Meditation on Altruistic Love

By Matthieu Ricard on September 06, 2010

We have all, to varying degrees, had the experience of profound altruistic love, of a feeling of all-encompassing benevolence, of intense compassion for those who are suffering. Some people are naturally more altruistic than others, at times to the point of heroism. Others are more focused on themselves and find it hard to consider the welfare of others as an essential goal, and even harder to put the welfare of others before their own. In any case, it is essential to cultivate altruism. Being altruistic not only helps us to benefit others, but it is also the most satisfying way to live. This is the opposite of a heightened feeling of self-centeredness, which cuts us off from altruistic love and compassion and only brings pain to ourselves and others.

In general, even when altruistic thoughts arise in our minds, they are fairly quickly replaced by other, less wholesome thoughts, such as those of anger or jealousy. That is why, if we want altruism to play a major role in our being, we must spend some time cultivating it, because just wishing is not enough.
We must realize that in the deepest part of ourselves, we do not want to suffer; we want to be happy. Once we have recognized this aspiration, the next thing we must do is realize that all beings share it.

How to cultivate altruistic love?
Imagine that a young child approaches you and gives you a look that is joyous, confident, and full of innocence. You stroke his head, look at him with tenderness, and take him in your arms. You feel a sense of unconditional benevolence and love. Let yourself be entirely pervaded by this love that wishes only for his well-being. Then cultivate, sustain, and nourish this feeling of loving-kindness. When it declines, revive it.

You could also choose someone else toward whom you feel great tenderness and deep gratitude. Wish with all your heart that this person will find happiness and the causes of happiness. Then extend this wish to all those you are close to . . . then to those you know less well . . . then progressively to all beings.

Finally, extend this wish to your personal enemies and to the enemies of humanity. This last case does not mean you wish them success in their deadly plans. You are simply formulating a strong wish that they will give up their hatred, greed, cruelty, and indifference, and that benevolence and care for the happiness of others will be born in their minds. The worse an illness is, the more the sick person needs care, attention, and goodwill. In this way, embrace the totality of beings with a feeling of limitless love.
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