There are ordinary good wishes for others and then there are the extraordinary wishes. There already exists a wonderful buddhist model for an extraordinary wish for every living being to realize boundless good qualities. “May all sentient beings have happiness and the cause of happiness” This is the wish that desires to lift all living beings away from self-centeredness toward true happiness and freedom. It also lifts us toward the optimistic view that affirms and implies that living beings are truly capable of realizing those boundless and timeless great qualities.
Our own personal qualities and ability to actually grant or to wish good qualities for others depends completely on our stage of development. Sometimes it might feel just like when we were small, creating a magic wand from a twig or toilet plunger and happy tapping everyone turn by turn. “Now you are happy”. I knew a little boy who would tap people on the head if they had a cold and he would say, “Now you’re ok.” I have seen little girls dress up as a fairy princess twirling and blessing others. What a delight for themselves and others.
When we begin practice we might feel like this but later that changes and matures. However, we should not feel shy while doing these practices, even at the very beginning. We are not being compared to other practitioners. We are only being compared to our own potential for great effort. It is also not right to hold back enthusiasm during wishing for happiness prayer out of a fear that we will exhaust ourselves and not have enough energy left for ordinary life. If we think that we should be careful with our happiness going too far because soon we have to get up from meditation and need the strength to make a cup of coffee, this is not the way we should think.
There is another aspect of how to make effort. What actually limits the meditator creating the wish for all others to achieve this boundless quality is how developed is their own capacity for making effort. We need to make tireless efforts to make ourselves strong enough to make tireless efforts. A skilled practitioner wishing for happiness for others does not hold the idea “I am giving top effort here”, or “I am only doing a little bit of wishing today”. There is a powerfully clean and innocent (return to purity) joy for that practitioner making the great wish to bestow happiness on all living beings.
How we achieve this strength is important. The boundless great qualities we wish others to possess immediately are metered by the amount of concern we have for their welfare. People you know that are near and dear are hurting themselves and others. By logical extrapolation and experience gained in life you can understand that people you do not know, are not near and dear, are also hurting themselves and sometimes can hurt those who are near and dear.
No matter what happiness and good things are happening, many people cannot find comfort and peace in their life. A Buddhist friend said recently she looked at her own mother and thought to herself, “Why is it that she just -can’t- be- happy? She’s intelligent, has the love of her children, success…. Mother, why can’t you be happy?” We cannot help noticing this and feel even worse because we cannot say it our loud; people want to do what they want to do. And yet, they have every possibility; they have good qualities…why can’t they make good use out of their own life?
We are encouraged by our Buddhist practice to contemplate the needs of others like this. Like that, even beings with great possibilities of achieving good qualities, are suffering because they have some development obstacle that keeps them suppressed. Without that obstacle, the potential boundless good qualities of compassion and motivation to do good for others will stop their self-inflicted pain they are experiencing and cause them to stop harming themselves and others. Their own feelings of self-worth will increase and inner suffering will be stilled.
This is only the first of the four great wishes. “May all sentient being experience happiness and the cause of happiness”. The skillful mediator creates and bestows this wish on all and actually causes their own qualities to increase and gain the very realizations that will make the wish come alive and become spontaneous.
We cannot force others to change but the great wish also has been well known to loosen obstacles for others so that they have space and inner encouragement to make effort on their own. But first we need to become stronger in authentic effort by daily mediation and encouragement so that we become fully capable and eventually transformed.