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Love and Compassion

14 Feb 2014   Shanti Gowans

    Love as thought is truth. 
    Love as action is righteous conduct. 
    Love as feeling is peace. 
    Love as understanding is non-harming (non violence).

Love is the state of being that arises from the wish for all sentient beings (any being with a mind who is not yet fully enlightened) to experience happiness and its causes. Compassion arises from the wish for them to be free of suffering and its causes. We must work over a period of time to cultivate these feelings towards all beings equally - ourselves, those we know, and those we don’t know.

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.

Loving all impartially 
To love all beings impartially involves looking beyond superficial appearances into another’s heart and recognising that each sentient being wants to be happy and wants to avoid suffering as intently as we do. In this way, all sentient beings are equal. Continually familiarising our mind with this view deflates the judgmental, critical mind that loves to pick out faults in others. Our critical self-talk (about others and ourselves) is often based on superficial appearances and false assumptions and it only serves to reinforce our prejudices and make us feel alienated from others. If we train our minds to look deeper and recognise that each person is just like us, wanting happiness and not pain, then we will feel a common bond with everyone and be able to wish everyone well equally. Needless to say, such an attitude must be cultivated over time. We cannot simply think like this a few times and expect all our biases to instantly disappear.

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.

Social relationships 
Love is an emotion from our heart that we want to cultivate towards everyone. However, this does not mean that we have to treat everyone in exactly the same way. For example, we still recognise children’s limitations and abilities and relate to them as children, not adults. Clearly, we treat people we know differently from those we don’t, because conventional, socially accepted roles still apply. If someone is upset with us, we must listen, communicate with them and try to resolve the conflict. We don’t treat them as if no conflict existed, as that would make them feel that we were not hearing them out. Nevertheless, no matter what type of relationship we may have with a particular person at any given moment, we can still care for everyone equally in our hearts.

Compassion and pity - the difference 
As previously stated, compassion is the wish for all sentient beings to be free from suffering and the causes of this suffering. Like love, compassion is generated on the basis of seeing everyone’s happiness and suffering as being equally significant. Whereas in the case of pity, there is a power differential. None exists when we are compassionate. In the case of pity, we see ourselves as being superior to another and with condescension and false caring, take pity on those we consider inferior to us. Compassion, on the other hand, is very direct and equal. Suffering is to be removed, no matter whose it is and should we have the opportunity to help, in a small or large way, we will.

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.

Love and compassion for ourselves 
Caring for ourselves is important. We musn’t neglect ourselves in the name of compassion, so that we become a burden to others and they have to take care of us. Rather, we have to love and take care of ourselves in a healthy and not obsessive way. We must keep our bodies clean and take care of our wellbeing. We must keep a happy attitude so that we can, in turn, give to others, with goodwill and cheerfulness. Loving and having compassion for ourselves doesn’t mean indulging in our every whim, or placing ourselves first. If we care about every small thing that happens to us and make a big deal about every emotion we feel, we become too sensitive and too easily offended. This will make us more miserable. Self-obsession and self-love are very different.

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.

The difference between attachment and love 
Attachment can arise from an attitude that exaggerates other people’s desirable qualities, or projects desirable  qualities upon them that simply arise from our own conditioning and projections. This can lead to a clinging, dependant relationship. In the case of attachment, we care for others because they please us. They give us presents, praise us or help and encourage us. Basically there’s some spin off for us. In the case of love, however, we want sentient beings to experience not only happiness but also that which causes such happiness for no other reason other than that they are living beings just like us. When we are attached to others, we don’t see them for who they are, and thereby develop many expectations of them, thinking that they should be like this or that or that they should do this or that for us. Then, when they don’t live up to what we thought they were or should have been, we feel hurt, disillusioned and angry.

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.

Understanding codependency 
Cherishing others before ourselves or taking care of others can be done with two very different motives. With one, we care for others in an unhealthy way, seemingly sacrificing ourselves, but really acting out of fear or attachment. People who are attached to praise, their reputation, relationships and so on, and who fear losing these, may seemingly neglect their own needs to take care of others. In fact, they are protecting themselves in an unproductive and unbeneficial way. Their care does not come from genuine love but rather from a self-centred attempt to be happy which is actually making them more unhappy.

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.

I offer you my choicest blessings for your inner deepening, realisation of your wholeness and wisdom. May all on Earth receive this blessing and may humanity and life on Earth enter the dawn of a new day; a day filled with health, wellbeing, harmony, happiness and love.

May all beings be peaceful. 
May all beings be happy. 
May all beings be safe. 
May all beings awaken to the light of their true nature. 
May all beings be free.

Wishing you a continuing, blissful, holy and ecstatic life.
This extract is from Intimacy, Love and Transformation
Shanti Gowans.



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About Shantiji

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

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