In this aphorism, when we consider kindness, it is not kindness based on good intentions. That would be hard to discern. We would have to be able to read minds and hearts. What this does mean is the benefits you receive from others regardless of their motivation. It’s easy to focus on the kindness that we have done to others. However, this results in a ledger book of nice things we have done, and creates in us a sense that we are owed by those for whom we have been kind. We can never be fulfilled or satisfied with this. Its a bit like the Bhagavad Gita where Krishna advises us to not to expect or enjoy the fruits of our efforts – the process is the important thing.
If we attend to, and focus on the kindness of others, regardless of intention or motivation; this puts our experience on a whole new different level. It’s easy to appreciate the beneficial acts of those we like and love. It’s harder to appreciate the beneficial acts from our enemies, the nerd down the corridor, or the irritating co-worker or bullying boss. A person who exhibits unpleasant behaviour is an excellent focus for Tonglen and a necessary next step is to focus on their kindness. The world is full of disagreeable people, and negative or poor behaviour, but in reality everything we receive or experience – our breakfast, our clothes, light, heat, the petrol in our car, the computers we use – will be provided to us by people who are having moments of disagreeableness or who are just plain unkind, irritated, angry, aggressive. And yet we benefit from their work.
This leads us to the practice of gratitude, which is a product of our reflection on the kindness of those around us. We have benefited from them regardless of their attitudes, behaviour and disagreeableness. A trick is to think of people who are providing us with goods and services, feedback and insights as exhibiting an act of kindness for doing the jobs they do. They are not simply the roles they play: if we didn’t have the cashier at the shop, we couldn’t buy the lunch. There is so much that may have derived from hurt, pain, anger, suffering on the supply chain from the source to our door. We can only be grateful that we have benefited.
The real test is how we deal with people who are rude or careless, thoughtless or aggressive. In essence those who treat us like this can be our spiritual allies because they can help us to practice gratitude, reflection of kindness and recognising the essential goodness of everyone. Its a practice and a useful benchmark of our progress. The reflection that everyone is kind, and their innate kindness has benefited us, is a good starting point. It’s worth observing how you go through the next days and weeks with this observation and practice. Something strange, interesting and good happens. Why not try?