The author of John’s Gospel has Jesus give, in his version of the Last Supper, this commandment: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (Jn 13:34) While we are all familiar with this commandment, we are not always sure what it means, and we certainly don’t know how to practise for it, so that such love can come more easily.
It helps to distinguish the types of love, lest we try to live out the commandment in terms of the common understanding of love as a feeling. The Greeks distinguished “eros,” (love of attraction), “sorge” (familial obligations), or “philia” (love of mutual care, as in friendship), and “agape” (the unconditional willing of the good for others). The love Jesus is talking about seems more this latter, which is essentially an act of will, rather than a feeling, and resembles very closely “meta” in Buddhist spirituality, which is usually translated as “loving-kindness.”
Agape, or loving-kindness, is above all an attitude, a disposition, which one can cultivate. The Buddhists cultivate it – and we all can learn from it – through the “Practice of Loving-kindness.” It is a simple prayer which one repeats often throughout the day. It starts with wishing peace, safety and happiness for oneself, then for loved ones, then for the broader community, for enemies, for animals, all living things, and finally the whole earth.
The form of the prayer can vary as you feel called, but its essential form is this:
May I* be happy.
May I be peaceful and at ease.
May I be well.
May I be filled with loving-kindness.
* I, (my spouse, my friend, my family, my community, those who have harmed me, all animals, all living things, the whole earth)
Ken Hood, a resident of Guelph and a practising Buddhist, has developed a website on loving-kindness. Check it out.