As the world grapples with the trauma of Covid-19, World Kindness Day, celebrated annually on November 13, was a good opportunity to reflect on the healing potential of acts of kindness large and small.
Indeed, it is the acts of kindness of essential workers that have helped save so many lives.
As a specialist in Buddhist studies, I have researched how Buddhist monks speak of kindness and compassion to all beings.
The Dalai Lama was famous for saying, âMy true religion is kindness.
While there is more to Buddhism than just kindness, its teachings and exemplary figures, I believe, have a lot to offer in a world in great pain.
Some of the earliest Buddhist teachings developed in India – which are recorded in the Pali canon, the collection of Pali language scriptures – emphasized the idea of ââ”metta,” or benevolence.
One teaching from this collection of scriptures is the “Karaniya Metta Sutta”, where the Buddha exhorts the good and the wise to spread kindness by making these vows to all beings:
In joy and security,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living things there may be;
Whether weak or strong, omitting none,
The big or the powerful, the medium, the short or the small,
The visible and the invisible,
Those who live near and far,
Those born and unbornâ
May all beings be at ease!
In order to put these words into practice, several Buddhist teachers in North America are teaching meditation practices designed to develop one’s own metta.
During meditation sessions, practitioners can visualize people and chant goodness wishes using phrase variations based on the Karaniya Metta Sutta.
A commonly used version is that of a well-known Buddhist meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg.
May all beings, everywhere, be safe and sound.
May all beings everywhere be happy and content.
May all beings everywhere be healthy and strong.
May all beings everywhere be at peace and at ease.
Practitioners spread this benevolence towards themselves, people close to them, people they don’t know â even distant people or enemies â and finally all sentient beings around the world.
After visualizing this attitude of loving-kindness, practitioners find it easier to radiate kindness to others in real life.
In addition to metta, Buddhists also practice compassion (karuna), sympathetic joy (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha) for a peaceful state of mind.
Later forms of Buddhism in East Asia and Tibet further developed the idea of ââcompassion through the figure of the bodhisattva.
The Bodhisattva is a practitioner who has sworn to selflessly work for the enlightenment of other beings. The development of this state of mind is known as “bodhichitta”.
Bodhichitta provides motivation and commitment on this difficult path of putting others first.
One practice for cultivating bodhichitta is the exchange of oneself for others. In this practice, those on the bodhisattva path would view the suffering of others as their own and offer help to others as if they were helping themselves.
As the Indian Buddhist monk Santideva writes in his 8th century classic work on the bodhisattva path, âThe Bodhicaryavatara,â one should meditate with this sentiment in mind: âAll experience suffering and happiness alike. I should take care of them like I do myself.
Many bodhisattvas and their meanings
The most kind-oriented Buddhist figure is the Bodhisattva of Compassion, originally known as Avalokiteshvara, who became popular in India in the 6th century AD. .
Tibetan Buddhists believe that all Dalai Lamas are manifestations of this bodhisattva.
This bodhisattva is known by various names across Asia. In Nepal the bodhisattva is known as Karunamaya, and in Tibet as Lokesvara and Chenrezig.
In China, the bodhisattva is a female figure called Guanyin and depicted as a woman with long flowing hair dressed in white robes, who holds a vase tilted downward so that she can cause the dew of compassion to fall on all beings.
Throughout East and Southeast Asia, he is a popular figure. People make offers to ask for help, especially with business success and starting a family.
With practices that inspire people to practice compassion towards others, and with personalities who can be asked to grant it, Buddhism offers unique and diverse ways of thinking and expressing kindness. Brooke Schedneck, Rhodes College The Conversation (CC)