Excerpt from Perfect Just as you Are with Pema Chodron
So often the question is asked: why are they called limitless? Have you asked that question? Because these four remarkable qualities are, generally speaking, traditionally called the four limitless qualities or the four limitless ones or the four boundless qualities. But boundless or limitless, it’s because we start with what we have, and it’s in a limited form, and that isn’t meant to be a criticism. It’s so valuable to touch in on these qualities as you already experienced them. But it’s limited in the sense that it’s love for one or two people, or four or five people, compassion for one person or three or four, a whole category of people and ability to rejoice in the same way or stay open. Have a sense of equanimity in the same way. It starts limited. I would be surprised if we weren’t all in the limited category. I know I am.
But the good news is you find what’s limited and you connect with it, and you contact it, and its potential is limitless. Which is to say, what starts as a feeling of free-flowing love for Fido, if you give your compassionate attention to this feeling of free-flowing love, and you give your compassionate attention to when it gets blocked, then basically by working with these two aspects of what we already have and where it’s blocked, the capacity to love is limitless. Which is to say a description of enlightenment would be someone who actually loved everyone and had compassion or could feel the pain of everyone, and rejoice in the good fortune of everyone, and didn’t shut their heart or mind to anyone. That makes you realize how far we are away from that. So we say, we mouth the words “all sentient beings”, but we’re not at all yet. All is a little far away from where most of us find ourselves, all sentient beings. And if you doubt that, all you have to do is, you know, just start going through these categories and see if you actually have love for all sentient beings. How about your boss, or your child, or your parent, or your partner, or the difficult people? As long as it isn’t all, then it’s in some way limited. So I would say that you could be a pretty wide-awake realized person and still be in the limited category because limitless means all, everyone. And those of you who choose to take the bodhisattva vow at the end of this course, you actually make an aspiration that you could stay that open to all sentient beings. Recognizing that you’re in the limited category right now, you nevertheless make the strong aspiration to be able to move in the direction of a completely open attitude -- being able to love and feel the pain and rejoice in all.
So I want to say one last thing and then open it up for some questions. This again comes from Ken McCloud’s book. If you ask the question: where does this love come from? Where does this compassion come from? Where does the ability to rejoice or feel joy come from? Where does equinimity come from? You think I have the answer, don’t you? Well, I actually am going to give an answer, but I’m not sure that I have the answer. I haven’t mentioned the “B” word. The bodhichitta word yet. But these four qualities are, if we cultivate these four remarkable, healing qualities, we are cultivating what’s called bodhichitta. Bodhichitta is a -- traditionally -- it’s said it’s the spontaneous wish that there not be suffering in the world and that people not suffer, and the wish to be able to help alleviate that suffering. And it starts limited. That you wish for certain beings not to suffer and you wish to be able to alleviate the suffering of certain beings but it has this limitless capacity so that the bodhisattva is one which is a synonym for the word warrior. Courageous, compassionate warrior. The bodhisattva is one, who in their full-blown mode, has that wish that all beings not suffer. All.
- Michelle Wesley