Ajahn Brahmavamso, also known as Ajahn Brahm, left an indelible impression in my mind. He has my greatest respect and I’ve learnt so much from him. I’m going to devote today’s article to some of the wondrous stories recounted by Ajahn Brahm and his teachings on loving kindness in my own words, which I will share with you here.
The story of the king cobra- I heard this story while listening to one of Ajahn Brahm’s talks. He related how a group of monks were seated in a circle, meditating in the forests of Thailand. The Thai jungles were infested with snakes, king cobras among them. Suddenly a king cobra appeared. It made a beeline towards the head monk and raised its hood, put out its venomous tongue and was ready to strike. This cobra was ready to strike when the head monk raised his hand and started gently stroking the cobra’s head. And miraculously enough, the cobra lowered its hood and left the group of monks. This is a true story which goes to show the power of loving kindness. The head monk had so much loving kindness in him that even the cobra could feel it and was moved by it.
Then there’s the story of the thief who broke into a temple. Once inside, he broke the donation box and started emptying the money into his pockets. The Abbot arrived and the thief pointed his gun at him, ready to shoot. The Abbot gently asked the thief not to be afraid. He said, “please take all of it. You must be hungry. There’s some food over there, please take it.” The thief immediately ran to the food and stuffed his pockets with it before leaving. After some time, he was arrested and put in jail for other crimes. Many years later, the same thief returned to the temple. He was a changed man. He met the Abbot and said, “Many years ago, I came to steal money and food from the temple. But I could never forget your kindness to me. All that time in jail, I kept remembering it and that’s what sustained me. My sanity. Today I’ve come to steal your love and kindness.” This story is yet another incident of the power of loving kindness. It can truly change people.
There’s yet another story with supernatural undertones. At NASA, one of the main computers stopped working. Top engineers and technicians in the US tried their utmost to repair the computer but nothing worked. Finally, one of the staff remembered that there was a Buddhist monk (not Ajahn Brahm- another monk) nearby and asked him to come to NASA in the hope that the computer would repair itself when the monk chanted. The monk arrived and did so. Sure enough, the computer started working!
Ajahn Brahm recounts how one day when he was in his teens, his father said to him, “son, the door of my house is always open to you.” Ajahn Brahm wasn’t sure what exactly his father meant but as he matured, he realised what his father wanted to say was, “son, the door of my heart is always open to you, no matter what you do in life or who you become.” And Ajahn Brahm was to apply his father’s loving words to his own future and make a huge impact on other lives. We could all be like this, opening the door of our hearts, especially to our loved ones and to all of life.
Ajahn Brahm recounts a story of a bad toothache which was giving him immense pain. He tried meditating but was unable to because he was in so much pain. Finally, after nothing worked, he opened up his heart to the pain and said to himself, “Pain, the door of my heart is open to you.” He kept experiencing the pain without rejecting it. And sure enough, the pain lessened and eventually left him.
In life, one should not only have loving kindness in the present but also in the past and future. It’s important to forgive oneself for one’s past. To accept oneself and embrace oneself. It’s important to accept all that has happened. One should practice loving kindness and remember the good things that happened in the past. When coming home after a day’s work, forgetting what went wrong at work and remembering all that went right is worthwhile. This however does not mean that we should entirely ignore what went wrong. However, it’s important to bring the good things home to your spouse rather than the unpleasant things. We must learn from the past and from our mistakes and not think about the people who wronged us. It’s important to forgive others. Forgiveness leads to freedom and to happiness. It is senseless to want to hurt for hurt caused. It just perpetuates suffering. Anger, according to the Buddha, is temporary insanity.
It’s important to have metta for oneself as well as for others. It’s important that compassion is directed at the correct place. It’s not about you or me. It’s about us. Compassion for oneself without compassion for others is not enough. Compassion for others without compassion for oneself is not enough. The door of my heart should be open to all beings. I need to have compassion for myself so that I can be of greater help to other people.
Metta can be associated with all religions. The heart is where loving kindness comes from.
Loving kindness is embracing the diversity of human beings. Human beings are not perfect. According to the Buddha, there is nothing, absolutely nothing that cannot be forgiven.
Having a positive outlook for the future is important. Whatever happens to us, we should deal with it in a positive way. Always hope for the best without giving into despair.
Life is a bundle of experiences. How we react to each situation is what matters. Normally we react with attachment, aversion or ignorance. If we just experience life as it unfolds and be mindful from moment to moment, that’s what matters. It’s also important to have a sense of gratitude in life. To live with grace and harmony with whatever is happening.
Above are some of the teachings I’ve learnt from Ajahn Brahm. I hope they’ll be of great value to you too. With Metta, Namali.