Friday, December 7, 2012

Metta / Loving-Kindness

A very popular Buddhist sutta (scripture / discourse) is called the Karaniya-metta Sutta, or the Metta Sutta for short. Metta is one of those Pali Buddhist terms difficult to translate accurately into English, but is usually rendered as something like ‘loving-kindness’ or 'goodwill.' Well over a decade ago, when attending a meditation retreat in England, I listened to two Buddhist forest monks recite the above sutta in English. The words stirred something subconscious in me, and I noticed much to my surprise tears trickling down my cheeks in recognition of the profundity of the words. I say recognition because there’s always been something inherently familiar in the essential Buddhist teachings from the earliest times that I encountered them in my teens, almost as though I was rediscovering them rather than coming across them for the first time. Anyhow, in the said sutta, the following words are to be found:

“In gladness and in safety, 
May all beings be at ease. 
Whatever beings there may be, 
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none, 
The great or the mighty, medium, short, or small, 
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away, 
Those born and to be born, 
May all beings be at ease.”

Now, these words are central to the Buddhist form of kindness, which is not a reciprocal thing; it is the undertaking that I will be kind to you whether or not you’re nice to me. This is not a kindness born of friendship, family, or personal love, but an impersonal feeling that is projected to all and sundry, whatever one may think of them. But is it practical? If I think you’re an idiot, or worse still, an evil so-and-so, is it possible (or desirable) to wish you well? Well, yes and yes! For, in developing an over-riding impulse to feel loving-kindness to all beings (and that even includes those pesky mosquitoes that constantly want to feast on our blood!), we not only make life more pleasant for others, but also for ourselves.

If I go around feeling resentment and ill-will to various people (and other creatures), then I’m creating negative mind states in myself, as well potentially offending the recipients of my negative attitudes. But, if I let go of my attachments to how I think others should be, and feel kindness towards whoever they may be, I’ll not only be more relaxed in myself, but I’ll also avoid those negative frames of mind that sow the seeds of future unhappiness.

Sounds all airy-fairy and impractical? Not in the least! What’s more practical or down- to-earth in the long run: disciplining one’s mind to be more positive and kind, or dwelling in enmity towards those one doesn’t take to? The path of developing metta is not pie-in- the-sky, nor is it necessarily an easy one, but it is most certainly worth while, for in cultivating positive, generous states of mind, we create a better world for ourselves and those we come into contact with. Now, that’s got to be a good thing, hasn’t it?

For more on the Metta Sutta see here:

No comments: