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Lions Roar : September 2010
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2010 56 When we are coming from a place of kindness, we naturally ex- perience kindness from others. Kindness is the antidote to fear, as well as to many other forms of suffering. My own experiences have verified this teaching. in my early life i was filled with anger. i was almost constantly dishonest; i caused harm to many people and wished harm upon many others. i was living in the opposite way from what is suggested in the Metta Sutta. i had no humility, no integrity, and no wish to protect anyone but myself. Living that way had me going in and out of jail regularly, addicted to drugs, and— most important—always looking over my shoulder to see if anyone was going to attack me. i felt completely unsafe. of course, crack cocaine has a way of making you paranoid, but it was also true. hav- ing stolen from so many people, i was always worried about getting caught. Living a life of drugs and crime, i was afraid of the police. i was often in physical altercations and the threat of violence on the streets was a real one. i knew nothing about being kind or loving, and was met with a great amount of violence. i was so delusional that i often felt like a victim, and i justified the ways i was hurting people by blaming it on the people who had hurt or betrayed me. i now know that i created the whole thing. it was my unskillful reaction to the pain of my life that led to the suffering of crime, drugs, and violence. But as i came to the dharma and trained my mind with metta phrases, i slowly began to change my way of thinking and acting. it was not an overnight transformation, but a very gradual change that is continuing to take place even now, twenty-two years into the practice. it is clear, however, that as i began to forgive myself and others—as i learned to be kind and eventually came to sincerely want all beings to be at ease—the world became a safer place for me. i used to get attacked, seemingly randomly, all of the time. it has now been over twenty years since anyone has attacked me (physically, anyway; there has been some pretty funny gossip and criticism). But even with the harsh words that have come my way over the years, because of the long-term, intentional training of my heart through metta, i have often been successful at not taking it too personally and have become quick to forgive. My own experience has matched up with the Buddha’s teaching that kindness can make the world a safe place. That said, kindness does not result in safety for everyone, at least not on a physical level. i can’t help but think, for example, of all the truly kind and loving people who must have been tortured and killed in Nazi concentration camps, in Communist Chinese re-education prisons, in the cities and villages of african countries torn by civil war, and during the genocide of the native people of North america. i am also thinking of the millions of homo- sexuals who have been met with violence and hatred for no reason other than their natural sexual orientation, and the millions and millions of truly kind people who’ve been beaten and killed just for the color of their skin, or their religion, or gender, or politi- cal views. This leaves me with the conclusion that perhaps part of what the Buddha was pointing to in this teaching was not always physical safety, but more of an inner safety. i am thinking of a Tibetan Buddhist nun who is beaten and raped by Communist soldiers. her body is violated and made un- safe; it is the greatest trauma possible. But her years of kindness and compassion practice allow her to access an internal place of safety, a source of loving-kindness that allows her to extend mercy and love to herself and meet her attackers with forgiveness and compassion. she understands the deep state of ignorance that these men are in and she understands the karmic hell they are creat- ing for themselves. in such circumstances, metta does not protect us against being physically hurt, but it does have the potential to protect us from hatred and all of the suffering that comes with such hatred. Kindness has the power to protect us from the extra layer of suffering we create through greed, hatred, and delusion, and in that way it makes the world a safer place. Kindness is a general term. i’m defining kindness as that which will end suffering in each situation, meaning that what is kind will depend on the circumstances. for instance, when it comes to pleasurable experiences, the kind relationship to pleasure is almost always nonattached appreciation. if we can enjoy pleasurable mo- ments without clinging to them or getting caught in craving for them to last forever, then we can avoid the typical suffering we often create around pleasure. so the kind thing to do is to not get attached. and if we are not able to meet pleasure with nonattached apprecia- tion and we become attached, then the kind thing to do is let go. and the next level of kindness that is called for is being patient with ourselves in the process of learning to let go. When we start judg- ing ourselves for not being good at letting go, we respond with for- giveness. forgiveness is also an act of kindness. get the picture? The kind thing to do depends on the situation. it does not mean being fake-nice all the time. it means being real and responsive. When it comes to painful experiences, the kind thing to do is to meet the experiences with compassion. Compassion ends suffering. it does not end pain, but it takes care of the extra level of suffering we tend to layer on top of our pain. in that way, the kindest thing we can do is to cultivate tolerance and compassion toward pain. one of the situations where kindness becomes tricky is when we are faced with the possibility that our seemingly kind actions could When we come from a place of kindness ourselves, we naturally experience kindness from others. Kindness is the antidote to fear, as well as to many other forms of suffering.