We can divide all beings on this planet into three categories: friends, enemies and strangers; there’s no fourth category. A friend is the object of my attachment; an enemy is the object of my aversion; and a stranger is the object of my indifference. And how do we feel about these three? We love and have compassion for our friends, don’t like our enemies, and couldn’t care less about the strangers. This is the way the world is, and we rarely question the logic of it.
ALL ABOUT YOU However, there is a powerful meditation Tibetan Buddhists practise called Equanimity, the goal of which is the heartfelt recognition that friends, enemies and strangers in other words, all living beings are the same as each other from one point of view: they all wish to be happy and don’t want to suffer. When we analyse our usual view, it’s clear that the basis of loving someone that is, delighting in their successes, wanting them to be happy is mainly due to attachment. When you do what I want, when you fulfill my needs, of course I want you to be happy! And it goes without saying that when you don’t fulfill my attachment needs when you leave me for someone else, let’s say of course I don’t want you to be happy. As for strangers, which is the majority of beings on this planet, they hardly even register in our minds.
Why? Because they neither harm nor help us. Seeing the truth of this, it’s clear that the basis of loving or not loving someone is utterly self-centred. Eventually, from the Buddhist perspective, we can learn to love all beings equally. In other words, the logical reason to want someone to be happy is because they want to be happy, not because they make us feel good. HARM NONE This is huge! It’s basically love with no strings attached, such as the mother who selflessly wants her child to be happy. Most of us know how marvellous it is to be on the receiving end of such love. In a similar vein, we have huge compassion for our cat, for example, but cannot stand the rat. But they are identical to each other in fundamental ways: both want love and don’t want to suffer. We may not be able to argue with the logic of this, but we are compelled to find all sorts of reasons for why the rat is bad, so we can justify harming it. Could you love a stranger as much as you love your best friend?
Australian-born Tibetan Buddhist nun Robina Courtin travels the world teaching Buddhist psychology and philosophy and helping those in need. Known for her work helping people in prisons in the US and Australia, Robina’s life and work is the subject of Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s award-winning film Chasing Buddha. Visit robinacourtin.com for details. In fact, we can see that the usual view of compassion for the victim (the cat) goes hand-in-hand with anger towards the harmer (the rat). This is totally normal behaviour, and it seems almost outrageous to attempt to have compassion for all beings and try not to harm any of them. But this is the starting point for the Buddha: to live life with the sincere wish to not harm any living being. And given that everything exists on the tip of the wish, as one Tibetan saying goes, it becomes like a beacon to guide us through life. It sounds sweet, but its implications are profound.