May all beings be happy
For the past couple months, I’ve been taking in a year-long traditional Thai medicine program as a way to reconnect with my ancestry and pick up some useful healing arts skills. It’s a pretty holistic course, focused not only on diagnosing and treating conditions, but in understanding the Buddhist roots of Thai medicine as well.
There’s a Pali chant we practice called a wâi kru. “Wâi” means to pay respect, and “kru,” which comes from the more commonly known “guru,” means teacher. So, it’s a daily homage to our teachers—the Buddha, his teachings, our communities, our parents, and our medicine teachers.
Near the end of the chant is the phrase sabbe sattā sukhitā hontu. “May all beings be happy.” This includes the expected people, animals, and plants, but also acknowledges the arcane, like deities and beings unknown throughout the universe and all its realities The wish is meant for literally all beings.
It’s a lovely sentiment and reminder to cultivate goodwill, shared joy, and compassion. Sometimes that’s easy. Other times? Not so much.
Recently I was waiting in line at the pharmacy and had been at the front of it for 20 minutes. The line grew longer, and so did my fellow waiters-in-line’s frustration. Exasperated by the wait, the man behind me started complaining under his breath.
I felt frustrated as well, but in that moment I tried to recall what I was learning in my course. Here was an opportunity to practice responding to inconvenience with compassion. I acknowledged the people in the line with me who were agitated and wanting to get on with their day. I acknowledged the lady at the counter who probably felt anxious with everyone else’s agitation directed her way. I acknowledged the short-staffed pharmacists who were probably very tired and doing their best. And I wished for them all to be alleviated of their suffering.
There, I thought. I responded with compassion instead of irritation. I later shared this story with my teacher and admitted that I didn’t feel any better afterward. I still felt anxious and irritable myself, but chalked it up to being new at this. I was sure if I kept actively practicing compassion, the feeling would become more genuine and I could more easily let go of my own negative feelings. Her reply caught me off guard.
“Mai, did you remember, in that moment, to have compassion for yourself as well?”
I had not. I had done what I logically thought was right to do and moved on with my day, still grumpy. My understanding of compassion was that it moved outwardly, a one-way force of good that culminated in a happier world around me.
What I had forgotten was that I was a being, too. And in that moment, one in need of compassion.
I think we often forget to include ourselves. We show up for those we care about and express condolences and well wishes, even to strangers! But when it comes to ourselves, we forget to direct that same force of good inward.
So take this as a gentle reminder to not only include, but also start with yourself. Especially when you’re having a hard time. Acknowledge what you are experiencing in the moment, and wish for yourself to be happy. Then all the other people, animals, plants, deities, and beings unknown all throughout the universe and all its realities can fully receive your sincere wishes, too.