Here’s an endearing excerpt from Robert Wright’s conversation with spiritual teacher, author and Beliefnet contributor Sharon Salzberg. Some might be put off by his self-assured nature, but I am amused by it. And I find Salzberg’s response to his confession marvelously kind and gentle.
Wright: I had always taken the Buddha as having recognized that the main problem with people was not their failure to love themselves but their failure to love other people. And I know certainly in my own case I have a very high regard for myself. That’s not the problem. It’s, it’s compassion for other people, not compassion for myself that is the hard thing. So how does that work, that loving yourself? Why do you recommend it? I mean it seems like it comes pretty naturally to people.
Salzberg: Well, I think it doesn’t come that naturally to a lot of people. I think you’re very fortunate actually, if that’s your experience.
Wright: Oh, if you were me you’d love me too…
Salzberg: I’m sure that’s true. I have no doubt. And this wasn’t, you know, something I made up in our time in California. This is actually the way it’s been transmitted as the Buddha having taught…
Wright: So this is not… I mean, that was my first suspicion that this was like a late 20th Century American self-indulgent add-on to Buddhism. You deny this charge?
Salzberg: I deny that charge completely.
Wright: So you can find this [idea that it's important to love oneself] in the ancient texts?
Salzberg: Yes, yes.
Wright: And this type of meditation in particular, loving ….
Salzberg: Loving kindness?
Wright: Yes. The word the pre-translation word is “metta” … meditation… not M-E-T-A but what is it?
Wright: Ok. So that goes way back, and even then it started with loving yourself.
Salzberg: Yes. That’s what they say. That’s what the texts say that you begin the whole practice of loving kindness with yourself. That’s the foundation, and the Buddha said something like you can search the entire world for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself and you won’t find that person anywhere… that you yourself deserve your own love and…
Wright: But everyone else is exactly as deserving, right?
Salzberg: That’s right. That’s right. But the beginning tends to be establishing the basis of loving care for one’s self and from there we move outward to somebody. We’re very grateful to somebody known as a benefactor and then friend and then neutral person and then difficult person and finally all being everywhere without exception! But the love for one’s self needs to be genuine and to be all inclusive, not just those parts of ourselves that we proudly present to the world, but those parts of ourselves we’re a little cut off from, that are more hidden, those parts of ourselves that we’re ashamed of, or afraid of. To be able to hold all of that in the light of some care and compassion is the foundation, they say, for being able to extend that to others.
For more about Sharon Salzberg and metta meditation, check this out. It’s been one of Beliefnet’s most popular guided meditations over the years, and we’re grateful to Sharon for sharing it with us.