Sunday, September 14, 2008

Being Metta

“Metta is the Buddhist word for ‘loving-kindness.’ It refers to the emotion of goodwill, that which wishes happiness for another. It embraces forgiveness, because metta says: ‘The door of my heart is open to you. No matter what you have done, come in.’ It is that kindness which does not judge and is given freely, expecting nothing in return.”

(Ajahn Brahm in ‘Using Variety to Freshen Up Our Meditation’, p.2)

In recent posts, Buddha Space has been focusing on the Karaniya Metta Sutta, that wonderful sutra that encourages us to go beyond our selfish habits and viewpoints and flood the world with loving-kindness. The reflections on the sutra have been presented on this blog as an offering to encourage contemplation of the meaning of both the scripture and the cultivation of metta itself. But from an experiential point of view, little has been offered to the reader to help her or him taste the flavor of loving-kindness as it effortlessly breaks down the barriers between us. Hopefully, this post can rectify that, but it will require your cooperation. The following experiment needs to be actually done rather than merely read or imagined; it is only in the tasting that we have the proof of the pudding.

When next in the presence of another human face, say in close conversation, really take a look at the situation. What do you actually see? Are you face-to-face with another person, or is your interlocutor’s face looking deeply into your…emptiness? What is, exactly, at your end of this two-way dialogue? (Is it, in fact, a two-way dialogue at all, or rather a one-way dialogue pointing to your true empty nature?) Be totally honest in your answer to this following question: Are you face-to-face or face-to-no-face?

Well, what did you find? Are you – or have you ever – been face-to-face with other people when talking with them, or have you been associating with an identity that’s not yours? At least not your true identity. It’s not being suggested here that you don’t have a face, for even though you can’t see it, you certainly can feel it; but on present evidence, what lies behind or beyond that face where your center is? Looking at my friend’s face, I see his features most clearly; eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and (some) hair – you get the picture. But what’s here being aware of his façade? Not another face, that’s for sure. Here is an empty awareness that’s capacity for my friend, and anyone else for that matter, to make an appearance. But, you might ask, what’s all this got to do with experiencing metta, let alone being it? Well, let’s return to your experiment with another’s face.

Right now, seeing things clearly for what they are and not how we imagine tham to be, is it not true that you are a wide spaciousness that the one speaking with you appears in? Are you not an borderless void in which he or she lives? Are you not completely open for the other, allowing her or him the space to be, and not hindering their being in any way? In this moment, face-to-no-face, do you not feel the arising of a sense of caring for them? Even if they’re not your favorite person in the world, perhaps someone you’ve never really liked in all honesty, if you’re aware of being this spacious emptiness vacant of self so that they can live in you, do you not now fell some warmth towards them? Is this not the arising of metta, of an unconditioned state of goodwill?

Really taking in the scene before one as it is in and of itself, a sense of quiet kindliness can be experienced. It is not some sentimental emotion, an idealized feeling that we somehow all one, but a natural consequence of seeing things as they are, seeing the Dharma. When emptied of selfhood, broken open for the other to exist in, there is metta. And this metta is not an ideal appearing in the mind, but an outflow of oneself into the other, binding the two into one, and the one into nothingness. In this void, I am you, and our being is metta itself, expressed in the sound of our voices rising and falling in the emptiness. In this light, I will ask you one more time to pay attention to the conversation you have been awaking to:

Listen to your interlocutor’s voice. Is it apart from you or is it sailing upon the same empty sea that his or her appearance is? Taken on its own merit now, and not attaching preconceptions to it, what is your response to that voice and those words? Does the judging mind arise, analyzing everything that’s said, or is there that same feeling of goodwill towards the sounds of your companion? Does it make any difference whether you look or listen, or does metta occur whatever the sense faculty being used?

Of course, for this experiment to reveal genuine metta, it cannot be dependent upon one particular sense, unless we going to suggest that only when we see someone do we feel goodwill towards him or her. This would clearly be nonsense, and the many kindhearted blind people that I’ve met deny such an erroneous conclusion. True metta grows out of a lack of self, a dearth of selfishness or ego. Otherwise, it’s merely the ego hiding behind yet another goody-goody disguise, pretending to be something that we’re not. (And what is the ego if not that?!) That the Buddha could stop a rampaging bull elephant not by some magic power that dispersed the creature, but via emitting loving-kindness towards the confused animal, shows both the depth of the Buddha’s metta and the amazing power of goodwill to transform those that we meet.

Being metta means being space for others to exist. It means not judging them but wishing them well. And it requires that one let go of the judgmental ego that will otherwise blight our relationships with other beings. Being metta is the antidote to identifying with that intellect that wants to classify everything and everyone, neatly pigeon-holing them so that they are kept at a manageable distance. But where metta is concerned, there is no distance, whether in space or time. There is only the here and now, and it is in this present empty moment that we can relinquish the self and open up for the other, realizing in the process that in truth they are no other but the same Buddha that lies at the heart of all. And when we live in the light of this empty Buddha heart, we can say with Ajahn Brahm, “The door of my heart is open to you. No matter what you have done, come in.”

To access the free e-book ‘Using Variety to Freshen Up Our Meditation’ by Ajahn Brahmavamso, please click the following link: Using Variety to Freshen Up Our Meditation


The Geezers said...

I'm reminded of the teaching "all dharmas agree at one point." (Unfortunately, I've forgotten where the origina quote came from.

The point where metta became a more tangible concept for me was when I recognized that it wasn't so much a matter of "earning" good results, but rather that dedicating ourselves to others was a very useful tool to loosening ourselves of the tyranny of self.

G said...

I like your use of the word tangible, Mercurious. Whilst metta remains a concept, it isn't the real deal, being a series of thoughts in the mind. When we are bust wide open for the world before us, then metta becomes genuine goodwill, which is this moment by moment acceptance of 'the other'.