TLDR: In this post, we share insights on loving-kindness meditation, where we learn that within us, lies the mother who loves her child unconditionally.
Like many beginner Buddhists, I started my meditation training by paying attention to the breath.
At the time, I had no idea how to meditate. I was just watching the breath, and over-focusing on it brought on both tension and calm. Tension arose when I was unable to focus my attention on the breath and calm arose when I was able to pay attention to the breath.
It was after a very long time that I noticed I was meditating unskillfully because I did not want tension but I wanted calm (wanting and not wanting are causes of suffering in the second noble truth).
While training my mind, I learnt the loving-kindness chant, and also loving-kindness meditation. This meditation practice was a lot easier than focusing on the breath. It is very pleasant to practice and seldom did I feel the tension in loving-kindness meditation.
But when there is a narrow focus on loving-kindness as an object of attention for a sustained period of time, I clung to the pleasantness of this meditation and felt dissatisfied when I could not escape the tensions of daily life into this beautiful experience of inner conditioned love.1
An external understanding of loving-kindness
The entire loving-kindness chant is worth reading over again and again for reflection. When we become familiar with meaningful chants such as the loving-kindness chant, we may find ourselves experiencing some of the verses in daily life.
For instance, the verse: “Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways”, made me realise that I need to not surround myself with so many tasks or hobbies that I can’t practice mindfulness in my life.
There is also a portion of the chant that inspires me:
“Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings”
Love and wisdom are aspects of the Dhamma that are inseparable.
Love without wisdom is foolishness while wisdom without love is cold and selfish. I was inspired by the verse and wondered how I could cherish all living beings with a boundless heart as a mother who loves her child.
But I was blinded by arrogance as I was still very identified with my personality – my name, and my background – essentially thoughts I could not let go of. While clinging onto the thoughts of ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘mine’, I thought about wanting to spread boundless, or unconditional love to all beings. But how could it be possible, when the type of love I understood, is a thought that has no permanence? Since thoughts are fleeting.
An internal understanding of loving-kindness
Whenever a habitual thought/feeling is solidified (seems real to the mind), we take ownership of it and defend it. The experience of a solidified thought/feeling or feeling/thought is tension in the body. There is a contraction which is a feeling of tightness somewhere in the body.
When we notice how tension (suffering) is caused by holding onto thoughts, and how one thought causes a chain of thoughts (psychological rebirth), we can drop thoughts as if we are dropping a lump of hot burning coal we have been holding onto all our lives.
Our society prize thinking as the gift of humanity, as shown in our knowledge economy, and so we cannot bear to part with it. Thinking has contributed to a better way of life for individuals but has also destroyed much of Mother Earth.
The result of dropping thoughts habitually causes an almost immediate letting go of tension in the mind and body. Upon letting go of the tension, there is deep relaxation and opening of the mind (which embodies the whole body).
Thoughts start to part like clouds in the sky, and the sky is the experience of a widened awareness, resembling the mother in the loving-kindness sutta, who loves her child (the fleeting thoughts and feelings) without being attached.
The child here can be unwholesome thoughts or feelings, as well as wholesome ones. There is that embrace of the mother with love and wisdom. She knows the child comes from her womb, but it isn’t her, and therefore she can soothe its pains and pleasures.2
Loving-Kindness in every object of meditation
Loving-kindness is a precious spiritual practice in our world where most minds are absorbed into the digital domain of endless thoughts – on social media, news apps and video streaming. Although most meditators begin their meditation journey with the breath, and practice loving-kindness separately, in reality, they aren’t separate.
We can see loving-kindness as the mother, that embraces the child, which is the breath. Every meditation object we use to train our attention is embraced by the mother, a spacious awareness that embraces the child. Within all of us, lies this mother who loves her child unconditionally, within or without.
1 Conditioned love involves a person thinking about love. Unconditioned love is an experience without needing someone to think about love for it to arise.
2 We normally identify pain as suffering. But pleasures cause suffering too, when we don’t get what we want, or get what we don’t want.
- Loving-kindness is an unconditional aspect of the dhamma. But to practice it, we need to condition our minds with regular guided practice.
- Reflect on the loving-kindness chant, so that you can notice the verses become a reality in your life.