Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Dhammapada Reflections #2

Verses 3, 4 & 5

"He abused me, struck me,
Overpowered me, and robbed me."
Those that harbor such thoughts
Cannot still their hatred.

"He abused me, struck me,
Overpowered me, and robbed me."
Those that do not harbor such thoughts
Can still their hatred.

Hatred is never appeased
By hatred in this world.
By non-hatred alone
Is hatred appeased.
This is an eternal law.

 Hatred is fuelled by negative thoughts. It is a fire that burns on negative sentiments such as feeling verbally or physically abused, or robbed. These thoughts proliferate if not checked, begetting more and more negativity that feeds our hate until we become engulfed in pessimism. People that we perceive as having inflicted such sufferings upon us are viewed with a hatred that is incredibly destructive towards those that we think have done us wrong, seeking to punish them in various ways, often the same ones that they wreaked on us. However, such hatred will also eat us up ourselves, too; we will become victims of our own hatred. Embittered and suffering, we'll be prisoners of self-propagating thoughts in a vicious circle of ruination.

 By contrast, if we don't indulge in hatred, we can experience life in a much more positive way. By letting go of our negative feelings towards others, we break down some of the barriers between us & them, allowing for more fulfilling relationships. We also will feel less distress within ourselves, our minds not continually tossed around by destructive emotions. This is done by cultivating 'non-hatred.' In some translations of the Dhammapada, the word 'love' is used here, but the original Pali wording is averena ca, which is better rendered as 'only through non-hatred.' Non-hatred is not as emotive, passionate word as 'love,' and in the context of Buddhist practice & teaching, it is too vague a term to use here.

 We can cultivate non-hated in various. Buddha taught the brahma-vihara (‘divine abodes’) to counteract certain negative human traits. They are metta (goodwill), karuna (compassion), mudita (empathetic joy) & upekkha (equanimity). Metta, usually translated as goodwill or ‘loving-kindness,’ can be developed to cancel out hate. The other three divine abodes can help also, but here we’ll focus on just one. If we feel goodwill towards others, wishing them safety & happiness, acknowledging that these states are wished for by all human beings, then hatred is less likely to get a grip on us. Trying to force the arising of goodwill probably won’t help much, however, especially if left to the last minute when already caught up in hateful thought patterns. The Buddhist monk Ajahn Brahm can help us here.

 Ajahn Brahm advises starting off by visualizing a kitten, puppy, baby or any another helpless creature or thing (even a young plant), imagining it as needing our care, our love and attention, as it is not doing so well. We see that it is in a sorry state, and we imagine holding it, feeding it, and caring for it, perhaps telling it how we will look after it and protect it. With the feeling of kindness that we’ve developed, we next turn our attention to someone close to us; our partner, a friend or close relation. Extending the feeling of loving-kindness to this person, we wish them well, extending positive thoughts of goodwill towards them. When this feeling fills the mind, the next subject to receive our careful attention is an acquaintance whom we know but not as well as the previous person. Thirdly, metta is directed to someone that we don’t like, someone that causes us displeasure; an enemy, even, if we have one. No matter what bad things they have done to us, or bad habits they have that we dislike, we overcome our negative thoughts by wishing them well.

 Ajahn Brahm next instructs us to emit loving-kindness to the people that we live with or work with, or to our neighbors, before sharing such positive feelings with all beings, as in the Metta Sutta quote: “May all beings be at ease!” Lastly, he tells us to extend metta towards...our own self. For, as Ajahn Brahm points out, how many of us, particularly in the West, have bad or guilty feelings towards ourselves? The one person that many of us don’t really like, at least subconsciously, is our own self, and this is why Ajahn Brahm instructs us to develop metta towards all beings first, filling the world with loving-kindness before turning our attention upon our own being. Having wished goodwill towards all others, we then do the same for ourselves, overcoming any latent self-criticism with the strength of well-developed metta.

 Ajahn Brahm has taught that metta meditation softens the mind, making full of goodwill as the meditator becomes more selfless and peaceful towards others. He has stated that metta is an emotion that is full of delight and pure in nature. When developed, it takes residence in the heart and the meditator becomes more compassionate with their kindness a source of great joy to all. With such a mind-set, the arising of hatred towards that we feel have slighted us will be less likely, instead we might even be able to develop some wisdom with regards to why people do nasty things to each other, and how thus relates to the inherent stress (dukkha) that most of us experience in life.

The Dhammapada ('Verses of Dharma' or 'Path of Dharma') is an ancient Buddhist text that is said to contain some of the Buddha's teachings in poetic form. The first chapter is called Yamakavagga, 'Chapter of Pairs,' and the above three verses are from this part of the book.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ajahn Brahm teaches Brahmanism, pun intended if you like, but Metta and the other divine abodes were not taught by The Buddha as they are originally part of Brahmanism.

Its acceptance into Buddhism was due to Buddhagosa (Visuddhimagga), who stated that The Buddha taught 40 methods of meditation (39 of them being traditional Brahmanism).

Metta is popular because it sounds right, sounds good, but how effective is it in getting rid of anger?

You can only get rid of anger completely on completing the 3rd lokuttara path of Anagami, so changing the movie in your head does nothing in this regard.

It is simply a popular replacement therapy, as in changing a bad self into an acceptable self, and while someone could spend the time doing what The Buddha actually taught, vipassana, they waste their time on ineffective Brahman teachings.

No meditation master, except those self-proclaimed ones without serious training, would ever stoop to teaching Metta. It is cow and sheep behavior based in ignorance.

It also involves contact (by mind) with the one(s) at fault, which would be far from a good thing in certain cases where the people are downright evil.

Would you send Metta to a child molester or someone who had just wiped out your whole family?

Better to keep your mind away from such garbage and practice letting go.

G said...

"Bhikkhus, whatever kinds of worldly merit there are, all are not worth one sixteenth part of the heart-deliverance of loving-kindness; in shining and beaming and radiance the heart-deliverance of loving-kindness far excels them."

Thanks for your opinions, Anonymous. Yes, to reach the path as an anagami is a worthy aim, but not everyone can achieve it, and out of comapassion Buddha taught metta-bhavana to help those of us who haven't let go of anger completely to at least let go of it for some of the time. Buddha taught metta-bahvana in the following discourses: Majjhima Nikaya 21, Samyutta Nikaya 20:3, Anguttara Nikaya 5:161, Anguttara Nikaya 11:16, Itivuttaka 27 (quoted above), and, of course, Sutta Nipata 1:8 (the famous Karaniya-metta Sutta). These are just a few references made to metta & its cultivation by Buddha, and a lot more can be found on that wonderful site accesstoinsight.org - please go there if you want to know what Buddha did or didn't teach. Brahmin priests sacrificed animals in their rituals, so not much evidence of metta there! As to Ajahn Brahm, his understanding of Buddha's teaching is impeccable, so I take your criticism of him with a pinch of salt; and, as he would no doubt do, I wish metta to you & and all sentient beings! Be well, G.