|Forest SanghaNewsletter||October 1997|
Universal Loving Kindness
Generosity is, of itself, better than mean-heartedness. There is a joyfulnessto it, for sharing brings gladness into our lives.
|... Where we can get confused is that we have idealistic concepts of what weshould be: "I shouldn't want to get my own back, I shouldn't have vengefulfeelings 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 foreveryone else, but not that person. He's totally hateful." But we can havemetta 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 simplypatient with that particular state as it is in the present moment.|
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... The basic pattern of Theravadan Buddhist practice is dana, sila,bhavana - generosity, morality and meditation. Dana means simply to be agenerous person, not selfish, able to share what one has with others; that isthe basis for being a good human being. Generosity is highly developed incountries such as Thailand, and in general Thai people like themselves ratherthan hating themselves, as many of us do in the West. Generosity is, ofitself, better than mean-heartedness. There is a joyfulness to it, forsharing brings gladness into our lives. With sila, morality, there areprecepts to be kept, actions to refrain from; as we practise this we learn totake responsibility for our actions and speech. The two together, dana andsila, 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 stateskeep coming up! By having metta for these wretched creatures we lock awayinside us, we're opening the door of the prison. We're letting them go, butit's out of compassion rather than the desire to be rid of them. If wecontemplate it in this way, these things can be borne, because we are lookingat them with wisdom, rather than seeing them as 'me' and 'my problems'. Aslong as they are 'mine', I can only hate myself for thinking or feeling thatway.
... We are not trying to say it's something it is not, but with mettawe allow it to be. We're willing to be with it and, as its nature isimpermanent, it does not stay. In that willingness to let things be what theyare we liberate ourselves from them. What is more, as we become increasinglyskilful at releasing these habits, there is a sense of lightness, because theheart isn't burdened by guilt, dislike, blame and all the rest.
|... In the Western world, especially, it is very important to develop thisattitude of patience and non-aversion to everything about ourselves: ourfears and desires, our emotional habits, our sicknesses, our physical achesand pains; to all the mental and physical phenomena we experience; toarthritis, cancer, crumbling bones, old age, all the rest of it. This doesn'tmean we don't try to heal the body. To do so comes quite naturally, and we dothe best we can. Trying to make the body feel well can be a loving-kindnesstowards it. But to hate the body because it's sick or painful or old leads tomisery, and is an obstruction to spiritual development.|
... Practice is always in the present. Noting our experience, seeingit clearly, is in the present; we begin where we are now. We need to trustmore in liberation in the present.
... By reminding ourselves to have metta for the feelings weexperience Ė not thinking about them or analysing them but going to the placein the body itself, to the mental quality, really embracing that - reallybeing willing to feel those particular emotions, they become bearable. Bychanging our attitude to one of acceptance rather than of rejection, tointerest, rather than just wanting to get rid of them, we find that they arethings we can tolerate. Then they cease on their own, for all conditions areimpermanent.
... It is question of changing our attitude from, "I don't like thisin 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 presentmoment. This willingness to feel jealousy or anxiety enables us to take aninterest in it as experience - because that which is aware is not worried, isnot angry, is not the condition that is present. We start to developconfidence in this state of pure awareness. Through that patient attitude theconditioned realm stops being an endless struggle to control or get rid ofthings. More and more there is a sense of resting in the silence of the mindin 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 ofhumanity, 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 despiseourselves because we can't be an ideal! But when we contemplate ourselves interms of Dhamma we see that the body, the feelings, the consciousness, areconstantly changing. We have so many things to deal with: first there are theinstinctual drives of our basic animal nature - the need for food, forsurvival, and so forth - then our whole emotional range, and all thedifferent things that have happened to us or that we've done. We tend to beso involved with life and to interpret it all in a very personal way. Sexualdesire, for instance, becomes a personal problem rather than a natural energywhich 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'ssoft, with blood coursing through it, it has nerves and various bodilyfunctions, and we have to live with it. We have to bear the changing andageing of this body and of the world around us. That is why meditating onimpermanence helps us to break out of the assumption that somehow thingsshould be fixed in an ideal state.
... Through seeing the impermanence in things, understanding that inthis realm there can be no such thing as perfection, we begin to realise wedon't have to waste our time on trying to control life, to force it to fitour fixed ideas. To attempt to do that is exhausting and debilitating. Whenwe realise there is no need to do it, and begin to have this sense of flowingwith life, then we feel, "This is my path, these conditions I experience aremy kamma, and I'll work with them", rather than thinking, "Oh theseconditions shouldn't be happening, I shouldn't have them. They're anobstruction to my path."