Last weekend we celebrated “Buddha Day,” called Vesak around the world, the time of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death. This is a community-wide event with speakers and meditation, food and fellowship with many from the 18 Colorado Springs sanghas in attendance. It was held in the community room at Pikes Peak Hospice and Palliative Care. It was a beautiful day!
I gave a talk about the Dedication of Merit from the discourse, “The Way to a Fortunate Birth.” In this talk, the Buddha identified three bases of merit. He said “If one would train oneself for merit which lasts long and yields happiness, he should cultivate giving, right conduct, and meditation. Having cultivated these things which are three sources of happiness, the wise man arises in a happy world that is free from harm.”
First, we cultivate cultivate dāna pāramitā or generosity. This isn’t just giving to the poor, although that’s part of it. Dana is the essence of unconditional love…giving without attachment… with an open heart and open mind… with an attitude of altruism and wisdom. Giving money, or other tangible assets, what we typically think of as “generosity.” Pema Chodron says that, “dana is also fearlessness: What we think of as “generosity of spirit,” giving of oneself. The opposite of fearlessness being “poverty”.
Then, Buddha said, the second basis of merit is the sīla pāramitā or virtue. Our overall ethical behavior. There are several levels of sila, but laypeople like you and I generally undertake to live by the five precepts that are part of the Refuge Ceremony. We undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living beings; from taking that which is not offered. We refrain from sexual misconduct; from incorrect speech; and the use of intoxicants.
The third aspect of dedication of merit is meditation, specifically metta or loving-kindness. Metta has two root meanings. One is the word for “gentle,” like a gentle rain that falls on the earth. The other is “friendship.” The Buddha described a good friend as someone who is steadfast in our times of happiness and in our times of adversity and sorrow. He said that “a friend will not forsake us when we are in trouble nor rejoice in our misfortune.”
Metta practice starts with befriending ourselves; to learn how to be our own friend, because unless we have a measure of this unconditional love and acceptance for ourselves, it’s difficult to extend it to others. Sharon Salzberg said, “You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.”
What an amazing thing to be told! We could never find anyone who is more deserving of our love and affection than we are ourselves. How few of us embrace ourselves in this way, or have ever been told that we could – here in the western world this teaching is almost heresy! With metta practice, we uncover the possibility of truly loving and respecting ourselves. Gradually, as we practice loving-kindness meditation, it becomes an actual experience; the feeling of loving-kindness is born within our hearts; within our beings. So we begin with ourselves and then expand our lovingkindness to include our loved ones, the neutral people, our benefactors, the difficult ones, and all beings everywhere, seen and unseen.