Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dharma Quote: On Kindness

This is the Dharma Quote of the Week, from Snow Lion Publications. It's been sitting in my in-box waiting to be posted.

Dharma Quote of the Week

What do you think would be the chief obstacle in recognizing that each individual person has been kind to you? In my case, I was afraid of having to return the kindness, because then I'd be under the control of these people. I didn't want to do what my parents wanted me to do, although they gave me a lot of slack--I left college after my first year, went to the woods of Vermont, went to Tahiti, all on my own with whatever cash I earned. I didn't fit into the upper-middle-class community where we lived. I didn't want their control; the lifestyle they were pushing on me was completely unappealing. Therefore, I refused to recognize their kindness.

However, assuming a debt with respect to every sentient being differs greatly from having a debt to a few. In this meditation, you start with friends, then neutral persons, and then enemies and contemplate: "I will return the debt of kindness that I have with this person through helping her or him achieve happiness." It is easy to determine that the response to all sentient beings' kindness cannot be to do everything they want, since, with so many people, what they want from you would be at cross-purposes. You cannot even do everything your mother of this lifetime wants you to do, though you know her advice is, for the most part, motivated by kindness....

Those who help us--our parents, for instance--often attain power over us for that very reason: "Do as I say because I have helped you." Thus, for some, it becomes almost a mental habit to refuse to recognize those who have helped us, because they otherwise would attain some power over us. Still, we know we should return their many kindnesses. That is one reason why the practice of reflecting, "This person has helped me in many intimate ways and thus I must do something in return," gets to be uncomfortable, but when it is extended to more and more beings, we have to find a way of intending to return their kindness without coming under their misguided influence.

...one cannot do everything all those sentient beings want. There are so many of them, and they want such contradictory things. Besides, to fulfill what they temporarily want may not be the best way to help them. The greatest of all ways to return their kindness is to help them become free from all suffering and to assist in the process of becoming liberated from cyclic existence and attaining the bliss of Buddhahood. It is important to realize here in the step of developing an intention to return others' kindness that acknowledging a debt does not mean that you must do what they say. Otherwise, you might hold back from the truth of their attentive care.

~ From A Truthful Heart: Buddhist Practices for Connecting with Others by Jeffrey Hopkins, foreword by the Dalai Lama, published by Snow Lion Publications.

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