Mettā in practice

Many Mahayana Buddhist chants include the blessing: “May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.” While we may not find these precise words in the Pali canon, it is an idea that permeates the Buddha’s teachings. We must each cultivate our own wisdom and our own happiness.

How can we develop a feeling of goodwill towards ALL beings? Especially for those of us inclined towards aversion, it can be difficult to locate even a seed of mettā in our hearts. Ajahn Sumedho has helped us out here by re-defining mettā as “dwelling in non-aversion”. This is a wonderful trick of the mind; if we eliminate negative thoughts towards other beings or situations, then what do you suppose is left in its place? Mettā! We can test this in our experience. If we let go of critical and complaining thoughts, a feeling of kindness naturally replaces them. Of course this is easy to do for the people we love, and harder with the people we don’t love; sometimes it’s not so easy to feel kindness towards ourselves.

From Thanissaro Bhikkhu:

Notice that you practice developing these attitudes toward all beings—including yourself. It’s easy to feel goodwill, for example, for those you like, or equanimity toward those who have no connection to you. But it requires a conscious effort to be able to maintain these attitudes toward anyone and everyone. It’s not the case that the brahmavihāras are the heart’s innate nature. After all, their opposites can come just as naturally to the heart. It’s just as easy to feel ill will for those who have betrayed you or your loved ones as it is to feel goodwill for those who behave in ways you like.

… So you extend goodwill to all, regardless of whether they “deserve” to be happy. Remember the example of the Buddha, who taught the way to the end of suffering to all beings, regardless of whether they “deserved” to suffer or not.

… You’re thinking, “May you understand the causes for true happiness and be willing and able to act on them.” This is an attitude you can extend to all beings, without hypocrisy, regardless of how they’ve behaved in the past.

Like all practices that lead to wisdom, it takes effort to cultivate an unstinting mettā towards all beings everywhere. However, as with any skill, persistence – a willingness to try again – is what brings results. We may think that developing the universal attitudes of unbounded kindness and its corollaries is much less important than cultivating wisdom, but in the end we discover that you can’t have one without the other. Wisdom and mettā  support each other.

About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
This entry was posted in Causes and results, Karma, Mindfulness, Patience, Sublime states, Wisdom and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Mettā in practice

  1. Martha Copithorne says:

    Perfect message for me today. Thanks

  2. Bill Crane says:

    Thanks so much Lynn! As always, your words are thoughtful and wise. A great way to begin the day. Bill C

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s