|Forest Sangha Newsletter||October 1997|
Universal Loving Kindness
Generosity is, of itself, better than mean-heartedness. There is a joyfulness to it, for sharing brings gladness into our lives.
... Where we can get confused is that we have idealistic concepts of what we
should be: "I shouldn't want to get my own back, I shouldn't have vengeful
feelings for victimisers. Ajahn Sumedho says I should have metta for them!"
Then we might feel, "No, I can't, it's too hard. I can have metta for
everyone else, but not that person. He's totally hateful." But we can have
metta for that very feeling - an attitude of kindness rather than criticism.
We know it for what it is, we don't indulge it or repress it, we are simply
patient with that particular state as it is in the present moment.
o o o 0 o o o
... The basic pattern of Theravadan Buddhist practice is dana, sila, bhavana - generosity, morality and meditation. Dana means simply to be a generous person, not selfish, able to share what one has with others; that is the basis for being a good human being. Generosity is highly developed in countries such as Thailand, and in general Thai people like themselves rather than hating themselves, as many of us do in the West. Generosity is, of itself, better than mean-heartedness. There is a joyfulness to it, for sharing brings gladness into our lives. With sila, morality, there are precepts to be kept, actions to refrain from; as we practise this we learn to take responsibility for our actions and speech. The two together, dana and sila, bring us a sense of self-respect. Then there is meditation, bhavana, through which we begin to relinquish all the delusions we have about 'self'. The whole process is one of purification.
... So as we meditate, we can even be glad when unpleasant states keep coming up! By having metta for these wretched creatures we lock away inside us, we're opening the door of the prison. We're letting them go, but it's out of compassion rather than the desire to be rid of them. If we contemplate it in this way, these things can be borne, because we are looking at them with wisdom, rather than seeing them as 'me' and 'my problems'. As long as they are 'mine', I can only hate myself for thinking or feeling that way.
... We are not trying to say it's something it is not, but with metta we allow it to be. We're willing to be with it and, as its nature is impermanent, it does not stay. In that willingness to let things be what they are we liberate ourselves from them. What is more, as we become increasingly skilful at releasing these habits, there is a sense of lightness, because the heart isn't burdened by guilt, dislike, blame and all the rest.
... In the Western world, especially, it is very important to develop this
attitude of patience and non-aversion to everything about ourselves: our
fears and desires, our emotional habits, our sicknesses, our physical aches
and pains; to all the mental and physical phenomena we experience; to
arthritis, cancer, crumbling bones, old age, all the rest of it. This doesn't
mean we don't try to heal the body. To do so comes quite naturally, and we do
the best we can. Trying to make the body feel well can be a loving-kindness
towards it. But to hate the body because it's sick or painful or old leads to
misery, and is an obstruction to spiritual development.
... Practice is always in the present. Noting our experience, seeing it clearly, is in the present; we begin where we are now. We need to trust more in liberation in the present.
... By reminding ourselves to have metta for the feelings we experience Ė not thinking about them or analysing them but going to the place in the body itself, to the mental quality, really embracing that - really being willing to feel those particular emotions, they become bearable. By changing our attitude to one of acceptance rather than of rejection, to interest, rather than just wanting to get rid of them, we find that they are things we can tolerate. Then they cease on their own, for all conditions are impermanent.
... It is question of changing our attitude from, "I don't like this in myself, I want to get rid of it", to, "Oh, so this is what I'm feeling..." and having patience and a willingness to experience what is, in the present moment. This willingness to feel jealousy or anxiety enables us to take an interest in it as experience - because that which is aware is not worried, is not angry, is not the condition that is present. We start to develop confidence in this state of pure awareness. Through that patient attitude the conditioned realm stops being an endless struggle to control or get rid of things. More and more there is a sense of resting in the silence of the mind in that pure state of being in the present.
... In terms of Dhamma, it isn't a question of justifying our own weaknesses,
it isn't some kind of cop-out. It is understanding that this is the nature of
humanity, it is how things are. We are not ideals. Ideals are static, pure,
unchanging, and yet we hold to them as how things should be, and despise
ourselves because we can't be an ideal! But when we contemplate ourselves in
terms of Dhamma we see that the body, the feelings, the consciousness, are
constantly changing. We have so many things to deal with: first there are the
instinctual drives of our basic animal nature - the need for food, for
survival, and so forth - then our whole emotional range, and all the
different things that have happened to us or that we've done. We tend to be
so involved with life and to interpret it all in a very personal way. Sexual
desire, for instance, becomes a personal problem rather than a natural energy
which comes simply from having a body.
... But the natural state of the body is not that of some cold, sculpted piece of marble that holds its beauty under all conditions. It's soft, with blood coursing through it, it has nerves and various bodily functions, and we have to live with it. We have to bear the changing and ageing of this body and of the world around us. That is why meditating on impermanence helps us to break out of the assumption that somehow things should be fixed in an ideal state.
... Through seeing the impermanence in things, understanding that in this realm there can be no such thing as perfection, we begin to realise we don't have to waste our time on trying to control life, to force it to fit our fixed ideas. To attempt to do that is exhausting and debilitating. When we realise there is no need to do it, and begin to have this sense of flowing with life, then we feel, "This is my path, these conditions I experience are my kamma, and I'll work with them", rather than thinking, "Oh these conditions shouldn't be happening, I shouldn't have them. They're an obstruction to my path."