Love and Compassion
Love and compassion benefit ourselves and others. With love and compassion, we feel in touch with and connected with all living beings. Feelings of alienation and despair vanish and are replaced with optimism. When we act with such feelings, those in our immediate environment benefit from being near a kind person. Our family feels the difference, as do our colleagues, friends and people we encounter during the day. Developing love and compassion is one way we can contribute towards world peace. In addition, practising love and compassion leaves many good imprints on our mind stream, so that our spiritual practice progresses better, and we become more receptive to realising the path to enlightenment.
We are creatures of habit and need to put effort into pulling ourselves out of habitual patterns of judgment, emotional responses and behaviour towards others. Each moment in our life is a new one with an opportunity to experiment and do things differently. Each time we meet someone we have an opportunity to connect with them, and give and exchange kindness with them. We must wake up and take advantage of each opportunity, for there are so many which exist in each day.
For example, when we step on a thorn, our hand reaches down, pulls it out and places a band-aid on the foot. The hand doesn’t say, ‘Foot, you’re so stupid! I told you to watch where you’re going but you didn’t. Now I have to fix you up. Don’t forget that you owe me a favour.’ The hand doesn’t think like this because the hand and foot are part of the same organism and they help each other naturally and without thinking. Similarly, if we consider ourselves as part of the same organism of sentient life, we will reach out to others as if they were ourselves. This is the type of compassion we aim to develop through our practices.
If you want to be selfish, be selfish wisely. Care for others. If we are self-obsessed and ignore others’ concerns and place them second to our own, others will be unhappy. We will then live in an unhappy environment, which will impede our own happiness. If we care for others, then they are happy, and so where we live has a good feeling about it, which in turn helps us to be happy. In addition, actions motivated by self-preoccupation plant negative karmic seeds in our mindstreams, ripening as unpleasant experiences for us. Actions motivated by genuine care and concern for others on the other hand, generate good karmic seeds, which will bring about happiness for us. This type of compassion is necessary for our own spiritual progress. It is also a prerequisite towards genuine compassion for all other sentient beings.
Unlike attachment, love is free from desire. When we love others, we don’t expect anything from them in return. We accept people for who they are and try to help them, but we aren’t concerned about how we’ll benefit from the relationship. Real love isn’t jealous, possessive or limited to just a few near and dear ones. Rather, it’s impartial and is felt towards all beings. It arises from non-attachment.
Non-attachment is not cynical and does not lead to a loss of basic trust if someone does not meet our expectations. As members of a society we expect appropriate manners and behaviour from others according to the particular circumstance. For example, we expect to be greeted by a co-worker who we have just greeted. We expect people with whom we are working on a project, to do their share. Such expectations are normal. The difficulty sets in when we get angry or hurt when someone doesn’t fulfill our expectations. We might resort to thinking, ‘Okay, I just won’t expect anything from anyone’ but such an attitude is cynicism, which is just another negative emotion and should not be confused with giving up attachment. The attitude we want to develop still hopes that others will be reliable, but does not expect them to always be so. We still have a basic trust in people being kind, but can accept it when they aren’t, because we remind ourselves that they, just like us, are sometimes overwhelmed by negative emotions or confusion.
Non-attachment is not detachment. Detachment implies being uninvolved, cold and aloof, whilst non-attachment means having a balanced attitude, which is free from any clinginess. When we are free from attachment, we won’t have unrealistic expectations of others, nor will we cling to them out of fear of being miserable when they aren’t there. Non-attachment is a calm, realistic, open and accepting attitude. It isn’t hostile, paranoid or unsociable. Having a balanced attitude doesn’t mean rejecting our friends or family. It means relating to them in a different way. When we aren’t attached, our relationships with others are harmonious, and in fact, our affection for them increases.
The other way of taking care of others is motivated by genuine affection which is to be encouraged. This kind of affection and respect for others doesn’t seek or expect something in return. It is rooted in the knowledge that all other beings want to be happy and want to avoid pain just as much as we do. In addition, they have all helped us, either in our previous lives or in this present life, by doing whatever job they do in society. By steeping our minds towards such thoughts, we’ll naturally feel affection for others, and our motivation to help them will be based on our genuine wanting for them to be happy.
Codependency doesn’t arise from merely one person in a relationship being manipulative, dependent or demanding, but rather it evolves when two or more people’s attachment, anger and fear mutually feed off each other’s unhealthy ways. If one person has cultivated non-attachment and acts out of genuine love and compassion, even if the other person consciously or unconsciously tries to manipulate them, they won’t get hooked into a pattern of unhealthy interactions.
Shanti Gowans is the globally recognised author and founder of Shanti Yoga™, Meditation and Ayurveda for the self, family and community.
Shantiji has brought the concepts and practices of a healthy body and a still mind to thousands of Australians through her Yoga and Meditation programs on national television... Read more about Shantiji's biography
Travel with Shanti & Peter Gowans this November for a trip of a lifetime.