The methods I employed for my research were: interviews, informal interviews, participant observation, attending a Buddhist seminar and retreat, and readings. Motivation and altruism were the key words I focused on during many conversations I had throughout the research period. My research went better than I could have planned. Before attending Buddhist teacher, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche’s seminar, I had no idea what I was getting myself into or what the foundation was- one of the main teachings was around pure motivation. I was also guided John Mackransky’s book, Awakening Through Love, which felt as if it was written specifically for the research project.
I conducted eight formal interviews and multiple informal interviews each day. The eight interviews included: two nuns, four Buddhist scholars and Tibetan translators, one student at RangJung Instiute, and one long time practicer. The informal interviews consisted of folks I met at both nunneries I stayed at( Tek Chok Ling and Nagi Gompa) and the annual fall seminar, one lama, one khenpo. My informal interviews took place during breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day- usually during each meal. I intentionally choose to stay at the nunnies because I knew it would be a great opportunity to observe Tibetan Buddhist traditions and behaviors while meeting other folks who are seasoned Buddhist. While I was in Boudha I spent most of my time at the RangJung Yeshe Institue for the annual fall seminar or hanging out at Utpala cafe next door, where I met many folks who answered my research questions. I opened up conversations with people in close proximity to me and then used the snowballing method to find more study participants.
The reason I choose to study Buddhism around the topic of altruism is because of a reason John Makransky stated so articulately, “Buddhist traditions teach specific ways for people to cultivate these potent attitudes and to apply their power for the benefit of many others…Our fundamental nature is that of the Buddhas (love, compassion, wisdom) But this innate goodness is thickly obscured by habits of thought that reduce others to mere objects of self-centered need. Buddhist traditions teach specific ways to cut through those obscuring patterns to unveil our natural goddess and to rediscover ourselves and all others as intrinsically holy.”(Makransky)
What is altruism?
The first question I began each interview with was, ‘What does altruism mean to you?’ Many of the interviewees looked at me perplexed and said, “What do you mean by altruism?” I found this response very startling because I thought it was a common term used in the Buddhist community. Many of the interviewees told me it is a western term and they preferred using the phrase ‘bodhichitta’ because this is the common Buddhist term used for altruism.
In one interview long time practitioner stated, “Bodhichitta is being completely in a state of compassion. It also means heart of a warrior- it is something you have to cultivate. It is the seed of love all beings have— but with our delusions we sometimes can not find it. It is already there but it is covered up with all the false ideas about ourselves.” During every interview the response of what bodhichitta meant was similar: it is one’s inherent nature, it is pure compassion, it has been obscured because of false conceptions of self, and it must be practiced/nutured/cultivated.
Each participant I spoke to and source I read emphasized the purpose of Buddhist teachings and practice is to cultivate bodhichitta attitude so all beings may be free from their suffering. Buddhist teacher, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, taught a seminar at his monastery in Kathmandu Valley from November 21- December 1 2019. During his seminar he stated, “Tell yourself over and over again: The reason I am meditating is to establish all beings in awakening. This realization needs to take place in my mind so I can help all beings.” There was an immense emphasis on mind-training during the seminar, that one must train in bodhichitta. One of the most impactful statements I heard during an interview with a Buddhist translator was, “Buddhism is not just about mindfulness- it is about mind-training. It is about learning to see reality with a different perception. Seeing mind patterns over and over again until you change your perception of reality. Mindfulness is a means to become more calm. Mind-training is seeing all the reasons why you should act on the behalf of others and cultivating the attitudes to do so.”
The Four Immeasurable Minds:
While speaking to others, listening to teachers, and reading endless texts- the main theme I picked up on around altruism is it is the wish for other beings to be happy. The Four Immeasurable Minds is a Buddhist concept which explains the essence of altruism more in depth. The four aspects are: loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. A Buddhist student stated, “The four immeasurable minds is looking at the same thing from different angles of understanding” Budhist teacher, Thích Nhất Hạnh, explains the four immeasurable minds as a perspective on how to love deeply without attachment. Hanh writes, “The Four Immeasurable Minds are the four elements of true love: maitri — loving kindness (the desire to offer happiness); karuna — compassion ( the desire to remove suffering from the other person); mudita — joy (the desire to bring joy to people around you, and allowing their happiness to bring you joy); and upeksha, equanimity (the desire to accept everything and not to discriminate). When you love because living beings need your love, not because someone belongs to your family, your nation, or your religion, then you are loving without discrimination and practicing true love”(Hanh, Thich).
During every interview- no matter if they were a student, lama, monk, nun, or scholar- all emphasized how challenging it is to live from the four immeasurable minds, or an altruistic mindset. One woman said, “It is not easy to be truly altruistic. It takes lots of motivation, intention, determination, and practice.” The Buddhist Tibetan translator stated, “We think there is a limit to everything. We think there is a shortage of things, ‘I can only be loving and compassionate to so many people’. All of these are myths! If someone is successful there is enough room for both to be successful. It is really hard to rejoice in other’s happiness and success when we are coming from a belief in shortage. Compassion and love is limitless.”
One of the key points during Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche’s seminar was how vital pure motivation is for one’s practice. Rinpoche stated, “The most important part of practice is motivation- genuine motivation. It doesn’t matter how great your visualizations are or how much you can pronounce something- the motivation is the most important aspect of Buddhist practice. ” Motivation is the purpose behind one’s actions. Setting a motivation for one’s practice was described by a buddhist scholar as the difference between a “dry and juicy practitioner.”
An example of the effects of pure motivation is found in Samuel Bowle’s book, The Moral Economy. Bowles states, “Six day care centers in Haifa, Israel, imposed a fine on parents who were late in picking up their kids at the end of the day. The share of parents who arrived late doubled. Before the fine, picking up their kids on time was an act of being considerate to the teachers. But after the fine, showing up to pick up their kids became an economic transaction. They felt less compunction to be kind.” Another example is, “In 2001, the Boston fire commissioner ended his department’s policy of unlimited sick days and imposed a limit of 15 per year. Those who exceeded the limit had their pay docked. Suddenly what had been an ethic to serve the city was replaced by a utilitarian paid arrangement. The number of firefighters who called in sick on Christmas and New Year’s increased by tenfold over the previous year.”From these examples it is clear that people are more determined to act from integrity when pure motivation is involved.
Another similar point that came up in my interviews was that it takes discipline to cultivate the habit of pure motivation. One nun stated, “Motivation is faith. It is devotion.” Another nun stated, “Motivation makes our mind good and purified – it gives you more strength. Motivation is a virtuous discipline. It is a discipline because you have to remind yourself over and over again. Then our action becomes virtuous and becomes habit.” Each Buddhist teacher, scholar, and practitioner I interviewed emphasized daily practice as the way to cultivate the habit of pure motivation. When speaking about spiritual practice, a Buddhist translator expresses, “Having a spiritual practice makes you wake up with a sense of purpose. The whole idea of spiritual practice is that we are not living our optimal lives. We have the possibility to be so much more wise and happy- to find sustainable happiness that is not dependent on external forces. Spiritual practice is about finding a sustainable source of happiness, which comes from peace of mind and caring about others.” A Buddhist practitioner exclaims, “I feel so much joy from practice because it is the essence of the four immeasurable minds and because of the joy it brings.”
Setting a motivation before practice is a catalyst to help one remember motivation throughout the day. Rangjung Yeshe Institute teacher and translator states, “The training process looks like setting a goal in my morning practice and then I notice the moments when I am falling short. It is not like I remember the entire day because I set the motivation, but it helps me become more conscious in my daily life when I am not living as my best self. I practice mindfulness and remind myself of these goals and motivations throughout the day. Remembering has to do with a vow- a bodhisattva vow.” I also asked the other interviewees how they keep an altruistic mind-set, or bodhisattva vow, alive throughout the day. The same women replied, “I try to remember all sentient beings merely means those I am going to meet during that day- and anyone I meet I am going to do my best to be there for them.” Another translator said, “Humanity is just a concept. There is no humanity in the world there is only individuals.” Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche claimed there is always something to give to others, “Look at others with kind eyes, smile with genuine love, listen intently, say respectful things, physically help out-there are always priceless gifts to give.”
Transforming Suffering Through Prayer:
Another way to consistently give is through prayer. When answering how to keep practices alive, prayer was a practice brought up several times. One nun said, “When you see the suffering of sentient beings- pray. Prayer is a way to progress your generosity. Pray they do not have this suffering and pray for their next life. This prayer will purify.” Another nun must have said habit fifty times! She kept exaggerating the importance of praying, contemplating, and practicing. She mentioned discipline about twenty five times, how essential discipline is when it comes to cultivating the habit of an altruistic attitude. She claimed, “It is challenging for human beings to genuinely love because they don’t create a habit it out of it!” I asked her how to really practice if one is suffering? What about if they feel as if they are the one inflicting pain upon another? She responded, “If you have attachment, anger, and ignorance – say a prayer all sentient beings may be free from these poisons. If you are training and making it a habit- it will go away little by little. You have to make a habit! Use the poisons within you as a way to bless others. The poisons are an opportunity to say a prayer for healing.”
I was still very curious around the topic of feeling pain while wishing for other’s happiness. During the interview I had a sore throat and felt a cold coming on. I asked one nun ‘What if you are feeling physically ill and others are the last thing on your mind’. She responded, “If we are sick we have to think of other beings who are more sick than ourselves. If you have a sore throat, think of other beings who are going to die. It will surely lessen the pain. Turn suffering into a good habit.” One of the interviewees could sense ‘spiritual perfectionism’ within me and laughed at me while affirming, “Be easy on yourself! You are not going to be loving to others all the time.” Then she continued, “Suffering does not want to hear this is impermanent or emptiness right now- it just wants to be heard as it is. It just wants to exist as it is. It is going to fight. It is not used to us being kind. Let go of all agendas and genuinely being okay with it. It will open up on its own. There is a tenderness in this moment. Once the emotion opens then you can bring Dharma to it- but the hammering of Dharma does not work when it is really hurting. Do a handshake with the subtle body feeling.”
The topic of self-compassion and gentleness became a major theme in all of the interviews. There is a good old saying ‘If you do not love yourself then how can you genuinely love others’ which was brought up a few times. Three interviewees stated that one cannot force generosity or an altruistic mindset. The translator said, “We can’t force generosity. A bodhisattva can give away their head! You can start with giving away a vegetable.” Many interviewees acknowledged it is important to cultivate pure motivation even if they do not feel like helping others on that day. It is also very important to show up for one’s practice so an alchemical attitude adjustment can occur. One long time practitioner spoke, “It is okay if I don’t have intense joy and motivation every single day. It is okay to have good and bad days because I am still in duality. Remember every day is not always going to be filled with light and joy. If I can not get to the inner aspect I can get to the outer aspect.” A few interviewees said the more seasoned your practice becomes, the more gentle one will be with themselves. Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche also states, “You know your practice is deepening the more soft you become.”
Altruism, the genuine desire for all beings to be happy and well, arises from one’s Buddha nature. If living from love is one’s strongest desire, it is crucial they keep returning to where the fountain of unconditioned love flows from. One of the nuns stated, “Imagining my self as Buddha helps me gain inner strength. Or when I think about myself as a Tara – my prayers feel more powerful.” Another theme that arose several times was interdependence, honoring all the acts of kindness one has received. The interviewees claimed this is a sure way to return to one’s heart, remembering acts of generosity is fuel for appreciation and wakefulness. One nun said, “Thinking about dependence is a great teacher. It is the simple things. People are very kind to make clothes for us and same with the farmer growing food. We have to feel that everyone is very kind to us in order make our practice powerful and good. Think of how kind people are and how everyone is helping us and how we are dependent upon one another. Kindness comes from other beings, it never comes from self. We have to be thankful for all beings because all the unseen help allows the world to go around . It is crucial to start recognizing everyone’s kindness and how much they do for us.”
Overall, the results pointed to the necessity of awakening bodhichitta, one’s Buddha nature, in order to become sincerely altruistic. Awakening bodhichitta nature requires determination, motivation, and practice. It is not easy because of the obscurations which cloud the sight of one’s true nature, but if one is determined to love, they can tap into the limitless source within. In the next section I will speak about how to pragmatically put all of the results into practice.
“If you don’t have the attitude that altruism is important then there will be no motivation, discipline, and determination for mind-training. Attitude is most important. Attitude gives rise to motivation in order to train one’s mind.”
-Teacher and Tibetan translator from Rungjung Yeshe Institute
Attitude is everything. It is what creates positive and negative experiences. It is how one chooses to perceive the world and their self. An attitude is not something which is fixed. It is a state of mind one chooses moment by moment. Attitudes can be optimistic or pessimistic. Accepting or resistant. Warm or cold. Some beings may have more positive habits when it comes to attitude, but an attitude is not something people are born with, it is cultivated. Altruism, or bodhichitta, is a mind-set, an attitude. Just because one realizes the importance of an altruistic mindset, it does not mean it will always be there. It is something they must cultivate and choose day by day, moment after moment. The reason so many humans do not value bodhichitta attitude is because they are conditioned to see themselves as an independent entity, an ego. They forget their interconnected nature with all living creatures.
The misidentification with the ego self creates the attitude of self-centeredness, which is one of the greatest sources of suffering. While speaking about self-centeredness, happiness researcher and Buddhist scholar, Matthieu Ricard, states,“While considering that the happiness of others is not our job, we usually makes ourselves miserable while making everyone around us miserable as well. Being constantly centered on yourself leads to endless ruminations and hopes and fears that are detrimental to well-being”(Ricard, Matthieu). Buddhists explain the ego as the identification with a solid single entity rather than an impermanent infinite field of loving awareness. The perception of solidity creates attachment to deceptive stories, ignorance, about who one really is.
It is only with the heart that one can see
rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
-Antoine de Saint Exupéry
The essence of each human being is like the vast crystal blue sky- open, spacious, and limitless. Thoughts are like the clouds, they come and go, but humans often believe they are the clouds and fixate on them without allowing them to pass. Eventually one believes they are the small cloud instead of the mighty sky. The mind is like weather. One can not control the weather but they do control how they relate to it. One’s relation to clouds starts with an identity shift- witnessing the clouds like the mother sky watches all float by. It begins with remembering one is the spacious sky of unconditional love which holds every weather pattern with radial acceptance.
Acceptance is expansion because it is not forcing anything away, knowing it is lovable and good no matter what the weather looks like each day. Within the embrace of love, thought pattens feel free to pass by because they are not contracted in the sticky goo of aversion. Every being has the nature of fundamental goodness, no matter how evil or dark the thought form or outer-appearance might be. Even if one feels as if they have been living in Seattle during the winter with no sun or blue skies, the sun is always still shining bright behind and there is a clear sky within the inner spiritual eye. Behind all the impermanent karmic stories embedded within them, this is the state which is permeant.
Karma means action. Karma is the law of cause and effect. With each cause there is a condition created. This does not merely relate to one’s physical actions- but their speech and mind as well. Buddhist teacher Mingyur Rinpoche talks about how a person is a process rather than a solid object. Karma is the process. Samsara is the karmic wheel of birth and death and it is known to be suffering because it is the repeated habitual patterns of negative karmic actions. This is why one of Buddha’s first teaching is ‘life is suffering’, or dukkha.
No one is a slave to their past karma. True empowerment is taking radical responsibility for one’s relationship with their mental projections, narratives, and attitude. The more beings identify with the unconditional love which is their true nature, the more inspired they will be to act from altruistic love and free themselves from the hamster wheel of hell. Mingyur Rinpoche gracefully proclaims, “Without becoming conscious of why we behave the way we do, the patterns that keep us spinning in samsara are reinforced by recurrent behavior. Our activities today tend to conform to our ideas of who we think we were yesterday; and this perpetuates the very behavior that limits our capacity for change, and transforms our tendencies into patterns that feel immutable. This is the nature of karma. Aspects of our past are carried forth into each new moment. At the same time each new moment also provides a chance to relate to old patterns in a new way”(Rinpoche, Mingyur).
Science has discovered the brain’s extraordinary capacity for transformation. Matthieu Ricard states, “Twenty years ago it was almost universally accepted by neuroscientists that the brain contained all it’s neurons at birth, and that their number did not change with experience and time. We now know that new neurons are produced up until the moment of death and we speak of neuroplasticity, a term which takes into account the fact that the brain changes continuously in relation to our experience.”(Ricard, Matthieu) No matter how clouded one’s self image is, if they have the strong interest to live from altruistic love, they will ignite the blazing fire to burn through past karma and discover their Buddha nature.
Determination and Motivation:
“There is a capacity of enduring love and wisdom that you may not have realized you already have, a power to benefit others all around you. This capability is not given to just a few people at the whim of fate, every one of us has this inner capacity. It’s power can be revealed through specific practices available to anyone with a strong interest.”
-John Mackransky, Awakening Through Love.
If there is a strong interest to do something, known as determination, then merely anything is possible. The same goes to anyone who desires to live with a bodhichitta attitude. All it takes is the fire of determination to fuel the motivation. Determination and motivation are force multipliers. Renowned Tibetan Saint Milerpoa is a powerful example of determination. He performed black magic when he was young and killed thirty five beings. He felt serious regret and dedicated the rest of his life to the Dharma, Buddhist spiritual teachings. It is believed that just about every moment of the day he was determined to undo past karma and create deeds of bodhichitta. Within one life time he actualized his Buddha nature, he undid previous karma and lived from a pure heart while helping countless amounts of beings. The same potential is within every human, but they have to really want it. The same seed of bodhichitta was within Jesus, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, and the Dalai Lama- they just were determined nurture it.
Being human is a precious gift. Buddhist believe in reincarnation and believe a human incarnation is the precious because one can work towards enlightenment, so they can help liberate all beings. The preciousness of being human is a potent contemplation which helps one stay inspired on a daily basis and create positive karma while their heart opens up like a flower on a spring day. During his seminar, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche exaggerated how crucial it is to study, contemplate, and meditate. Richpoche said, “The dharma is medicine. Sitting in a room full of medicine is not going to get you well, you have to take the medicine.But first we have to learn how to practice correctly and genuinely.” Correct practice is the integration of studying teachings, pondering, and then bringing them into meditation. Rinpoche claimed, “If you do not study you will not know how to practice.”
There are also three excellent components to meditation. This includes : setting a pure motivation beforehand, one pointedness during mediation and dedicating one’s merits to others afterwards. During mediation one can focus their one pointed awareness towards the four mind changing: impermanence, suffering, preciousness of human existence, and karma. Rinpoche stated, “Your practice will not get dull if you apply these three components.” One of the nuns stated, “When you remember impermanence, that you could die at any time, it makes you more motivated to practice and accumulate good karma. ”
Many humans walk around like a zombie, hypnotized by ‘mundane’ life. They drown underneath the unconscious sea of deeply engrained patterns while forgetting to question why they exist on this strange planet that spins around the sun, or if the things they believe about themselves are true. The difference between someone like Mother Theresa and an ‘ordinary’ person is their radical determination to wake up every morning fueled with purpose- committed to embody their spiritual mission to love. What if everyone’s ordinary purpose was altruistic love? What if no matter what one’s profession is, how many kids they do or do not have, or where they come from- they can all be their purpose by wishing other’s happiness and doing everything in their will to act from this wish? As the Buddhist translator stated in an interview, “Having a spiritual practice makes you wake up with a sense of purpose.” This is because spiritual practice creates the space to consciously remember who one really is and carve out the existence of the enlightened qualities that exist within.The tool to carve the inner sculpture is sharper when one works with the excellences and study/contemplation/meditation. These tools are the difference between a sculpture that is misshapen and one that is meticulously detailed.
The Transformative Power of Mind-Training:
“Spiritual practice is a way of removing suffering because it is an adjustment of attitude.”
– HH 14th Dalai Lama, How to be Compassionate
I do not know how many times I have read or listened to something while feeling inspired just to forget about it an hour later. It is so common to read an uplifting book, go to a self-help seminar while holding the intention to embody the teachings- but it never happens because it is not put into practice. Everything I have written about thus far sounds great, but it means nothing as words. It is spiritual entertainment rather than wisdom medicine if it the words are not digested and integrated into lived experience.
Meditation is the central vehicle of practice within Buddhism which allows words to become embodied. The purpose of mediation is mind-training. It is to become aware of the observer behind the endless clouds that stroll by. It is a practice, just like going to the gym is a practice or playing an instrument. One can lift weights with the ambition to get ripped, but one time at the gym is only planting a seed. One’s commitment to training is what allows them to see results, it is the life force- the soil, water, and sun which allows the bright sunflower to blossom. In the book, How to be Compassionate, His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, “Just a drop of something sweet cannot change a taste that is powerfully bitter.”(Lama, Dalai) Each time one makes the commitment to sit for practice they are dropping something sweet. Meditation is like a Warhead candy. Once it is popped in the mouth it is painfully sour but once you relax into the taste for a few moments you get to the center, which is as sweet as sugar.
When speaking about meditation, Matthieu Ricard states, “In Buddhism to meditate means cultivate. Meditation consists of getting used to a new way of being, of perceiving the world and mastering our thoughts. Meditation is a matter not of theory, but of practice.” (Ricard, Matthieu).The reason why it is crucial to study and contemplate is because it keeps the practice fresh and inspired. The zombie hypnosis can take place within one’s meditation practice once it become routine, mundane- something else to check off the to-do list. While sitting is better than not sitting, if one approaches their meditation eager to adjust their attitudes and see themselves differently, they will receive much more harvest from the practice.
Every human has experienced good, but we are conditioned to focus on the negative. Humans tend to focus on what they do not want to happen or do not want to be instead of focusing their energy on what they do want. Energy goes where awareness flows. Whatever one focuses on they magnetize. Meditation is the practice of learning how to adjust one’s attitude so they can focus on what they do want. During a retreat at Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu Valley, Buddhist nun and teacher Carla emphasized, “Place your effort in cultivating the qualities you do want instead of what you do not want. Focus on cultivating the virtues. We can not get rid of our negative qualities by focusing on them, but by focusing on what we want to be.” One can not snap their fingers and be saved by Cinderella’s fairy god mother when it comes to cultivating positive qualities, they have to put in serious work. His Holiness the Dalai Lama writes, “On the occasions when you feel the most hopeless you must make an especially powerful effort. We are so accustomed to faulty states of mind that it is difficult to change with just a bit of practice. We must persist in the face of failure. If you are hopeful and determined you will succeed.”(Lama,Dalai)
One of the many great gifts a meditation practice cultivates is patience. Patience is essential when learning how to open up one’s hearts to others, not getting frustrated for the computer not working, waiting to hear back from an interview, or standing in line at the DMV without aversion. Meditation is practicing the art of living. It teaches how to not get so disturbed by the world and keep a strong center no matter how turbulent the storm may be. His Holiness says, “You too can come to see the hardships you endure as deepening your practice. Try to imagine that your enemies are purposefully making trouble in order to help you accumulate positive forces for shaping the future, what Buddhists call ‘merit’ by facing them with patience. Trying circumstances help develop inner strength and the courage to face difficulty without emotional breakdowns.”(Lama, Dalai)
Practices to Open the Heart:
One technique which makes all the difference is bringing a heartfelt sense into one’s practice, feeling with their entire being the result they wish to achieve. During his seminar Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche claimed, “Lighting one butter lamp (candle) with a strong heart-felt intention is far more powerful than lighting one hundred.” This is the way to approach any meditation, but in particular with compassion meditations, it is important to really bring forth the heart-felt sense of relieving beings from their suffering and feeling the essence of love. John Mackransky states, “The traditional door of entry on the path of the Buddhas is to take refuge in the liberating qualities and powers of enlightenment. This means to rely completely upon the powers of unconditional love, compassion, and wisdom that are fully realized in the Buddhas”(Makransky). It does not matter if one is Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, or Atheist- all that matters is they call to mind someone, or a deity, who portrays enlightened qualities of unconditional love. The more they realize the same qualities are within, the easier access they have towards the cultivation of them.
One powerful meditation and daily practice to draw forth the quality of love is a benefactor practice, becoming aware of all the love one consistently receives. One of the women I interviewed said, “We live so much of our lives unaware of all the love which surrounds us and once we to tap into the kindness which surrounds us, we organically begin to notice Buddha nature within ourselves and the others. “She continued, “Think of a moment where everything felt okay for you, where you felt completely loved and held. Remember the person who gave you this moment does not have to be perfect, it only has to be a moment. Awaken the feeling that everything is okay and you are loved. This awakens you to your love and compassion that is limitless. Actually practice it and visualize it every single day. That feeling is really within you- this person is just invoking it within you.”
Drawing in the energetic qualities from these memories of love does not only uplift one’s spirit, but also has a response in the body. One can see the benefits of this mediation at play through this example, “The Students who were simply asked to watch a film about Mother Teresa’s work with the poor and sick in Calcutta showed significant increases in the protective antibody salivary immunoglobulin A (S-IgA) when compared with those watching a more neutral film. Moreover, S-IgA remained high for an hour after the film in those participants who were asked to focus their minds on times when they had loved or been loved in the past. Thus, “dwelling on love” strengthened the immune system.” (McClelland, McClelland, & Kirchnit, 1988; McClelland, 1986)
Another well known meditation to open the heart is called metta, or loving kindness. Metta is described as friendliness, kindness, or benevolance- it is the first of the Four Immeasurable Minds. A traditional way to practice loving-kindness is to start with oneself, then a friend, neutral being, and enemy. During the meditation one imagines a being (or self) in front of them and then affirms something such as, ‘May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be free.’ Positive Psychology Professor Steven G. Posts states, “A new study from Iowa State University finds that when people mentally wish others well for just a brief period, they’re considerably happier and less stressed than people engaging in even other seemingly beneficial activities.”(Post, Steven)
Scholar and psychologist, Barbara Fredrickson, conducted a study on loving-kindness meditations. Fredrickson, “Tested the effects of learning on self-generated positive emotions through loving kindness meditation. She tested 140 volunteers with no previous experience in meditation and randomly assigned 70 of them to practice loving-kindness meditation 30 minutes a day for seven weeks. She compared the results with the 70 others subjects who did not follow the training. The results were abundantly clear. In her words, ―When people, completely new to meditation, learned to quiet their minds and expand their capacity for love and kindness, they transformed themselves from the inside out. They experienced more love, more engagement, more serenity, more joy, more amusement – more of every positive emotion we measured. And though they typically meditated alone, their biggest boosts in positive emotions came when interacting with others. Their lives spiraled upwards. The kindheartedness they learned to stoke during their meditation practice warmed their connections with others. Later experiments confirmed that it was these connections that most affected their bodies, making them healthier.Interestingly, an individual’s personality didn’t have an effect on how they responded to lovingkindness—that is, lovingkindness worked regardless of how mindful or narcissistic a person was to begin with.”(Fredrickson 2010). Another study at Emory University has demonstrated that short-term meditation on loving-kindness reinforces the immune system and diminishes the inflammatory response (Pace 2009).
How to Practice and Sustain Altruism:
One of the most powerful aspects about setting a pure motivation before practice is it creates a habit of thinking about other beings happiness. The more one creates small habits the better chance those habits will ripple out into daily actions. I personally find it helpful to transform mundane activities into the sacred, as a means to purify and remember motivation. Before eating, brushing teeth, getting into the shower, or turning on the vehicle- remember to make the wish to be in benefit to all beings. The more one makes the wish, the more mindful they will be of opportunities throughout the day to embody their wish and the greater awareness they will have when they are distant from who they desire to be. The aspiration sets forth the determination and motion to take action, to create positive karma.
When one is in relationship with another, a practice to remember is, ‘How may I be helpful and bring happiness to this being? What can I bring to them.? How can I show up with warm eyes and a soft heart? How can I help them awaken to love’s transformative power?’ This is a mindfulness practice done while in connection with others- one must remember this over and over. Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said “Society is just a concept, society is just you and I, there is only individuals. The enlightened society exists already, it exist within each interaction you have throughout the day.” This is an important point to hold in mind throughout the day. If one’s greatest desire is to spiritually develop and benefit beings, then there ought to be a greater importance towards their daily interactions.
Another powerful habit to cultivate is perceiving suffering as a practice. His Holiness says, “Meet adversity with a positive attitude. Imagine by undergoing this problem you are easing the suffering of everyone suffering problems of that kind. Visualize by accepting your pain you are compassionately using up the negative karma of everyone destined to feel such pain.”(Lama, Dalai) Something I have been personally working with every time I feel my ego place guards around my heart is, ‘May this bitterness be transformed and all the bitterness in the world transform into love.’ Every negative emotion can be transformed as a means to say prayers for others if one chooses to see it differently.
Some other practices include: Using social media as a spiritual practice to say prayers and send loving affirmations, Slowing down to feel the presence of kindness (this is where patience comes into play- take a moment to sit and feel appreciation flood your body while remembering all the kindness other’s bless you with), chanting a mantra (such as Om-mani-padme-hum the Buddhist mantra of compassion), and holding contemplations in one’s heart throughout the day (such as seeing other’s Buddha nature, interdependence, or impermanence)
For ordinary folks, a vital practice to sustain one’s altruistic attitude is giving themselves permission to binge on Netflix, eat junk food, go out dancing, sleep in, and not care from time to time. There are, and were, enlightened masters such as Milerpa who most likely were not watching Netflix, but for most folks, it is helpful to create space to not think about spiritual development for a bit. Determination is the energy of fire, of transformation. When there is so much fire, one can burn out quickly. Embracing gentleness is essential for sustainability. Gentleness is like cooling water which hydrates one’s being and allows them to keep momentum in spiritual development.
It is important to remember that no one is ‘perfect’. Every being has triggers and will react here and there. They will get distracted and forget to care. No one is sharp all the time. One of the women I interviewed claimed, “You are not always going to keep your heart open to everyone. You will waste so much energy trying to make everyone like you. You can wish them love but at the end of the day the most important thing is that you keep your heart open to yourself.” It is powerful aspiration to hold the wish to emanate kindness as much as possible, but most beings will not get it right all the time.
“It is the clarity and power of genuine care, a strong, stable love wishing others well, that makes enduring service possible.”
-John Mackransky, Awakening Through Love
Altruisic Love is a discipline, habit, and attitude that becomes embodied and sustained by one’s radical desire to bring forth happiness to other’s lives. Looking back on my journey I see that I did not really care about making other people happy. I knew I loved being helpful because it brought me joy and because it was my mission, but the genuine wish to make other people happy rarely crossed my mind. A lot of my motives were from self-cherishment. As the French writer Romain Rolland said, “If the only goal of your life is selfish happiness, your life will soon be without any goal.”(Ricard)
In Buddhism it is emphasized that all beings wish for happiness. There is not a human on this planet who does not want to be happy and who wants to suffer. Everyone’s happiness is dependent on each others. Within all folks is a deep wish is for all beings to be free from suffering, even if they do not know it, so humanity can live harmoniously on a planet where smiles and friendless is the norm. The questions I keep asking myself are: Why would I not want to bring forth happiness to other’s lives? Why would I not wish for other people to be happy? Any story that tells me else wise comes from a false sense of self.
“I” burned to ashes in 2019 so I could rise like the phoenix into the wish for pure motivation. The self-centered attachment to fame came from a belief in unworthiness –– needing others to validate me in order to feel enough and like I mattered. As long as this belief ran the show, karma was not going to ripen for my coaching business to work. A pure motivation is essential in order to sustain one’s efforts of altruism. John Mackransky states, “Whatever the strategies are for a successful life promulgated in self-help books, and no matter how hard someone may thump a holy book, none of these approaches work if the basic motive of genuine love, of actual care for persons is not present.Those who learn to embody an indomitable love become virtually unstoppable in their activity for others because the motive force of their action is unaffected by short term outcomes” (Mackransky).
Indomitable love is not easy. It sometimes feels like attempting to open up a window that will not budge. It requires strenuous effort to open up space from the habitual locks. Sometimes one wants to give up because it feels like it will never open. At one point their face might feel scrunched and they might want to punch a hole through the wall- but that is okay, allow the totality of that sensation. Keep breathing. This is a process. Humans are particles and stardust that are confused by stories of a false self. Eventually one opens the window and fresh air blows into their house –– the breeze of freedom. It takes serious training to bust the window open.
The smelly air flows out of one’s being and the fresh breeze floods in. It feels like the warmth of a sunny spring day once one becomes determined to open up their heart in this game called life. One must allow themselves to fall down. Hard. To the point they have scrapes and blood everywhere, because no matter how much they try to be perfect, this is inevitable. They will always rising up over and over again with relentless conviction like the phoenix from the ashes as long as they come back to their pure motivation.
Berzin, Alexander. “The Importance of Love, Compassion and Bodhichitta.” – Study Buddhism, Berzin Archives E.V., https://studybuddhism.com/en/advanced-studies/lam-rim/bodhichitta/the-importance-of-love-compassion-and-bodhichitta.
Chödrön, Pema. “Bodhichitta Is the Excellence of Awakened Heart — Pema Chödrön.” Lion’s Roar, 16 Oct. 2019, https://www.lionsroar.com/bodhichitta-the-excellence-of-awakened-heart/.
Hanh, Thich Nhat. The Four Immeasurable Minds: The Buddhist Perspective on Love: How to Love Deeply Without Attachment. From Teachings on Love, 1995.
Lama, Dalai. How to Be Compassionate. Random, 2011.
Makransky, John. “Awakening through Love Unveiling Your Deepest Goodness.” Amazon, Wisdom Publications, 2007, https://www.amazon.com/Awakening-Through-Love-Unveiling-Goodness/dp/0861715373.
Mingyur, Yongey, and Helen Tworkov. In Love with the World: a Monks Journey through the Bardos of Living and Dying. Spiegel & Grau, 2019.
Post, Steven. “Altruism, Happiness, and Health: It’s Good to Be Good.” https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/images/uploads/Post-AltruismHappinessHealth.pdf. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine Copyright 2005 by 2005, Vol. 12, No. 2, 66–77 Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.https:// greatergood.berkeley.edu/images/uploads/Post-AltruismHappinessHealth.pdf
Ricard, Matthieu. “Chapter 8: Altruism and Happiness.” http://www.bhutanstudies.org.bt/publicationFiles/OccasionalPublications/Transforming%20Happiness/Chapter%208%20Altruism%20and%20Happiness.pdf