Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Unconditional Loving Kindness

From the Metta Sutta
May all beings be happy.
May they be joyous and live in safety.
All living beings, whether weak or strong, in high or middle or low realms of existence, small or great, visible or invisible, near or far, born or to be born, may all beings be happy.
Let no one deceive another, nor despise any being in any state; Let none by anger or hatred wish harm to another.
Even as a mother at the risk of her life watches over and protects her only child, so with a boundless mind should one cherish all living things, suffusing love over the entire world, above, below and all around without limit; so let one cultivate an infinite good will toward the whole world. 

In the Pali cannon of Buddha's teachings we find the Metta Sutta.  Metta is translated as loving kindness.  It is differentiated from compassion in that it describes a benevolence toward all beings that is fee from selfish attachment whereas compassion is an active sympathy where one is willing to accept the suffering for another.  The practice of metta meditation is a powerful tool in overcoming anger.

Metta practice does not immediately begin with all beings everywhere.  We must always begin with ourselves.  When I first began working with metta I was startled by how much anger I had directed at myself.  Practicing metta towards ourselves is the foundation for building our work for peace in the world.  To begin, sit comfortably, in a quiet space and recite to yourself, "May I live in safety.  May I be happy.  May I be healthy.  May I live with ease."  This practice is deceptively simple but will often bring to surface hidden feelings of inner directed anger, even self-loathing.  I spent many weeks at this stage, finding tears with each recitation and then sitting with whatever feeling arose, evaluating its source and having compassion for my own suffering.  When I was able to sit with these phrases, engaging myself deeply with each phrase without evoking a strong response, it was time to move to the next stage.

Once we've cultivated loving kindness for ourselves, we then extend the phrases to someone we deeply care for, a close friend, a child, a family member, a partner, etc.  Visualize this person sitting in front of you.  Look at them and recite, "May you live in safety.  May you be happy.  May you be healthy.  May you live in ease."  For most this step comes more readily, although surprises can arise.  You might unravel resentments that you didn't even realize were there.  You might discover conditions on your love for this person.  These conditions and resentments show us our attachments.  We may discover that our love is based on the behavior of the other, and that we desire some hidden control mechanisms.  We might even begin to see our own passive aggressive behaviors reflected back to us.  Metta practice will help loosen these attachments.

For the third stage, think of someone who is going through a difficult time.

"May you live in safety.  May you be happy.  May you be healthy.  May you live in ease."

In the fourth iteration we think of someone we are neutral about.   For instance, a bank teller, a store clerk, or the cashier at the checkout counter of the local store are all likely candidates.  Place them in the visualized seat in front of you and begin.

"May you live in safety.  May you be happy.  May you be healthy.  May you live in ease."

At this point, extend the metta to all beings everywhere.

"May all beings everywhere live in safety, be happy, be healthy, live with ease."

I've used metta practice a lot in the last decade as our country has engaged in the destruction of so many innocents in the Middle East.  My anger at the American leaders was robbing me of my effectiveness in my political actions.  In principled nonviolence it is through our concern for the moral well-being of our opponent that we place ourselves in harms way just to highlight the brutality of a system that our opponent happens to be part of or even the leader of.  It is to love the sinner while hating the sin.  I'll admit that doing metta practice for Dick Cheney is still a challenge.  I clearly still cling to certain attachments.  Metta is not forgiveness and I will continue to seek culpability in his actions but hopefully my reasons are not ones of retribution and revenge.  The most loving thing we can do for someone is to stop them from hurting others.  In a world where karma is the most basic rule, where every greedy, self-centered, evil action generates more negative reactions in both the originator and in the hearts of those affected, it is our moral imperative to take action from a place of loving kindness so that all beings everywhere can indeed live in safety, be happy, be healthy and live at ease.

1 comment:

Tom H. Hastings said...

Sweet post and a stone challenge to someone as far from saintliness as I, but many thanks for the good bar. I think Dorothy Day managed that quite well and she wrote about looking into eyes, something songwriter John Prine also wrote about. As I contemplate Karl Rove coming to Portland I struggle with feelings that I cannot properly care for him until he is an inmate in rehabilitative care...so I will need to meditate more on this. Thank you, Terri. Tough task!