Loving Kindness and
Nichiren Buddhism

by Ryuei Michael McCormick

The following is very roughly what I talked about at the temple after the service on Sunday, Aug. 24, 2003. I say roughly because I actually convened a circle of those present and the actual talk was longer and there was more interaction between those present. Nevertheless, this is the version that will fit into our monthly newsletter:

In the Devadatta chapter of the Lotus Sutra the Buddha enumerates the many virtues and qualities he was able to attain as a Buddha due to his previous training under Devadatta in a previous lifetime, among them the four divine abodes: "He caused me to have loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity." These four attitudes or states of mind are called brahmaviharas which means "divine abodes" because they are said to be the very qualities which allow the god Brahma to have attained such an exalted birth in the heavenly realm. These qualities are also known as the four infinite virtues or the four infinite states of consciousness. In Theravadin Buddhism they have long held a very important role in the cultivation of the mind and heart and even outside Asia they have become very popular in almost all Buddhist lineages.

These four states of mind begin with metta or "loving-kindness" and in many ways this is the most fundamental of them all because compassion, sympathetic joy, and even equanimity are taught as different modes of loving-kindness. If loving-kindness is a general attitude of kindness and caring, then compassion arises when loving- kindness encounters those who are in the midst of suffering; sympathetic joy arises when loving-kindness encounters those who have attained liberation in part or in full; and equanimity is the unbiased and even-minded nature of loving-kindness in all circumstances for all beings without exception. The importance of loving-kindness can be gauged from the fact that the future Buddha's name is Maitreya, which means the "Loving One."

Loving-kindness is also the theme of the often recited Metta Sutta In the Metta Sutta the Buddha teaches us the kind of attitudes and actions which exemplify one who is filled with loving-kindness. The Buddha counsels us "...to be able and upright, straightforward and gentle in speech. Humble and not conceited, contented and easily satisfied. Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways. Peaceful and calm, wise and skillful, not proud and demanding in nature." (Translation by Sharon Salzburg) Further on the Buddha provides a series of wishes that one should make for the sake of all sentient beings starting with, "In gladness and in safety, may all beings be at ease," and later on, "Let none deceive another, or despise any being in any state. Let none through anger or ill-will wish harm upon another. Even as a mother protects with her life her child, her only child, so with boundless heart should one cherish all living beings; radiating kindness over the entire world: Spreading upward to the skies, and downward to the depths; outward and unbounded, freed from hatred and ill-will." The Metta Sutta is highly regarded in Theravadin Buddhism and it has become popular among nearly all Buddhists outside of Asia. It is the source of a series of meditations for developing loving-kindness which I would like to share in the context of our primary practice of Odaimoku as a way of focusing on and developing loving-kindness.

First, I would like to point out that the sentiments expressed in the Metta Sutta are already a part of our practice and appear throughout the Lotus Sutra. Many of the statements in the final prayer used in the Nichiren Shu temples are very close to the wishes and guidance taught by the Buddha in the Metta Sutta. I invite you to examine and compare that final prayer with the Metta Sutta on your own as there is no space to do so here. In addition, the Lotus Sutra has many teachings on the value of loving-kindness and the other divine abodes - from the peaceful practices of chapter 14 to the story of Bodhisattva Never Despise in chapter 20 to the advice in chapter 10 which states that the teacher of the sutra should enter the room, wear the robe, and sit on the seat of the Tathagata: "To enter the room of the Tathagata means to have great compassion. To wear his robe means to be gentle and patient. To sit on his seat means to see the voidness of all things. Expound the Dharma only after you do these three things!" (p. 179 Murano translation of the Lotus Sutra) We should also consider that if loving-kindness and other divine abodes are counted among the virtues and merits of the Buddha, then according to Nichiren these qualities are accessible through our practice of Odaimoku: "All the practices and enlightenment of Shakyamuni Buddha are contained in the five characters: Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo. When we receive these five characters, we immediately obtain the merits of the Buddha's practices and enlightenment. (Kanjin Honzon Sho cited on p. 47 of the Sacred Services of Nichiren Shu)

So how can we draw upon this in our daily practice of Nichiren Buddhism? In the practice of Shodaigyo there are two periods of silent sitting. The first period is for centering the mind and heart through awareness of the breath, while the second silent sitting period follows the Odaimoku itself and is a time for deepening one's faith by silently contemplating the Odaimoku itself. That first period, however, could also be used to center one's mind and heart by cultivating loving-kindness as a preparation for chanting the Odaimoku in that spirit. To facilitate this, I would like to share a traditional form of loving-kindness cultivation in six parts. This practice may seem easy but it could take some time to genuinely feel each part. One should work on each part by itself and then over time add the next part until one can do all six with facility. Here are the parts:
1. Take a few moments to just sit with yourself and breathe. Maybe do a cycle of ten breaths or more counting the breaths if necessary. Non- judgementally take notice of your physical and mental state. Then begin to imagine yourself well and happy. You may even want to repeat to yourself, "May I be well and happy." Do this for a few minutes at least. Feeling loving-kindness for oneself is very important because if we do not have love for ourselves we will have none to extend to anyone else.

2. Now take a few minutes to think of a person who is a benefactor or friend, but preferably not someone we have or would like to have an intimate relationship with, as this would generate strong feelings of attachment. Wish that they be well and happy. This part should be fairly easy as one is already well-disposed to benefactors and friends.

3. Now take a few moments to extend thoughts of loving-kindness to a stranger or to someone about whom one does not have any particularly strong feelings one way or another. This exercise is a bit more challenging as it begins to take us beyond the boundaries of our own self-interests.

4. Now imagine someone that one has a problem liking or getting along with, and extend to them the wish that they be well and happy. This is the most difficult of all, as it goes directly against our own inclinations and feelings. This exercise is not meant to condone bad behavior (whether real or perceived) or to prematurely forgive others. Rather, it is to create more positive feelings on your part. Hopefully this can bring about a deeper understanding of the other person's point of view. At the very least one may realize that people who are difficult are often unhappy and if these people were truly happy they would be easier to like and get along with.

5. Now spend some time extending loving-kindness simultaneously to oneself, a friend or benefactor, a neutral person, and to the person who is hard to get along with. This is for the purpose of equalizing one's loving-kindness so that there is no longer any bias or partiality. This can be extremely difficult to do as it takes a universal perspective and not the perspective of our own sentiment or self-interest.

6. Finally one should spend some time imagining that all beings in all directions are well and happy thereby extending the feelings generated in the previous exercises. This part is more abstract but its point is to enable us to cultivate or at least imagine a loving-kindness that has no boundaries and leaves no being out.
In my own practice I have found that these exercises bring about a state of mind that is more appreciative of the aspect of Namu Myoho Renge Kyo which is boundless loving-kindness for all. I have also found that the Odaimoku is a powerful way of strengthening those healthy attitudes and ways of being and that in fact it acts as a kind of vehicle for expressing and sending out those wishes to others. There is much more that can be said about all of this, but there is no space at present. So I hope that you can all try this excercise for yourselves as experience is the best teacher in any case.

Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 2003.

The Four Divine Abodes:
Loving Kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, and Equanimity.

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