We continue with a series of talks on the mettā sutta, the discourse on loving kindness. I am doing it this week by dividing the text into four parts. This next part is the shortest part of the text.
The classic instructions for loving kindness practice are found in a fifth century meditation manual by a teacher named Buddhaghosa. It is a big book called The Path Of Purification. The modern practice of loving kindness, the most common way to practice, comes from this particular book. It is a manual on meditation.
The ninth chapter of the book is about the brahmavihārā meditations – the meditations of loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. The longest discussion is about the first one, loving kindness. In the section about loving kindness, most of the section, many pages, has to do with overcoming resentment and anger. One of the biggest obstacles for loving kindness is to have resentment or anger towards someone – then it is hard to have kindness or goodwill towards them. So the section is a treatise or instructions on overcoming anger more than it is teachings on loving kindness.
In the mettā sutta, this next part is about that, but it is only four lines. This time, I think I have succeeded in posting this part of the mettā sutta in the YouTube page where it gives a description of what we are doing, underneath the video. If you click on Show More, I think it will show it to you. At the bottom of that is: "Let no one deceive another, or despise anyone, anywhere. Let no one through anger or aversion, wish for others to suffer."
Here we have a call to put aside anything that gets in the way of goodwill. This text is not only about loving kindness. It is about the path to liberation, through loving kindness. The path of liberation cannot be found in being angry, despising or having aversion towards anyone – especially if there is a wish for them to suffer – a certain kind of hostility.
That feeling, that attitude goes against the grain of liberation. It involves getting unliberated. It involves getting entangled, in bondage, caught, and not free, if we are caught in resentment or anger. It is not necessarily all anger. Rather any anger that involves hostility or ill will towards someone, wishing others to suffer.
In this classic text on loving kindness, a big section is about overcoming anger and resentment. It is fun to read because he gives instructions about what you can do and then says, "Well, if that doesn't work, then try this." Then he says, "If that doesn't work, try this. If that doesn't work, try this." He goes through a whole series of options. Finally, as the last one, "If nothing else works," he says, "Get involved in the practice of gift giving. Either give the person that you are angry or hostile with a gift or allow them to give a gift to you." Either direction, whatever is happening or easy.
That is the final, the last resort for overcoming anger and resentment. I do not know why it has to be last, why not first? But anyway, it is the last one. In between there are things like drumming up loving kindness for them, or thinking about the good qualities that person has. Or thinking about how when there is anger and resentment, the person who has the anger and resentment is harming themselves. Literally it says causing damage to oneself that the enemy cannot create. Others can cause us harm in variety of ways, but only we get into the deepest parts of our heart and mind. In this ancient text, it is only you who can do that by having anger or resentment.
There are all these things to do. Maybe each of you has your own effective, skillful and respectful ways of working with anger, resentments, aversion and hostility. I think of these states of mind as well worth respecting. To not have an automatic hostility towards our hostility, or automatic aversion to aversion or ill will. But to understand and have respect for them. Sometimes we respect things that are dangerous. These states are dangerous. We respect them partly because of their danger. We want to be very careful with them, so they do not cause harm, or we do not succumb to the danger that they bring.
Also they are like messengers. You do not want to kill the messenger. The message may be that we are hurting in some ways, or that some part of ourselves feels scared. The message may be that something unwholesome is going on inside of us. That unwholesomeness needs attention if we want to find our way to wholesomeness. What is unwholesome inside of us might be the thing that most needs our goodwill, compassion, and generosity of spirit. If we keep pushing away what is unwholesome inside of us, pushing it down, it festers and gets worse. We live a divided life between what we are willing to face and what we are ignoring.
Anger sometimes is perceived as a messenger. What is the message? What is underneath the anger? What is behind it? Some times part of anger is something in ourselves that needs goodwill or needs to be reassured. Maybe it needs to be let go of, but not with hostility, but put down with respect and care.
Living a wholesome life means to bring wholesomeness to those parts of ourselves that are unwholesome. In a sense, be our own friend that way. When this mettā sutta says, "Let no one deceive another, or despise anyone, anywhere. Let no one through anger, aversion wish for others to suffer," I see this first and foremost as directed towards ourselves. We do not want to be this way. We do not want to deceive anyone else, or despise anyone, nor be angry or aversive towards anyone. Cultivate putting those down. Cultivate the absence of deception, or tricking people, or presenting ourselves as different from who we are, or getting people to do what we want through manipulation. Do not despise anyone. Respect everyone. Do not despise yourself.
Enter this world of our unwholesomeness and begin looking at how to put it down, relax it, heal it. Bring forth what is wholesome and put down any hostility. "Let no one through anger and aversion wish for others to suffer." Maybe it does not seem like any of you want that. But to be mean towards someone – to say something slightly mean, sarcastic or critical – underneath that it is like poking people or getting back at people. Someone says something not so nice to ourselves, and we respond in kind, because we want to get back at them. There are all kinds of small ways in which we try to irritate people, get back at them or get revenge. Complaining sometimes is more than just complaining, it is a critique or criticism that is poking at people.
If you want to cultivate loving kindness and want to cultivate the path of liberation, there is a profound thing to be done, a very healthy thing to be done. I would say, a very inspiring thing to do. That is to overcome any tendency towards hostility. To learn to recognize it when it comes up and not give in to it. To learn to recognize it when it comes up and meet it with what is wholesome. Our intention, the way that we are motivated to live our life, is we have no wish for others to suffer. Even though there might be some difficult, angry feelings, the important thing is the intention that drives how we speak and act in the world. In that we have no wish for others to suffer.
This is the wish, the intention that we come from – the section before that in the poem – "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, born or to be born, may they all be happy."
The art of loving kindness is to discover how to have this be the motivating force inside of us. This kind of goodwill, having put aside the ill will that is there or not acting on it. Healing the ill will in some deep way. This is a very worthwhile way of living and practicing.
Imagine if you have memorized the mettā sutta, and recited these words every day. This is a classic practice in Buddhism, to memorize a text like this and say it to yourself repeatedly. See the effect it has on us, saying these kinds of words. So thank you, and we can all continue tomorrow.