Have you ever noticed that dogs and cats seem to be repelled by meanness and unkindness? Have you also noticed that they appear to be at ease around people who habitually practice kindness? In that way, pets can act as emotional barometers to clue us into our own and other people’s behavior.
Pets and people generally feel more happy and at ease around kind people. We notice that kind people also seem to be comfortable with life because they harbor no hostility nor wish ill-will towards people or animals. Kind people are a joy to be around simply because of their kindness.
In this blog, I’ve written often about the need for more compassion in our world, and probably will continue to do so whenever I feel it’s necessary. A part of compassion is the active behavior of kindness. Sincere kindness springs forth, spontaneously from a compassionate mindset.
To practice kindness is to practice self-improvement. People who are skilled practitioners in kindness often report that they experience it as a sort of positive feedback loop. Their desire for the friendship and happiness of others, returns in the form of friendliness and kindness from others. This is not the motivation for kindness, though. Kindness is practiced simply for the joy of being a kind person.
Many years ago, my guru taught that Loving-Kindness is the first of the Four Brahmaviharas or spiritual qualities of Mahayana Buddhism. (The other three are: Compassion, Joy with Others, and Equanimity.) He taught that Loving-Kindness is a soothing care and affection for others and oneself. It is not a romantic type of love nor an overt attachment nor desire to control others. The opposites of Loving-Kindness are Selfish-Affection and Painful Ill-Will. Loving-Kindness is the benevolent state of mind and action towards other beings.
In short, kindness is the intention for us to be affectionate, benevolent, caring, considerate, fair, friendly, and generous to all beings. The practice of kindness is daily and neverending.
This all looks like a tall order. Is kindness really a practical way of life for us to follow? I can only point to the failures of lifestyles and teachings that do not stress the importance of unconditional kindness. The sheer volume of human troubles in the world can all be tracked back to the enormous deficit of kindness in people. We can also see how happy and relaxed people who practice kindness are.
Kindness is the sure antidote to counter the advocacy of adversarial conflict and righteous indignation that are put forth by so many groups and institutions these days. Kindness is recognized by non-violence, friendliness, happiness and the wish for the freedoms of others. Kindness is an overarching type of love, the reason it is often called Loving-Kindness.
Kindness is ultimately the caring for one another, irrespective of all self-interest and dogmatic beliefs. My teacher explained that the object of kindness or Loving-Kindness is the act of loving without attachment. He advocated a meditation on kindness.
After settling down into a calm state of mind and contemplation, the meditation begins with visualizing warm kindness towards oneself. When that is realized, then picture kindness towards one’s family and friends. Next, direct Loving-Kindness towards your neighbors and total strangers. Finally, surround your adversaries and enemies with the vision of kind-heartedness. Before you end the meditation, mentally direct Loving-Kindness towards all sentient beings and the Planet Earth: “Whatsoever pulsates with the breath of life–the frail or strong, without exception–the long, the large, the medium-sized, the short, the thin, or the fat.”
The teacher was fond of quoting one of the Dalai Lama’s favorite simple teachings:
“Hate is never overcome by hate.
By love alone it is quelled.
This is a truth of ancient date.
Today, still unexcelled.
Avoidance of evil,
Performance of good deeds,
Purification of one’s thoughts.
This is the teaching of the Buddhas.”
The goal of the teachings is to cultivate a benevolent nature within oneself. My guru admonished our group to not simply think in a kindly manner or to just be kind. He said we need to become kind, because kindness really is the unselfish, genuine attitude of gentle friendliness and love for everyone.
I can’t think of a better lesson to learn and begin practicing, during World Kindness Week.