2021-06-08 Mettā Sutta (2 of 5) Intentions of Goodwill
10:50PM Jun 8, 2021
Continuing on this topic of the mettā sutta, the discourse on loving kindness, attributed to the Buddha. We do not know really if the Buddha wrote it or composed it, but that is the attribution of the tradition. It is a beautiful little text, series of verses, that, as I said yesterday, is considered the foundational text for loving kindness practice or living. The fundamental purpose of the text is to reach the state of peace, liberation and freedom.
To do so, it is important to develop different qualities. A lot of these can be seen as expressions of the second factor of the Eightfold Path – right intention, right resolve. This is said to be renunciation, non-ill will, and non-cruelty, non-violence. This idea in the text, in the Pali tradition, there are these negative prefixes – the not ill will, the not cruelty – it is understood that encompasses the opposite. It is not just the absence – it involves the presence of the opposite. You could say, "Why don't you say the opposite?" The reason is that the opposite of ill will, could be a range of different attitudes, not just one.
When we let go of ill will, then we are available for the range, whatever is appropriate at that time. Sometimes it might be loving kindness, compassion, or generosity. Sometimes it might be patience, equanimity or different things. We are not limited just to one, however.
In the opening of the text we talked about yesterday, all of those can be seen as expressions of renunciation, non-ill will, and non-cruelty, especially the first two. "Gentle and not proud, contented, easily supported, living lightly, with few duties" – all about renunciation, a certain kind of healthy letting go. "Wise with senses calmed, not arrogant, without greed for supporters. They should not do the least thing that the wise would criticize."
The next one describes the intention, motivations, aspiration of loving kindness. It is the heart's wish that others be happy. Here it is put in the context of reaching the state of peace. It is in the context of becoming liberated oneself, that one develops and cultivates this care and goodwill for others. If the path of liberation is only about me, myself and mine, there is no liberation. The way we close down – hold ourselves in check, gripped in our sense of self – when we are only focusing on our own practice and our own welfare – actually limits the movement towards freedom.
The next section includes a care for the others in the world – relaxing the barriers – the strong sense of separation, otherness, me-ness, me against you, it is all about me, and what is good for me. Now there is an opening, relaxing of that strong grip of self. In a relaxed, open way, having the goodwill go out and include the welfare of others as well.
The sutta goes on. First, "Those skilled in the good it should be ..." and it says these ethical things.Then it goes, they should also reflect as follows, consider as follows: "May all be happy and secure; May all beings be happy at heart. All living beings, whether weak or strong, tall, large, medium or short, tiny or big, seen or unseen, near or distant, born or to be born, may they all be happy."
It is not just a simple goodwill to the people you love. Here it is a universal goodwill – May all beings be happy. The universality of it is not easy to come to. We begin with love towards those that we care about, those for whom it is easy. The practice is to begin expanding it. What does it take to relax, open and be inclusive in our goodwill, so that we can genuinely have goodwill for the whole world?
Part of the advantage and benefit of this in meditation practice is that this frees up the restrictions on the heart – the constrictions and limitations of the heart we have by by keeping our love bounded or in check. There is something about opening up the windows of the heart completely, all the windows, so that the radiance of the heart can be in all directions, not limited by anything – an unlimited heart.
This, of course, is a large ideal. One of the things that is useful to consider is that we are talking about intention. Intentions do not necessarily mean that we feel loving. It means that we have the intention to do so. We have the desire to be loving, to have goodwill. If the requirement is to have an emotional feeling of love, that could limit and hinder a person from actually practicing it, or feeling that they are doing the practice well.
It is enough to have the intention. That is where it begins. Intention is considered a seed. You plant that seed, so something can begin to grow. Over time, something important will grow within us. Exactly what that is for any one individual, I don't want to say. For some it might be emotional. For some it has a more cognitive quality to it. It comes with understanding and ideas that are all encompassing. It does involve a releasing of clinging and self-preoccupation. It begins just by an intention.
I think it is very valuable to simply have the desire to have goodwill. Even if you do not have any goodwill, you might want to consider whether it is a good idea to have it. "Yes, I would like to have it." "I'd like to have it someday." "I wish I could do it." Rather than berating oneself or diminishing the value of that, because it is just a desire, we can't actually have the goodwill. The idea is to celebrate, appreciate – the desire is actually quite phenomenal. Remember desires, intentions are an important part of human life. When we have wholesome desires, it is good to appreciate that, especially if the alternative is unwholesome desires.
The desire to have goodwill is enough in itself. It is a beginning. Appreciate that and and then maybe give it voice. One of the ways that loving kindness is practiced is in one's own mind. Maybe quietly giving voice to it – saying words that express it. There is something about giving voice that is good for the heart. If you are driving a car or if you are alone some time, you might try speaking out loud expressions of goodwill, maybe very personal expressions of it. Goodwill that you have for others or for all beings. Or do it with classic phrases or these phrases from this mettā sutta.
"May all be happy and secure." "May all be happy and safe." "May all beings be happy at heart." All is really emphasized here. The all-encompassing nature is in all directions, no limitations to your goodwill. "All living beings, whether weak or strong, tall, large, medium or short, tiny or big, seen or unseen, near or distant, born or to be born, may they all be happy." This is not just human beings. I think "tiny and big" and all that means the smallest little creatures to the largest. "Seen and unseen" does not just mean the people you do not see, but even the bacteria, the insects that are so small, you do not see them.
This all encompassing nature of goodwill – what does it take to do that? It takes intentionality and some desire. We have to appreciate that desire has an important role in our life. Learn how to be wise with desires. Desires are wholesome and beneficial. We do not succumb to the limitations of expectation and demand, success and failure. We do not hijack the desire with clinging, craving, grasping, and compulsive desire. Rather an open handed, free, generosity of heart, where we wish well for people. We wish for their welfare.
It does not have to be publicly known. Some people are afraid to develop goodwill, or have this intention, because if people know about it, they will be taken advantage of. Or it is embarrassing or awkward. This goodwill we are cultivating does not have to be publicly known. It can be your secret – that you are sitting there, wishing for the welfare of people who are angry or annoyed with you, wishing they can be happy. It might be wholesome enough to wish their welfare and happiness, because if they are happy, they probably would not be so mean to you. They would be in a lot better shape.
These beautiful words, "May all be happy and secure. May all beings be happy at heart." How can those words be intentions, desires or aspirations that live in you in a way that has integrity? A way that comes out of you, flows out of you, and is valuable for you? There are many ways to answer that question. One of the ways that comes out of meditation is to have a non-claustrophobic mind. To have a mind that is not so busy with thoughts and desires, ill wills, annoyances and fantasies. There is no room for the quieter emotions – the emotions of goodwill, love and kindness. To live a calm life can make room for frequent connection to the intention, the desire for goodwill.
May you explore this, this next day. Maybe by repeating phrases to yourself and seeing what it brings up for you in your heart, mind and body. Just repeat to yourself the phrases "May all be happy and secure. May all beings be happy at heart." You do not have to even feel any goodwill saying them. What happens to you if you make those a mantra for the day? Just keep coming back to them and living with them. What do you learn about yourself? What do you learn about your heart in doing so?
Thank you. There is a copy of my translation of the mettā sutta in the IMC website on the homepage. In the bottom right hand corner, there is a section called What's New and in this section, there is a line that says Reflections from Gil and there you will find the discourse on loving kindness.
Thank you and I look forward to continuing tomorrow.