When we attend to our values, we might begin by reflecting on the Buddha’s exhortation: ‘Even as a mother protects with her life her child, her only child, so with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings.’ This is not just because kindness is universal & simple, but because it focuses us directly on the quality of heart that has enabled us to survive & grow. We are born as empathic beings – we’re hard-wired for it with mirror-neurons in our brains – and our success as a species has come from being able to operate as a collective. So a focus on goodwill brings us out of the divisions of nationality, social status, and political systems to connect more directly with a value that can include others. Development of that empathic sense is an aspect of Buddhist ‘mind-cultivation’, and its aim is to develop that sense in a widening field to include all other living beings. The more inclusive the cosmos, the greater its validity. And the awakening fact is that this cultivation is also deeply enjoyable….
Our environment does not just consist of trees & whales; it’s the interwoven world of the biosphere, the economy, society and our bodies & minds. It’s all suffering from the same root problem – a short-term self-interest that supports careless attention. If you see it like this, it reduces the impotence; you see the paradigm of domination & exploitation and you address it wherever you can. Because the one right response, wherever, whenever, is to bring careful attention into the cosmos as you experience it.
What is natural, intrinsic & universal to human beings are not valuables: values issue from the mind & cannot get used up; valuables are materials that come from the Earth & are finite. Given this capacity, our responsibility has to be to develop values that will include & support as much of the cosmos as possible. Values: you name them – how about generosity, goodwill, truthfulness, reliability? It’s not difficult to access the resources of our human nature; putting them into practice takes work, but it is innately fulfilling. On a wider scale, giving value to harmony in our total environment will surely help us to strengthen & enrich our own lives. It will take us out of the sense of being an isolated, competitive self & into the harmony of being part of the cosmos.
Buddhist monk Ajahn Sucitto, currently based at Cittaviveka Monastery in Chithurst, West Sussex, has been part of a number of Theravada monasteries in Britain. The passages above are excerpted from his book “Buddha Nature, Human Nature,” which is available on-line in PDF form at no charge.