Where is the maitri? Homeless man bleeds to death as dozens walk by.
Walking to the train this morning on my way to work, my jaw dropped when I saw the headline: “Chilling reminder of the city’s coldheartedness as some two dozen walk past good Samaritan as he lies bleeding on Queens sidewalk for more than an hour.”
It immediately made me think of a book we just read in yoga teacher training, Pema Chodoron‘s The Places that Scare You. My first thought was “where is the maitri?!”
Maitri is usually translated as unconditional friendliness. It is one of the four limitless ones (a concept in Buddhism I don’t know enough about to explain coherently). In addition to unconditional friendliness towards others, maitri also implies the same unconditional friendliness as directed towards the self. This comes into play especially in meditation practices, where a wandering mind could easily be a time to be unkind to the self (judging the content of the thoughts, or the inability to simply stay on one point of focus for any length of time), and also in the practice on tonglen, or giving and receiving. The idea of tonglen is to keep softening ourselves, to keep dissolving the imaginary boundaries we erect between ourselves and others that allow us to maintain the illusion of separateness. When we practice tonglen, we receive pain and suffering (like the suffering of a man bleeding to death on the ground) and we give compassion, love, patience, understanding.
Being steeped in the words of Pema Chodoron and the wisdom of Buddhism, today’s news was all the more shocking for its clear example of what happens when there is no maitri.