LOVE, COMPASSION, and peace—these words are at the heart of spiritual endeavors. Although we intuitively resonate with their meaning and value, for most of us, the challenge is how to embody what we know: how to transform these words into a vibrant life practice. In these times of conflict and uncertainty, this is not an abstract exercise. Peace in the world begins with us, and there are different ways we can manifest these values as wise and skillful action in the world. These teachings are based on the Buddhist traditions of the East, but their defining characteristic is not Eastern or Western, but an allegiance to pragmatism and the very simple question: What works? What works to free the mind from suffering? What works to engender the heart of compassion? What works to awaken us from ignorance?

This pragmatism also illuminates an age-old question that continues to plague religious and other traditions: How can we hold strong differences of view in a larger context of unity, beyond discord and hostility? The answer is of vital importance, especially now, as we see the grand sweep of religious traditions often in violent conflict with one another.

MAY ALL BEINGS BE HAPPY

The Sanskrit word maitri and the Pali word metta both mean “lovingkindness” or “loving care,” and refer to an attitude of friendliness, goodwill, and generosity of heart. When we are filled with lovingkindness, we have a very simple wish: May all beings be happy. This kind of love has many qualities that distinguish it from our more usual experiences of love mixed with desire or attachment. Born of great generosity, metta is a caring and kindness that does not seek self-benefit. It does not look for anything in return: “I will love you if you love me,” or “I will love you if you behave a certain way.” Because lovingkindness is never associated with anything harmful, it always arises from a purity of heart.

One of the unique aspects of metta is that it does not make distinctions among beings. When we feel love mixed with desire, this feeling is always for a limited number of people. We may love and desire one person, or maybe two or three at a time, or maybe several in series. But does anyone in this world desire all beings?

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