May all beings find happiness and the cause of happiness.
May they be free from suffering and the cause of suffering.
May they not be separated from the great happiness that is free from suffering.
May they abide in great equanimity, free from attachment and aversion to those near and far.
So, that’s a prayer that I recite daily. More than daily. The Four Immeasurables, or Brahmaviharas. The prayer is a very sweet one I think, pretty hard to object to. You want everyone to be happy, to be free from suffering, and to gain equanimity and enlightenment. Everyone. Everyone. Everyone.
It’s a way of changing your own conditioned thinking. Before this practice I did not have a lot of experience wishing good things for other people. I mean, I thought I kind of did, in a way, I mean, I didn’t hate everyone. Just that guy at work. And this lady in front of me in the check out line. And that asshole in the fast lane. Etc.
I had never made it a part of my day to just say, “Hey, I want everyone to be happy and not to suffer.”
Does it work?
Yeah, I think so. I think it does. I’ve seen that it has helped me be more actively compassionate. More patient. More willing to see everyone around me as kind of in the same boat. Everyone wants to be happy. That guy just wants the pain to stop and he’s doing the best he knows how. That lady, man, she’d give anything not to feel the way she’s feeling right now. That old man on the bench. The guy driving the bus.
We are all the same in that simple reality.
The equanimity part is a little bit strange at first. I thought it was at least. “May they abide in great equanimity”…that part I get, but… “free from attachment and aversion to those near and far.”- that part gave me pause. I am attached. I am attached to those around me, those I love. And I have aversion to those I don’t love, those who harm me and my family and you, too. So, what’s that mean to say that? Do I want everyone to be a kind of emotionally dead robot who neither loves nor hates anyone, but treats everyone the same? Reacts to everyone the same? Isn’t that a kind of death? I mean, isn’t there an objective good and bad and shouldn’t we draw our lines accordingly? Aren’t we abdicating what it means to be a fully human entity if we seek that kind of equanimity for ourselves and even wish it on others?
For me the key is that concept of “attachment” and “aversion.” It doesn’t say, or mean, that we should not love. We must love. But we don’t need to attach. Attachment is an unnecessary aspect of love and doesn’t really add anything to the pure expression of love. Right? I mean, we’ve all felt that ugly clinging side to love where it comes with this plea- “don’t leave me! do what I want! meet my needs!”
That’s not the kind of love we should be cultivating.
The same with aversion. We can understand that someone is harming us or acting unskillfully without having aversion. Without hating them. If we see clearly enough, we begin to understand that they are also simply seeking happiness and trying to avoid pain, whatever the pain they’re inflicting on us and others. They’re confused. They’re acting out of a lack of understanding about what really works when it comes to happiness.
So the goal really does become “love everyone.” Love. Everyone. Love them knowing that they are doing their best, just like you. Love them knowing they’ll let you down and betray you, despite their best intentions. Love knowing they will die in car crashes and falling in the bathtub and of old age and cancer and the other million ways they do. Love them knowing they’re not at all any different from you, that they are full of all the same fears and doubts and inadequacies that you are.
Maybe it’s impossible. But I make the wish in a very concrete way, out loud, first thing every morning when I sit. I say it last thing at night when I get into bed. I think it as often as I can manage during the day. And that’s where the change happens. It happens inside my own brain. After doing this for a while, I start to see everyone as my brother. I’m like George Bailey running down the streets of Bedford Falls. I want to hug everyone. Everyone. Everyone. When I find myself getting irritated I can sometimes now remember that they’re trying, too, just like me. And my heart wells up with love for them. For the burdens they’re bearing with such dignity and for their brave, tangled hearts. And then a really strange thing happens and that is that you see that although it is all just happening in your own brain, it actually changes the whole world outside you.
It actually becomes a different kind of world.
To me this is why I practice Buddhism with such intensity and fervor. It has an observable effect on my inner world and an undeniable effect on the outer world as a result. It is like getting Photoshop that works on the world I see around me.
It is an efficacious pursuit.