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Excerpted from Handbook for the Heart by Richard Carlson and Benjamin Shield (editors). Copyright © 1998 by Richard Carlson and Benjamin Shield. Excerpted by permission of Time Warner and Time Warner Bookmark.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.  HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.
 


"The Buddha said, 'If you truly loved yourself, you would never harm another.'"

R. Carlson and B. Shield (editors)
Handbook for the Heart
, Part 1

The Power of Loving-Kindness
By Sharon Salzberg

"There is a saying in the Buddhist tradition: ‘You can explore the universe looking for somebody who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and you will not find that person anywhere.’"

The power of love or loving-kindness has been denigrated in our culture. There's a sense that a loving person is abused, allows tyranny to reign without protest, and isn’t strong. It's almost a sense that love is a weakness. Sometimes there is the idea that the loving heart makes people kind of smirky and sentimental – that because of love, they can't look at suffering clearly or at difficult things within themselves or in the world. I think we have to do a radical re-visioning and come to understand the power of the loving heart. Not only is it innate, but it cannot be destroyed, no matter what our life experience has been, no matter how many scars we bear, how much suffering we have gone through, or how unloved we have felt. We have the capacity to love and to receive love in return.

Living in fear is like being frozen. It's said that the Buddha taught love – particularly metta, loving-kindness – as the antidote to fear. There is a beautiful line in a poem by Mary Oliver: "When the thumb of fear lifts, we are so alive." We're oppressed by our fears, our judgments, our guilt -- guilt being considered in the Buddhist psychology a quality of self-hatred -- and when that oppression lifts, we are so alive. That's the force of love.

Sometimes, if we're fortunate, we experience this love with another person. We might have one being in our life who is a model of unconditional love, so that we don't fear rejection if we're truly honest with this person or if we don’t present ourselves in a certain way. We have enormous respect for this person, who means safety and maybe clarity -- not mushiness or a phony veneer or an inability to look at difficult and painful things. This person may perceive the difficulty and pain in us, but there is the feeling that he or she views them alongside us, rather than from across some enormous gulf of separation. That is really the essence of a loving heart -- the understanding of our nonseparateness.

There is a saying in the Buddhist tradition: "You can explore the universe looking for somebody who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and you will not find that person anywhere." We ourselves are as deserving of our love and affection as anyone else. A spiritual practice based on self-hatred can never sustain itself. We have to begin with loving ourselves, being able to embrace all parts of ourselves as well as all parts of the world, in order to understand our capacity to love.

The Buddha said, "If you truly loved yourself, you would never harm another." Harming another is like harming ourselves. Buddhist psychology distinguishes between the force of guilt and the force of remorse -- remorse being a full consciousness and sensitivity that we've hurt somebody. Feeling that pain, we let go and then have the energy to move on. Guilt is something else entirely -- a continual rehashing of some event, mental flagellation, with tremendous self-hatred. It leaves us strained and exhausted, without the energy to go on and be different.

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