2020-12-11 Brahmavihāras Loving-Kindness (5 of 5)
5:54PM Dec 11, 2020
We come now to the last talk on mettā – the brahmavihāra of mettā. When the brahmavihāra of mettā becomes strong, it's said to be immeasurable, without boundaries, limitless, spreading out in all directions.
We find in the teachings of the Buddha that he held loving-kindness up as a very important way to live a life. It's a reference point or a teacher that helps us to be kind and to have goodwill in our speech and our interactions with other people. If we have to have difficult words with someone, the Buddha said, first, make sure you have goodwill in yourself. Prepare yourself for that, and have goodwill for the conversation.
And if there's no goodwill, then that becomes your teacher. That becomes the material for mindfulness and really seeing what's going on there. Chances are, if there's no goodwill, you're not really granting other people their freedom – giving them their freedom. I like to think the freedom Buddhism champions – the liberation Buddhism is about – is less your liberation – that you become liberated – and more that you give liberation to all things. All things now become free of you.
So, freedom, goodwill – cultivating goodwill – is very helpful. It's healing. It's developing. It's a wonderful way to develop a non-striving, non-conceited approach to doing mindfulness practice, meditation, developing concentration and mindfulness in a field of goodwill, and to having that as a background.
And as marvelous as goodwill is, as strong as it can become, it is also associated with the Buddhist path of liberation. There are a variety of steps along the way as mettā practice deepens. Liberation is part of it. A point emphasized by the Buddha is that when one's goodwill is strong, one is liberated from ill will. When goodwill is strong, there is no ill will, so there's no hostility.
The Buddha actually says it's not possible to have any ill will, aversion, or hostility, if there is mettā. Cultivating and developing mettā – getting the hang of it, understanding it and having it accessible – helps us be free of ill will. The idea is to make it accessible. Become familiar with it. Develop it as a habit. Practice it, develop it, and think about it, so that when you need it, it's available. You know how to find it in yourself, evoking it in a genuine way – a way that really has integrity, not something that's just a surface coating of ourselves.
As mettā meditation – if we to do it as a practice – deepens, then at some point, a person (like with any good meditation practice) becomes liberated. They are freed from the hindrances. This is really appreciated in the tradition – so much so that it's called a kind of preliminary liberation – to no longer be caught in the hindrances. It means that the mind is no longer under the sway of desires, aversions, sloth and torpor, restlessness and regrets, and doubt. To have the mind no longer under the sway – no longer under the power – of those is a phenomenally wonderful way of being. It clears the heart. It clears the mind. Then, loving-kindness has a clear field to develop. Now it can develop much more uninterruptedly. And it can deepen and deepen. As a meditation practice, it can become boundless (as I read yesterday) in all directions.
When loving-kindness becomes quite strong – becomes all-pervasive, filling us – this is not ultimate. This is not the end of the path in Buddhism. So it's important, if you want to do the Buddhist path to liberation, to not take experiences of boundless love as ultimate. Some people have wonderful feelings of love, goodwill, or kindness, which have no object but seem to radiate in all directions. It seems as if everything's touched – like Midas's touch. Everything is touched with our goodwill, love or kindness. It's sometimes – in the tradition – called wet love, moist love. Everything gets moistened by our goodwill and kindness.
But to go further, loving-kindness practice – when done well and strongly – can be a foundation for liberation itself. So don't stop there. Go further. There's a story in the ancient texts of a disciple of the Buddha, Sariputta, visiting a man who was dying. He taught him the practice of the brahmavihāras – to practice these. The man was able to practice them quite deeply. He was able to die in a beautiful state of one of the brahmavihāras – goodwill or compassion. When the Buddha heard about this, he told Sariputta something like: "Well, that was nice. But actually, why didn't you teach him liberation as well, because that man was poised, ready to really set his mind free?"
It's possible to do loving-kindness, and then go one step further – really do the ultimate act of kindness for oneself or for the world. And that is to really let go and be liberated in a very deep way. It's a letting go of every remnant, every trace, every foundation within us, of the forces that lead to suffering. Letting go of clinging makes room for love – more love. And the fundamental letting go – liberation – is letting go of clinging. Without clinging, what is there? What's available? What sensitivity is there? What receptivity? What feelings and connection do we have to the world?
To use loving-kindness as a basis for liberation requires a variety of insights. One of the insights is when the mind is very, very still, abiding in love. Imagine that! Everything the minds feels, touches, and experiences is touched with a kind of love everywhere. It characterizes the mind. It's very stable, but then there's the insight that this also is conditioned. This also is, in a certain way, constructed. Don't make it the absolute, like: "This is the nature of the universe. This is the nature of the cosmos, that everything is love." It can feel that way. But in Buddhist meditation, we don't want to end there. We can see that, "Oh. This too, in some deep way, is a construct, a movement of the mind, an activity of the mind – to experience this, to have it this way." And seeing it as being a construct, impermanent, inconstant – seeing that there's something beyond it, between it, or underneath it – something which has vast space – is where the deep letting go of clinging can happen.
In doing that, have some sense, that there is something more. As profound, ultimate, as great love can be – in deep meditation practice, very stable – there comes an intuition, a sense that there's something else. There is freedom. And that freedom is not a thing. It's the absence of clinging. To be there in this tremendously pleasant, enjoyable, safe, satisfying, and healing place of love, and then understand that, "Oh. I can let go further. That whatever sense of self I have – the one who loves – that's not quite the end of the path. There's something beyond that sense if I just put that down and have no self-referencing. If I lessen leaning into it and wanting it, letting go, there's something more beyond love."
In a certain way, even love drops away completely. Goodwill – this boundless field – drops away in liberation. The place of radical non-clinging is one of the safest, most wonderful and peaceful places a person can ever experience. It's the culmination of a wish to be free of suffering. If we know that freedom, and to come back to it without clinging, then the goodwill we've been cultivating and developing can feel connected to others, open to others, can have love for others, compassion and goodwill. There's no need, no desire to cling. No need to get something back from someone else, rely on other people for our safety, security, status, admiration, sense of worth, satisfaction, or pleasure. Then love's a beautiful thing. We can offer our love to the world. And the love is safe. People are free from us in our love. And it's a fantastic thing to be able to love. The love itself carries with it the gift of freedom, where everyone becomes free of us.
It's a deep interconnection, without any need. Then people can be as they are. And if they become free, as I said earlier, one of the really wonderful things is that two free people meet in love, goodwill, and kindness. Neither one needs something from the other, but each one is able to delight in and enjoy each other and the goodwill between them.
So thank you. That's our week on mettā and loving-kindness. On Monday, we'll begin with the next brahmavihāra, which is karuṇā – compassion. I wish you all well. May you spend this weekend reflecting, thinking, talking about, and practicing with loving-kindness and goodwill wherever you go.