2021-06-11 Mettā Sutta (5 of 5) Breathing Room for the Good Heart
10:03PM Jun 11, 2021
We have come to the fifth talk on the mettā sutta. On Monday I said there would be four parts, but because of the five-part week, I divided it into five parts. We have come to the last part. It should be there on the YouTube description underneath, if you want to read along with me. Also you can find my translation of this sutta on the homepage for IMC's website, under Reflections from Gil in the bottom right-hand corner.
Let me read you the last section. The previous section talks about cultivating loving kindness – mettā, goodwill – in a boundless, unlimited way. Meaning it is not held in check or restricted by any attachments, hostility, greed, or any way by which we define and limit ourselves. There is an openness and freedom with which this goodwill, this good heart, can radiate.
It says, "Standing or walking, sitting or lying down, as long as one is alert, may one remain with this recollection," (with this perspective). "This is called a sublime abiding here and now." This is a sublime abiding here and now. Abiding means a way of living, of existing. Whether we are sitting quietly in meditation, or we are going about our life, there is a sense that we are resting in a lot of goodness. We are resting, in the case of loving kindness, resting in loving kindness, resting in goodwill. In a sense, it is like a disposition. It is like an attitude that just comes along with us, as opposed to something we keep practicing.
For it to be that way – whether we are standing, walking, sitting or lying down, whatever we are doing when we are awake during the day – it is imperative not to be caught up in our thoughts – ruminating, lost in preoccupations, involved in resentments, annoyances, and complaints about everything that is wrong. In particular, not to be caught up and involved with negative self-thinking.
A lot of what Buddhism focuses on is the absence of anything unwholesome in the mind, in the heart. One of the descriptions of the ultimate goal in Buddhism is to be free of greed, hatred, and delusion. We realize that hatred, delusion and greed can be embedded very subtly in us. Some people say, "Well, being free of greed, hate and delusion is not good enough. We should have a greater goal, like for example, love."
It is pretty wonderful to be free of greed, hate and delusion. Greed, hate and delusion cause a lot of harm to ourselves and others. To simply be free of these things – be free of any negative self-thinking; be free of any hostility towards oneself, any criticalness; and be free of any idea that you are anything less than beautiful. There was a song about 30 years ago with lyrics, "How could anyone ever tell you, you were anything less than beautiful? How could anyone ever tell you, you were less than whole?" Some people tell themselves that.
At a minimum, what we are trying to do in Buddhist practice, is to free ourselves from that. To have an experience of ourselves without negative self-thinking. And to feel confident that it is okay to do so. There is no authority hanging over us, telling us that we are wrong, bad, somehow less than or unacceptable in some way. To let go of all this negative self-talk. To let go of all the ideas that only if I have more will I be happy. Only if I have more will I be respected – people will love me or something.
Greed is also a way of limiting this good heart. How could anyone ever tell you that you need more to be beautiful? How could anyone ever tell you that you need more in order to be whole? Your wholeness and your beauty do not depend on getting more things and having more experiences. It is already here, waiting for us. To rest in that. Find that attitude and trust that. Live that in our lives. Carry it with us. Remember it. To remember to have a kind regard, as we go through life.
This is what the text is saying. It goes on to say, "Whoever is virtuous, endowed with vision, not taken by views, and having overcome all greed for sensual pleasure." (I'll read the last line later.) "Virtuous" – is to not be caught in the constrictions of unwholesomeness. Not caught in meanness and hostility towards anyone, or greed in relationship to other people. It is living from a very different place than from greed, hatred, and delusion.
"Endowed with vision" – to be quiet, still and calm enough to see clearly. We cannot see clearly when we are agitated and spinning, with thoughts jumping from one to the other, and jumping to conclusions. "Endowed with vision" – to be able to see well what is going on here.
"Not taken by views," means not to be involved in fixed views – not to be attached to a particular view. There are views, ideas and opinions that have some value. Interpretations that have some value. When we hold on to them tightly – insisting that we are right, this is the right way – it tends to cause harm to self and others. Buddhism puts a tremendous emphasis on not holding on to fixed views. Being fluid and relaxed, flexible with things. Not insisting always that our views have to be hammered into other people.
"Overcoming all greed for sensual pleasure." These together are a high level of maturity in Buddhist practice. This is talking about where Buddhist practice is meant to go, to evolve and drop into. "To be virtuous," "endowed with vision," "not taken by views" and "overcoming all greed for sensual pleasures." Sensual pleasures are okay – it is the greed that is the problem.
If you do all those things, the text says, "One will not be reborn again." This is a code expression – not being reborn again – for a heart that is liberated. The theory goes that when you die, the heart/mind that has no clinging, grasping, and attachment will not reach out and grab on to the next life. Without that attachment, that greed, we allow, what in Buddhism is considered a beautiful thing – freedom – to be the end result of life. At the end of life we let go into freedom. We have done enough grasping in our life. To come back and grasp more is not considered ideal in Buddhism.
I tend to interpret this stuff about rebirth, as being how we are born and reborn, moment by moment, day by day. When we are no longer reborn in this moment to moment way, then we live in freedom. We also live in love, goodwill and mettā. One of the great things about liberation – it releases and frees up the goodness of the heart that we all have – the goodwill, compassion and care we have there for fellow humans and other living beings on this planet. Maybe even care for the planet itself.
We see in the ancient texts, teachings of the Buddha, that with liberation comes easy access to all four of the brahmavihārās – to mettā, karuṇā, muditā, upekkhā – loving kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity. These things, in a sense, live in us. They get revealed, they have a chance, when we have let go of all the things that get in the way. Some of the things that get in the way are not believing in ourselves, not trusting and valuing the goodness of our own heart, and allowing other things to seem much more important.
I would like to say that the good heart you have is probably the most important wealth, the most important asset you have. Stay close to it. Protect it. Allow it to grow. So much goodness, so much wonderfulness comes, when the good heart has breathing room to be part of our lives.
When we lose contact with that good heart, then in a Buddhist perspective, we are impoverished. No amount of wealth, defensiveness and acquisition will ever be enough to fulfill us. We are fulfilled from the inside out, when we relax, open and provide breathing room for our good heart.
So the mettā sutta, the discourse on loving kindness – I hope my spending this week with it is a nice thing. It is a wonderful text. You might consider memorizing it.
It is said in Buddhism that it is one of the protective chants. If you say them to yourself, they protect you. The loving kindness one in particular, is a protective chant – probably it protects you most from yourself. That is probably where we need the most protection. Also who knows what a wonderful field of goodwill it helps create when we chant that text. It may protect us from others as well.
I certainly encourage you to memorize it and recite it to yourself. May you be happy and well and appreciate yourself. Thank you