Mettā : Loving-kindness

Just as with her own life
A mother shields from hurt
Her own son, her only child,
Let all-embracing thoughts
For all beings be yours.

Karaniya Metta Sutta

The practice of Mettā is, as I understand it, one of the fundamental components to the attainment of any measure of real peace in life. One who does not practice loving-kindness toward other beings will undoubtedly have a mind frustrated by the actions of others. This seems to originate with one’s own delusion that others should act in ways that one thinks is best without consideration for the desires and proclivities of others.

In other words, I think in failing to practice Mettā, we often superimpose our desires on others. This is, in effect, a form of subjugation, and causes suffering for both us and others.

The word Mettā also brings with it ideas of compassion, benevolence, and goodwill. Some of us find these concepts harder to apply than others, especially toward animals (insects) or people who commit terrible acts, but in all cases the Buddha most certainly implores us to avoid a mind of ill-will and negativity.

“Monks, even if bandits were to carve you up savagely, limb by limb, with a two-handled saw, he among you who let his heart get angered even at that would not be doing my bidding. Even then you should train yourselves: ‘Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. We will remain sympathetic, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate. We will keep pervading these people with an awareness imbued with good will and, beginning with them, we will keep pervading the all-encompassing world with an awareness imbued with good will — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.’ That’s how you should train yourselves.

Kakacupama Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 21

Mettā is ultimately the desire to benefit other beings without any possibility of that benefit being returned, completely unselfishly.

All of this can be practiced daily in a number of ways — a couple of examples in my practice:

… Friendliness to other drivers when I’m driving down the highway in traffic as I give them space to maneuver as opposed to forcing them to cut me off (as I have realized they invariably will) and I wish them safe travels.

… Amiability in greeting coworkers (hands raised in anjali) regardless of my mood (or theirs). Taking criticism of my work in the correct way– not responding to the person who offers the criticism, but to the situation (and doing so mindfully and with compassion).

… Having a compassionate attitude toward insects and other creepy-crawlies that occasionally get into my home and try to remove them gently and without harm, or learn to live harmoniously with them when possible.

I’m sure we can all think of more examples of practicing Mettā as opposed to responding to other beings in irritation or with expectations, but I will let you get creative on that on your own.

I’d like to suggest you read the complete text of the Karaniya Metta Sutta when you have a moment (there are a couple of slightly different renderings available via that link). For further reading, Acharya Buddharakkhita’s article Metta: The Philosophy and Practice of Universal Love offers an great teaching on the subject — the likes of which I can’t begin to write on my own.

May you always be well and your practice be fruitful!

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