October  1991   2534   Number 18 

Working with Love; Three reflections
The Life of a Forest Monk; Luang Por Jun
Visiting the City of 10,000 Buddhas; Ven Vipassi
Amaravati's Child; Sandy Chubb
UK Buddhist Education: a Dhammic Perspective
Samatha Meditation; Aj Brahmavamso
California Dreaming; Ven Amaro

Working with Love

Love is one of the ways in which wisdom manifests in the world. In the following three pieces, love is investigated in the light of the Buddha's teachings.

  Ajahn Sumedho
  Venerable Nyanaviro
  Veronica Ferry

A Mature Balance; Ajahn Sumedho

Enlightenment is nothing more than growing up, being a mature human being. It is the perfection of human kamma, in other words: maturing, being responsible and balanced - being a moral, wise human being, who is no longer looking for 'someone to love me.'

Maybe we can't find love in someone else, so we want God to love us. We say, 'I believe in God, and he loves me - nobody else does, but God loves me.' But that's still immature - to want love from 'out there', from someone else. A lot of religions just appeal to that level of emotional development: God loves you if you do good, and gets angry if you do bad; when you're naughty you go to hell, and when you're good you go to heaven. So you do good, not because it's the right thing to do, but because you think that if you do bad, God is going to punish you and send you to hell.

Now enlightenment is something really practical that each one of us can realise: each one of us is capable of being awake. When you're a child and emotionally immature you have to have love from someone else, because you can't love yourself yet. But when you're mature and balanced, you can love - you don't need to be loved by someone else.

It's nice to be loved by others, but it's not necessary. You're not going around, saying, 'Please love me'. When there's wisdom, you can love - you don't need to be loved any more. That is the maturing of a human being, and there's no rebirth in that.

Love is the natural radiance from wisdom. When there's wisdom, it's the natural way to relate to others - but when there's no wisdom, we tend to corrupt love with lust, possessiveness, jealousy and fear of rejection. All these things distort any kind of love we might be able to generate from our own mind, unless we love through wisdom rather than through desire.

He was a very lonely person, but it had all been masked by the enormous defences which he had developed over the years.

  Ajahn Sumedho
  Venerable Nyanaviro
  Veronica Ferry

Nobody Is Beyond Help; Venerable Nyanaviro

One aspect of the life in our monastery at Harnham is the work we do in prisons. There have been times when prisoners have opened up and shared with me the most painful aspects of their personal life. Many have had a whole history of violence going back to early childhood. Never having received any affection in their lives, they turned to crime and violence as teenagers and inevitably ended up in jail.

One very moving experience took place when I was in Frankland, a top security prison. There is a high proportion of 'lifers' there - a term usually applied to murderers, rapists and bank robbers. I was with a young man who had quite a record of violence and was in for having very nearly killed somebody. I was alone with him in his cell. We had come to know each other over the weeks - he was a registered Buddhist who had become interested through the martial arts. He was very, very tough! He stood as tall as myself (about 6'3") but had a much sturdier exterior, and he could look you straight in the eyes. Quite intimidating! I was alone with him in his cell, when he told me that his deepest desire was to kill another person. He had the idea that if he could actually take somebody else's life, the feeling that would arise would be an extremely powerful one - and he felt the need for that experience. I was at the time sitting cross-legged opposite him on his bed. I gulped!

I had never sat with anybody before who had told me in all sincerity that they would really like to kill someone. I felt completely useless, and made an effort to breathe through my heart, staying with this person, just allowing him to come out with his story. When he had finished, he asked, 'Well, what do you think of that, brother?' (They call each other 'brother' in the prison.) I didn't know what to say. What do you say to someone who feels that level of anger and violence in himself? I was sad. It was a very strange experience. I thought to myself, 'I feel so utterly empty... useless. . . what on earth can I offer this man?'

My mind had completely given up. I was totally astonished by what he had told me. Then something just came out from of my heart, I asked him, 'Have you ever felt love in your life, have you ever felt love towards anyone else?' He said, 'No, no, there's none of that in my life'. He went on to say that his earliest memories were of his father regularly beating him up, knocking him to the floor. He could never stand up to his father, so when he got older he decided to take on other people instead.

Then I asked, 'Have you ever even thought that relating to others with kindness rather than violence and anger might be a more wholesome way of carrying on, a nicer feeling for yourself?' I left it at that, as I had to go on and see someone else, but I recall feeling very sad as I left him in his cell. I thought to myself, 'I don't think Billy can make it. He's really beyond help.'

The next time I saw him, some weeks later, it was a very different experience. He had been meditating on his own, and told me that one night while he was sitting, he suddenly had the realisation that inside he was very lonely. He was a very lonely person, but it had all been masked by the enormous defences which he had developed over the years. The world for him had been a very painful place and he had learned how to shut himself off. Of course, as a result, he had emotionally incarcerated himself within a very small lonely space. Once he realised that for himself, he gained some insight into his predicament, which was wonderful to witness. He was already making the effort to see the results of acting kindly to others - either through a smile, or through being more patient and letting some of his fellow prisoners just be who they were. He said he was working on it, taking one step at a time.

This was very rewarding for me. It gave rise to a feeling that these people are worth of every effort one can make. If I had believed my first impression, maybe I wouldn't have bothered with him any more. It gave me confidence that in even the most extreme kind of human being, there is still something there that is feeling. It might have been denied and repressed, but it's there and you can point to it. For those people who are prepared to be still enough to look, and tune in to their inner being, it's very rewarding - regardless of how painful an exercise it may be.

None of us in this monastery have to go through such heavy kamma to reach our hearts (I don't expect). Through leading more moral lives we generally have more ready access. But being with people who have not been keeping the Precepts one sees the inevitable results. One realises that nobody gets away with anything. But you also realise that nobody is beyond help.

  Ajahn Sumedho
  Venerable Nyanaviro
  Veronica Ferry

Healing and Metta; Veronica Ferry

May i be well.......

Metta meditation became an invaluable part of my life five years ago. I first started using it as part of a healing process, in the very concrete form of literally willing myself well again after a chain of events which had nearly led to a breakdown; neither tranquillisers nor various forms of complementary medicine had been the answer. I felt the disease was not entirely mental or physical, but to do with the heart. I needed something that I could do for myself to relieve the sense of impatience over the whole situation - something which, once learnt, I could do on my own without reference to anything or anybody else.

Since then, I have continued to use the meditation in my work as a nursing auxiliary on a radiotherapy ward. I usually use it silently. The meditation provides me with a confidence in any situation - often by providing a calming rhythm to my actions which appears to transmit to the patients I am looking after. Ultimately, it allows me the confidence to sit quietly and remain fully with people, even as they die. Occasionally, if it feels appropriate, I have the opportunity to work with it more directly. When dealing with pain, some patients respond better to having the words: 'May I be well, may others be well', to say or think, rather than using breathing techniques. Sometimes these words provide a breakthrough in understanding; a patient may realise and acknowledge that he or she has cancer, and is no longer going to be 'well' in the physical sense of the word, but may have the ability to be more 'well' in mind and heart than at any time prior to the illness. I keep the use of the meditation very simple, without reference to 'meditation', 'metta' or 'Buddhism'. I find that after a busy shift I am able to leave the ward more calmly if I have individually, however briefly, wished each patient well - particularly when I know there is nothing more that I can do for them at a practical level.

At home in formal practice, whilst finding other forms of meditation beneficial, I frequently return to metta. In a busy life it enables me to go some way towards accepting my limitations as a wife, mother, nurse and member of the human race. It helps me to cultivate the qualities of patience and endurance - qualities which I find so elusive, and so very necessary. Sometimes I use a guided metta meditation tape with headphones in order to lock out the sounds of family life; it is not always possible to find a quiet time in a day, with shift work and growing youngsters! The use of the tape can overcome the feelings of isolation that meditating on one's own can bring. Practice in the morning allows me to open to the day - even if it only lasts minutes! The important thing is that this time does seem to increase as the years go by. Similarly, evening sitting encourages me to let go of the debris of the day. It's by no means perfect: as a chronic insomniac, I still resort to sleeping tablets and use herb teas - but there is a significant improvement in my attitude towards insomnia. Other forms of meditation obviously can be used to the same ends; it simply depends on one's nature which is more suitable.

In my case, time and metta meditation have allowed the healing process to reach a point where it is possible to resume what had previously been a mutually destructive relationship with a parent; to lead a happy family life; and to hold down a job - all of which was unimaginable a few years ago.

I am enormously grateful that I was in the right place at the right time to receive instruction in this form of meditation.

May others be well. . . .