Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Reflections on the Karaniya Metta Sutta #4

Let none deceive another

Or despise any being in any state.

Let none through anger or ill-will

Wish harm upon another.

Even as a mother protects with her life

Her child, her only child,

So with a boundless heart

Should one cherish all living beings,

Radiating kindness over the entire world:

In this, the fourth segment of the Metta Sutta to be looked at here, we start with an injunction for all those that wish to develop loving-kindness fully, with the Buddha declaring, Let none deceive another. This relates to the earlier statement in favor of those that are straightforward and gentle in speech, emphasizing the factor of honesty in one that shares true kindness. Looked at from the viewpoint of one already established in metta, it can be said that they would certainly not deceive others, always wanting people to know the truth and be able to make the right decisions for themselves. Again, the Blessed One exalts being truthful, for the Dharma is the truth, and to know the Dharma is to know the Buddha, which is the same as knowing the truth of the way things are, which includes the value of truth itself.

Not to despise any being in any state is also a quality of one immersed in goodwill. For, if resentment is retained towards even one being, then the metta that one produces cannot be said to perfected, for it is limited, and in that which is limited there is no perfection. The sutra continues in the same vein of harmlessness with the following: Let none through anger or ill-will wish harm upon another. Here, the Buddha makes it clear that in one whose heart is full of metta there is no room left for negative or nasty sentiments towards others. Metta is all-inclusive, extending to those that we like and dislike, wishing them a life without harm.

The sutra focuses in on this aspect of the metta-developer by using a powerful image of a mother that protects with her life her child, her only child. How does a (good) mother take care of her child? She is selfless, full of love and concern for her offspring, even willing to give up her own life if necessary to protect her child. Moreover, if a mother has two children, perhaps she might hold back on such a sacrifice in the knowledge that she has another child to care for, but here, the sutra uses the example of the love of a mother that has only a single child. She will die for that child rather than see him or her come to any harm. With such care does one imbued with metta wish well being to all beings in existence, not only those that they already know or love.

So with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings, says the Buddha. It’s important to note that the Awakened One is refering to beings here and not people or humans specifically. In Buddhism, we are encouraged to cultivate a kindness that is not only inclusive of all human beings, but all other beings, too. This includes all sentient beings, those that have some semblance of a mind, no matter how big or small their brain, and no matter how intelligent or stupid they may be. Here, again, metta is shown to be a boundless form of love that knows no barriers and is felt for all and every creature in existence. Humans, monkeys, dogs, elephants, snakes, birds, and even insects such as mosquitoes are included in the feelings of loving-kindness that an adept of goodwill produces. Do you love snakes? Do you care for mosquitoes, or do you swat them without thinking twice? If you do swat them, then you should know that from the Buddha’s point of view, your metta is still yet limited and not the genuine boundless article, and your cultivation of it needs further work.

This limitless love is achieved through radiating kindness over the entire world. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But, when you actually reflect on it, a loving-kindness that’s boundless and includes every living being on the earth (and beyond!) isn’t such a simple thing to cultivate, and it’s certainly not easy. Fortunately, in the Buddhadharma there are many ways to develop metta, established by the Buddha himself over two-and-a-half thousand years ago and refined by meditation masters over the centuries since. Such meditative activities are traditionally referred to as metta-bhavana, or ‘cultivation of metta’, and are systematic endeavors built around the production of goodwill.

A modern advocate of metta meditation is Ajahn Brahm, a widely respected monk in the lineage of the famous Ajahn Chah of Thailand. He has promoted both meditation and metta across the world, and has developed techniques combining the two that build on basic Buddhist forms of contemplation. As a foundation to any meditative practice, Ajahn Brahm encourages meditators to establish what he calls present-moment awareness, where attention is focused entirely in the present, neither recalling the past nor imagining the future. This done by totally immersing awareness in a meditation object, such as the breath, and letting go of any thought that takes one away from this moment. To do this, sit in a comfortable position, preferably with legs crossed and hands resting on the lap as in traditional Buddhist style, put attention on the in and out breaths, until the mind consistently adheres to them, established in a peaceful state.

Next, all thought is to be let go of, not by repressing it, however, but by focusing the mind on the breath to such an extent that not only thoughts of the past and future are no longer arising, but also thoughts of the present. One is so immersed in watching the breath that there is no longer the whining voice of the inner commentator, the moaner that constantly complains, “I’m cold. I’m hot. My back aches, my head aches, and I’ve a terrible itch on my nose!” Of this inner voice Ajahn Brahm has said

“Sometimes it is through the inner commentary that we think we know the world. Actually, that inner speech does not know the world at all! It is the inner speech that weaves the delusions that cause suffering. It is the inner speech that causes us to be angry at those we make our enemies, and to have dangerous attachments to those we make our loved ones. Inner speech causes all life’s problems. It constructs fear and guilt. It creates anxiety and depression. It builds these illusions as surely as the skillful commentator on T.V. can manipulate an audience to create anger or tears. So, if you seek for Truth, you should value silent awareness, considering it more important, when meditating, than any thought whatsoever.” (Ajahn Brahm, ‘The Basic Method of Meditation’, p.5)

Ajahn Brahm considers this silent present moment awareness a prerequisite to development of more complicated meditations such as metta-bhavana. For, having achieved a silent, calm mind, it is ready to focus entirely on the task of generating genuine feelings of goodwill. His technique to establish the mind in metta involves the use of visualizations, which help to concentrate loving-kindness on an object of awareness log enough for the ‘kindle’ of metta to be fully burning. In the following extract, he talks of exactly how to achieve this state of mind:

“Keeping your eyes closed, imagine in front of you a small kitten or a puppy or a baby or whatever you find easy to generate loving-kindness towards. (I personally like using a small kitten.) Imagine it to be abandoned, hungry, afraid, and in your mind open your heart to it. Take it up gently, in imaginary arms, and use inner speech to say: ‘May you not feel so afraid. Be at Peace. May you be happy. I will look after you, be your friend and protector. I care for you. Whatever you do, my heart will always welcome you. I give you my love unconditionally, always.” Say those words inside (or similar ones that you make up) with full meaning, even though it is to a being only in your imagination. Say them many times until you feel the joy of Metta arise in your heart like a golden glow. Stay with this exercise until the feeing of Metta is strong and stable.” (Ajahn Brahm, ‘Using Variety to Freshen Up Our Meditation’, p.3)

After establishing metta in your heart, exchange the imaginary being for someone that you actually know, a friend or work colleague that you like, but are not in love with. (We don’t want to generate amorous feelings here, just kindly ones!) Extend the same feelings of goodwill towards them that you did the imaginary recipient, until you are full of metta for your associate. Do the same with another associate, before moving on to all the people that you live with, your neighbors, and all the beings in your local vicinity. Project this warm feeling of loving-kindness outwards in all directions to all beings, filling the world (and universe) with metta. Finally, turn this goodwill around and direct it towards your self, perhaps imagining your face in a mirror and wishing yourself well, just as you did for all other beings earlier. After you have developed metta in this way, take a few moments to reflect on how you feel. Generating goodwill in this way can produce intensely blissful feelings; that’s why it’s called a divine abiding, as it’s like living in a heavenly realm.

When you have practiced metta-bhavana in the above manner several times, and feel that you are succeeding in spreading loving-kindness towards the various beings in your meditation, you can take it a step further by issuing metta to someone that you actually dislike. After focusing on a friend or colleague as shown above, you can then turn your heart in the direction of a neutral person, as a kind of preliminary prior to concentrating on the one you are averse to. A neutral person is someone that you know, perhaps vaguely, but have no real feelings of warmth or dislike towards. It might be someone you encounter whilst commuting each day, a neighbor you don’t have much contact with, or a shop assistant that sells you the newspaper every morning. Whoever it is, learn to flood them with the same feelings of goodwill that you developed towards your friend previously, overcoming any indifference you may have towards them with loving metta. Next, you may bring to mind the person that you actively dislike. Obviously, don’t dwell too long on your negative feelings for them, but picture them in your mind’s eye and then wish them happiness and safety in the same manner as before. Over time, perhaps after many such meditations, you will find that your animosity towards this person will diminish, maybe gradually, maybe quickly, dependent on the strength of your previously negative feelings. In time, you may grow to care for this person as much as you do your friend; maybe practicing metta meditation will enable you to make a friend of this person. Anything’s possible with the power of metta! Ajahn Brahm views it thus:

“By accepting even an imaginary being like the little kitten or little puppy exactly as it is, you embrace forgiveness. This is acceptance. When you can develop this acceptance toward a little puppy or a kitten or a flower, you find that when you do other meditations, even the meditation on the breath, you can be much more accepting and not so critical of the process. You won’t be so faultfinding towards the moment. You’ll find you have much more contentment. You’ll be able to embrace the moment as it is rather than being aware of so much that is wrong in the moment. The whole attitude of mind is changing. ‘The world is the world.’ It’s what we add to the world that creates the difficulties. We can add the faults to the world or we can add acceptance to the world. It’s really up to us.” (Ajahn Brahm, ‘Using Variety to Freshen Up Our Meditation’, p.7)

In such a state of mind as described by Ajahn Brahm above, one really is radiating kindness over the entire world, as the Metta Sutta puts it. Being so immersed in loving-kindness is a liberation from those negative mind states like hatred and ill-will that the Buddha warned us against in the sutra. In this liberated state, no one is our enemy, and all beings can be seen to be suffering in the ocean of ignorance and rebirth. Metta simply wishes all suffering beings release from the round of pain and anguish, which naturally includes such beings becoming harmless and more metta-centered themselves. In such a world, we would all wish each other happiness with the feeling of goodwill dominating and directing our thoughts. It’s up to us to make such a world. It’s up to us to cultivate metta.

The free e-books quoted in this article are available from the following links:

The Basic Method of Meditation

Using Variety to Freshen Up Our Meditation


vitakkaman said...

Dear Friend, I am glad to come across your blog and to find out more about Buddhism and meditation through your blog. May you be blessed for your kind efforts in sharing to us all.

With Metta :-)

G said...

Still waters run deep & Manddy,
Thanks for the kind comments about 'Buddha Space':
Be well & happy,