2021-06-10 Mettā Sutta (4 of 5) Cultivating a Boundless Heart
10:04PM Jun 11, 2021
This is the fourth talk on the mettā sutta, the discourse on loving kindness. In the first talk, I said I was dividing it into four parts. Maybe we are, but I will do five talks. The next section is about the cultivation of loving kindness.
First in the sutta are the wholesome qualities of heart and mind that we cultivate on the path to liberation. Next is the wish – it does not have to be in these words – for all beings to be happy and safe.
The next section gets to the bottom of work with our aversion, anger and resentments. These limit us. These narrow the scope of the mind and awareness. They involve a preoccupation – to be angry and resentful. When we are preoccupied, there is no room for taking in the world – taking in others in an open-hearted, open-minded way.
With these as a foundation, then this discourse on loving kindness goes on to emphasize cultivating a boundless heart. Cultivating and developing, with loving kindness, an unlimited heart or mind. It is not simply having wishes, and saying phrases repeatedly. That is not really the point of loving kindness. The phrases are there to support and help – if we do them – to create an open awareness, openness of heart – an ability to be wide and include others into our awareness. Without contracting, narrowing or resisting. Without getting caught up in desires, aversions and fears.
It is a very simple state of mind that is open and available to absorb, take in and receive experience. So open, so boundless in a sense, that experience does not stick with us. It is almost like we are transparent, and things go right through us. Not because we are dismissing them. It is the limitations of the mind – the way we contract and get preoccupied – that are sticky. We get caught in the world of other people and the world of our reactions. A mind that is free is a mind that has no stickiness in it. Things are fully experienced, but they, in a sense, go through or do not stick anywhere.
This is called an unlimited mind or heart, a boundless heart and mind. This next section goes like this: (On YouTube, in the description of this episode, underneath the video, if you click on Show More, and scroll down, you will see this fourth part of the mettā sutta.) "As a mother would risk her life, to protect her child, her only child, so towards all beings, should one cultivate a boundless heart. With loving kindness for the whole world should one cultivate a boundless heart, above, below and all around without obstructions, without hate, and without ill will."
For some people, it is touching metaphor – this idea of a mother with a single child, going to the extent of protecting the child at the risk of her own life. It involves a kind of non-self preoccupation. When I was a parent of young children especially – it felt much more acute then – I did not feel so important. I was willing to put aside all kinds of personal needs. It seemed like the importance of this child – this little baby who could not take care of itself – was so much more important. There was a wonderful, healthy feeling most of the time – in giving myself over, giving myself up in a certain way, for the welfare of this other person. When it was done well, it was not because I was trying to benefit myself, but I could feel this was good. When I did it in ways that were unhealthy, then it would come back and bite me. It did not really work.
This idea of a parent protecting their child – it is not that we are supposed to risk our lives to protect all other beings, in this text at least. Rather, that letting go of self is boundless. There is lots of space – to be inclusive of others in our hearts – that we are cultivating in doing loving kindness practice. We are developing not only through loving kindness. The path of liberation is a path where the mind, the heart, as I have been saying today, is no longer limited, contracted, preoccupied. resistant, shut down, closed off. it is completely open and receptive. Like an open window, the wind can go right through. The kids' baseball – they are playing outside – will not break the glass because it just goes right through.
We cultivate that (boundless heart). Cultivate is a powerful word. It does not mean that you are supposed to do it automatically, and that you are bad if you do not. It means there is practice – you practice and practice. This is what we are working towards. The more we practice, the more we are moving in this direction, if the practice has a quality of this openness – relaxing and receptive – not getting tight and forceful – not having unwholesome movements of needing, wanting, expecting and pushing away. Rather, as we do the practice, it has a quality of opening, releasing, making more room for things.
When people become mature in Buddhist practice, their mind has lots of room for things, infinite room. Sometimes you can feel that spaciousness in others – their mind does not move as much. You do not see the mind jumping around. You do not see agitation, restlessness, deflecting or turning away. There is openness and quiet, willingness to be there, in open stillness in that maturity.
"With loving kindness for the whole world should one cultivate a boundless heart." This is the upper reaches of real loving kindness. Certainly in the privacy of our own meditation, alone, it is relatively easy to love everyone. To feel universal love is a great thing. When we run into people, work and engage with people, and share lives, the idea of loving all beings sometimes gets lost. It recedes from importance because of the drama and preoccupations, the importance, irritation and injustice of whatever is happening in the moment.
The idea of cultivating a boundless heart, with loving kindness for the whole world, is the direction we are going. To do that is not only learning how to let go a lot, but it is also learning how to be wise – have street smarts about how that is expressed and how to live in this world. It is so complicated and difficult – to live in a safe and wise way so that we can have this boundless loving kindness. We do not want to do boundless loving kindness and be naive, easily victimized by what goes on around us.
"Cultivate a boundless heart. With loving kindness for the whole world should one cultivate a boundless heart, above, below and all around, without obstruction, without hate and without ill-will." These obstructions – ways this mind is limited – the two that are big in relationship to our capacity for love are hate and ill-will. Strong words, but they can have very subtle manifestations. Sometimes it is the subtlest manifestations that are the cutting edge, the growing edge of our practice. Even the subtle ones we do not overlook. We do not say, "It does not matter." Or, "It is easier just to go ahead and do it." Even the subtlest forms of hate and ill-will – we find out how to live without these obstructions and limitations.
"Cultivating a boundless heart above, below and all around." Some people experience this as radiance, glow or warmth. Some people experience a sense of light – not really light but the clarity and openness feel like radiating light – this idea of radiance.
Loving kindness is based on an intention. That intention does not have to be a mental exercise of repeatedly saying words, "May all beings be happy." The words can be useful, but as the heart gets more and more boundless, it becomes more of a glow, clarity or openness that we can feel goes out in all directions. The attention is not focused narrowly on something, not only that. It is opened up 360 degrees, with kindness, goodwill and friendliness – a radiant glow of kindness – above, below and all around.
It is phenomenal – the human capacity to dwell in love, in goodwill, in kindness and friendliness. It is phenomenal that we can have that be the predominant mood, predominant field of attention and flow of concern. To be integrated and harmonized, with all of us centered in mettā, is a phenomenal capacity. That we should be born to have this capacity is just fantastic.
It is a capacity we can cultivate, develop and grow. Sometimes that is done intentionally – doing mettā practice. Sometimes it is a byproduct of doing mindfulness practice. As mindfulness frees us from the limitations of the mind, we can begin to recognize that in fact, living in our hearts, waiting for us, has been love and goodwill. Then it is a matter of making more space for it. Just as you make space for more people in your heart, you make more space in your heart for your love.
Thank you. We still have one more talk on this sutta tomorrow.