Overcoming obstacles to mettā

We’ve been thinking about this marvellous quality, accessible and natural to all of us, mettā. We’ve noticed that it may be present at unpredictable times and places, and wondered how to cultivate it in our daily lives. Once again, Ajahn Sucitto has some wise words to guide us:

The ability to generate mettā [unbounded kindness] depends on both willingness and capacity. These may be in short supply. Those who have experienced sustained abuse can find it very difficult to experience kindness for themselves or for others; those who have not had the secure presence of goodwill can be subject to the insecurity that leads to attachment to views and becoming. Our capacity can also be limited by how we’re being affected in the present. Although conditions are always changing, when the mind is affected by visitors such as fear, worry, guilt and passion, it easily becomes fixed in that state. If the visitor is anger, then the mind becomes bristling and volcanic. If the visitor is remorse or guilt, the mind becomes an eddy that chases itself and sinks down. So we need to develop strengths and skills to stop being overwhelmed by these fixating forces.

Here’s where the pāramīs or perfections support each other. The first three perfections (generosity, morality, and renunciation) make well-being possible, because practicing them generates self-respect and confidence. An emotional brightness can gradually replace whatever ruts we’ve gotten into. It’s not an instant fix, but it is a reliable way to undermine destructive tendencies we may be carrying. So we can always begin again by committing to generosity, morality and renunciation, in whatever situation we find ourselves.

While we’re building our capacity for generosity, morality and renunciation, our best friends are patience, truthfulness, and kindness (mettā). Patience is essential to uncover and examine our internal obstacles. We can attribute our problems to any cause we like, in ourselves or in others or in our fates, but that doesn’t help us escape or transcend them. It’s the resolve to keep looking, especially at the self-other boundary, calmly and persistently, until a new understanding dawns that shows us the way out of our personal traps.

Mettā “is not about conjuring up any great feelings of emotional warmth, but a process of staying in touch, of not blaming oneself or others, and of not going into the past to rehash old issues. The ‘staying at’ that point of the hurt, ill-will and pain then begins to carry the awareness across to compassion and transpersonal wisdom.” (Ajahn Sucitt0). We can’t make mettā happen, but we can create the conditions for letting go to happen. And where there’s letting go, mettā naturally follows.

Dāna pāramī : generosity, giving of oneself
Sīla pāramī :
virtue, morality, proper conduct
Nekkhamma pāramī :
renunciation, letting go
Paññā pāramī :
transcendental wisdom, insight
Viriya pāramī :
energy, diligence, vigour, effort
Khanti pāramī :
patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance
Sacca pāramī :
truthfulness, honesty, integrity
Adhiṭṭhāna pāramī :
determination, resolution
Mettā pāramī :
Upekkhā pāramī :
equanimity, serenity


About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
This entry was posted in Causes and results, Generosity, Harmlessness, Patience, Perfections, Sublime states. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Overcoming obstacles to mettā

  1. LG says:

    “Mettā “is not about conjuring up any great feelings of emotional warmth,”
    Thank you. I am really struggling with Metta, I don’t feel fuzzy and warm inside with anyone, including myself, like I thought Metta was supposed to be. So, I keep thinking I have no kindness in me.
    I am still not sure what Metta is. But it is good to know that it is not about conjuring emotional warmth.

    • lynnjkelly says:

      Hello Lakshmi,
      Ajahn Sumedho says that mettā is simply non-aversion. So you could ask yourself whether you are currently, right now, experiencing aversion. If yes, investigate to see if you can discover what feeling or thought you’re resisting. If you can’t discover any feeling of aversion, congratulations! You are experiencing mettā. It may seem unspectacular or even boring, but that’s all it is: a restful, non-agitated state. If we abide in this state, we’ll start to recognize that we’re not pushing against anyone or anything, we’re accepting all of it.

      I hope this helps.


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