warm fuzzy place and compassion when somebody’s hurting. Because, I mean, that’s been my experience.
Ken: Yeah. I would say that loving kindness is more about opening and compassion is more about caring for. And you can care for people who are happy just as you can care for people who are in pain. So that it’s not mutually exclusive. Okay?
Randye: I wasn’t defining that as compassion, I guess. I wasn’t labeling it that way.
Ken: Yeah. Uchiyama, in How to Cook Your Life, talks about these very nicely. Loving kindness is the magnanimous mind, which just is open to everything. And compassion is the parental mind, which doesn’t seek to control, but cares for.
Randi: And that’s a word that helps me.
Ken: Good. Okay. Leslie, did you have something? And then we need to close.
Leslie: When you said that compassion doesn’t seek to change, to have things be different than they are, it’s being with what is.
Ken: No. In order to take care of yourself.
Leslie: Okay. Because if you want them not to suffer, that is a wanting it to be different. Right?
Ken: Yes. But many people don’t want other people to suffer because it makes them uncomfortable themselves. So they will say, ”I don’t want you to do this because it just makes me so uncomfortable, so I’m not even going to let you do it.“ So he moves into a real controlling kind of thing. Whereas the compassion that we’re talking about isn’t based on that self-protection. Say, ”Okay, this is the situation. I can be here with you.“ And in that, really open to possibilities. And sometimes the possibilities are just to be with the person. There isn’t anything else to be done. And so then it becomes compassion of presence. Or just being present with the other person becomes the act of compassion. You’re not doing anything. And for some people that’s the most difficult form.
When, ironically for many people, if they’re suffering, that’s primarily what they want. You know, if there was something to do about their suffering they would have done it themselves. But to have someone who can actually just be there and not afraid of being there with them, is really very, very meaningful. You find this, very often when people are dying or very ill. They do not want people around who are trying to control their experience, or trying to do it because when they’re dying they are very sensitive to that. And the only people they want around are people who can just actually be there and not trying to control the situation, not make them feel better. You follow? Okay. Good.
Cara, last comment. You have another mike somewhere? Yeah.
Cara: I was just going to say, to touch on Randye’s, people that are really really happy want the same exact thing.
Cara: To be allowed to be happy to be in their happiness to have people who are willing to be present and non—
Ken: Yes. That’s right. That’s actually joy.
Cara: Right. But. I mean, it takes a compassionate, present person to be able to share in someone’s happiness and not interject your own ego into it.
Ken: I agree but that particular ability is called joy. [Unintelligible]
Next week we’re going to move onto the subject of refuge. So don’t look it up in your books. please. I’m going to give you a very short instructional meditation for this. You notice in the prayer that we do at the beginning of the class. Could you read that Randye? Or just let me, because you don’t have the mic. Yeah.
The Three Jewels, the reliable and indefinite refuges, give me energy to trust them.
Okay. What I want you to do in your meditation over the next week. Ask yourself the question: ”What do I actually trust?“ As before, I want you to note the physical reactions that arise when you entertain that question, the emotions that arise, and the stories that arise.
So, the first question is: ”What do I actually trust or what do I really trust? What path do I trust?“ Second question—
Ken: ”What path do I trust?“ Or path in a very broad sense. ”What way do I trust?“ Third is: ”How do I know I trust?” That should keep you busy.
Okay? All right. So this concludes this class, and I’ll see you next week.