Loving Kindness (metta)
In English the word ‘love’ often refers to ‘something that I like’. For example, ‘l love sticky rice’, ‘I love sweet mango’. We really mean we like it. Liking is being attached to something such as food which we really like or enjoy eating. We don’t love it. Metta means you love your enemy; it doesn’t mean you like your enemy. If somebody wants to kill you and you say, ‘I like them’, that is silly! But we can love them, meaning that we can refrain from unpleasant thoughts and vindictiveness, from any desire to hurt them or annihilate them. Even though you might not like them – they are miserable, wretched people — you can still be kind, generous and charitable towards them. If some drunk came into this room who was foul and disgusting, ugly and diseased, and there was nothing one could be attracted to in him — to say, ‘I like this man’ would be ridiculous. But one could love him, not dwell in aversion, not be caught up in reactions to his unpleasantness. That’s what we mean by metta.
Sometimes there are things one doesn’t like about oneself, but metta means not being caught up in the thoughts we have, the attitudes, the problems, the thoughts and feelings of the mind. So it becomes an immediate practice of being very mindful. To be mindful means to have metta towards the fear in your mind, or the anger, or the jealousy. Metta means not creating problems around existing conditions, allowing them to fade away, to cease. For example, when fear comes up in your mind, you can have metta for the fear – meaning that you don’t build up aversion to it, you can just accept its presence and allow it to cease. You can also minimize the fear by recognizing that it is the same kind of fear that everyone has, that animals have. It’s not my fear, it’s not a person’s, it’s an impersonal fear. We begin to have compassion for other beings when we understand the suffering involved in reacting to fear in our own lives – the pain, the physical pain of being kicked, when somebody kicks you. That kind of pain is exactly the same kind of pain that a dog feels when he’s being kicked, so you can have metta for the pain, meaning a kindness and a patience of not dwelling in aversion. We can work with metta internally, with all our emotional problems: you think, ‘I want to get rid of it, it’s terrible.’ That’s a lack of metta for yourself, isn’t it? Recognize the desire-to-get-rid-of! Don’t dwell in aversion on existing emotional conditions. You don’t have to pretend to feel approval towards your faults. You don’t think, ‘I like my faults.’ Some people are foolish enough to say, ‘My faults make me interesting. I’m a fascinating personality because of my weaknesses.’ Metta is not conditioning yourself to believe that you like something that you don’t like at all, it is just not dwelling in aversion. It’s easy to feel metta towards something you like – pretty little children, good looking people, pleasant mannered people, little puppies, beautiful flowers – we can feel metta for ourselves when we’re feeling good: ‘I am feeling happy with myself now.’ When things are going well it’s easy to feel kind towards that which is good and pretty and beautiful. At this point we can get lost. metta isn’t just good wishes, lovely sentiments, high-minded thoughts, it’s always very practical.
If you’re being very idealistic, and you hate someone, then you feel, ‘I shouldn’t hate anyone. Buddhists should have metta for all living beings. I should love everybody. If I’m a good Buddhist then I should like everybody.’ All that comes from impractical idealism. Have metta for the aversion you feel, for the pettiness of the mind, the jealousy, envy – meaning peacefully co-existing, not creating problems, not making it difficult nor creating problems out of the difficulties that arise in life, within our minds and bodies.
Written by – Ajahn Sumedho