A Boundless Heart of Loving Kindness - Metta (Maitri)

 

Just as a mother would protect her only child at the risk of her own life, even so let us cultivate a boundless heart towards all beings

माता यथा नियम् पुत्तम् आयुसा एकपुत्तमनुरक्खे
एवम्पि सब्बभूतेसु मानसं भावये अपरिमानम् ||

– Karaṇiya Metta-Sutta

The Tathagata spoke so in Metta Sutta (Maitri Sutra). In the way that the Buddha showed, loving kindness is not merely an ethical principle, but an essential training of mind and the very key that opens the door to higher realizations.

 

When a mother thinks about her child, it lights up her heart. A simple thought of bringing a smile to the child’s face, overwhelms her with enthusiastic joy. She forgets all her woes and gets so energetic and strong to face the world. Then, what need to be said when it is her only child!

 

What is the source of this power? This is not arising from any unique characteristics of that child. If that were so, everyone would experience it with regard to that child. Rather, it comes from the mother’s attitude towards the child.

 

This attitude is called loving kindness (in Sanskrit: maitrī  मैत्री , in Pali: metta मेत्ता ). When you arouse loving kindness to someone, it opens your heart and connects you to the goodness that is innate to your being – the source of all spontaneous abilities.

 

Boundless Loving Kindness

Dharma Quote - Metta Sutta - Loving kindnessCultivate a boundless heart towards all beings, just in the same way as a mother feels towards her only child. Then, you can deal with the world from the depth and vastness of your innate goodness. Every smile in the world lights up your heart! Your heart goes out joyfully to make others comfortable. Further, just as how a mother sees the varying moods of her child from a position of care, kindness and understanding, you would be able to do so for the whole world.

 

Then, whatever others do, it does not perturb you too much. It will be like the waves on the surface of an ocean. In the depth within, there is profound peace and kindness. Nothing perturbs or shadows that peace and goodness. Instead of being thrown apart by how others behave, you start seeing their deeper aspect – the throbbing of their hearts for happiness and not wanting to suffer. Loving kindness relates to that deeper sensitivity of beings. Then, there is no irritation on your part. Your feeling can only be compassion, upon seeing the myriad deluded acts others do in their quests for happiness.  No matter what happens at the surface, there is a feeling of oneness at the depth – in that all of us strive to be happy and wish to be away from suffering.

 

What Exactly is Loving Kindness?

Let us see more precisely what loving kindness is. Loving kindness is defined as ‘the wish for oneself and others to be happy and the wish to have the causes for happiness’. It also includes the aspiration “May I myself be a cause for their happiness!”. In the narrow ordinary context, it applies to oneself and those who are one’s own. In a broader context of mental cultivation, it applies to all beings. In the broadest view, it is in the very nature of one’s own mind – an innate attitude of mind, just as how heat is innate to fire.

 

When there is boundless loving kindness, every smile in the world lights up your heart! Your heart goes out joyfully to make them comfortable. Instead of being thrown apart by how others behave, you start seeing their deeper aspect – the throbbing of their hearts for happiness and not wanting to suffer.

 

So, in the deepest sense, loving kindness is not merely a dualistic emotion, but an innate attitude of mind. Ordinarily, the clinging to some notion of Self comes as a barrier to the outflow of loving kindness. So, we end up having this attitude only to ourselves and to those whom we think are ours. The rest of the world is cut off as the ‘other’. Then, we see more causes of irritation with this ‘other’. And, as for the people whom we consider as ‘ours’, we see lovable qualities. Why is this so? With regard to them, since we have loving kindness, we are able to look beyond the surface and connect to their innate goodness. With regard to others, the cataract of our self-clinging blocks that deep connection.

 

Intentionally cultivating the attitude of loving kindness to all beings, helps in melting self-clinging. In turn, when the cultivation of deeper insight melts self-clinging, boundless outflow of loving kindness is natural and spontaneous.

 

Three Aspects of Loving Kindness

Now let us look a bit more deeper into the three aspects as in the above definitions of loving kindness.

 

Attachment is a dualistic emotion. It sustains only in relation to someone or something. In contrast, loving kindness blazes boundlessly when all dualistic notions fall apart.


Firstly, ‘the wish to be happy’. Through the wish for all to be happy, our inner attitude is set right. We remain kind and stationed in our innate goodness. This is simply a positive attitude of goodwill, as opposed to disturbed thoughts such as being jealous, and rejoicing in the fall of someone.

 

Secondly, ‘the wish to have the causes for happiness’. Through this, one’s attention goes towards the right causes instead of merely wishing and craving for happiness. Thus, loving kindness makes you not only ‘kind’ but also ‘wise’ in attitude. For example, think about someone doing a lot of harmful deeds and yet happily enjoying a luxurious life. You don’t simply rejoice that they are able to be happy in spite of their harmful deeds. You also get concerned that they are creating the causes for their future suffering. So, you would wish that they may create the causes for their future happiness.

 

Thirdly, the aspiration, ‘May I myself be a cause for their happiness’, sets the right motivation for engaging in the world. That extends loving kindness from an inner attitude to an enthusiastic intention towards appropriate action. Let us be clear that even this aspect is not an action such as generosity, but simply a state of mind – a motivation that can encourage you towards action.  The third aspect prepares you to be a bodhisattva in action.

 

Loving Kindness and Attachment

Often, people confuse loving kindness with attachment. In ordinary life, it is often true that loving kindness and attachment comes mixed together. This becomes a cause for making relationships a mixed bag of happiness and suffering. Let us see how to distinguish them. In loving kindness, the emphasis is on wishing others to be happy. There is no reverse expectation.  When there is loving kindness, happiness of others naturally makes us happy and joyful. And, being able to do something for their good, makes us happy even if they do not notice our role.

 

In attachment, the wish is for one’s own happiness, but it brings suffering. In loving kindness, the wish is for others to be happy, and that makes one truly happy.

 

When loving kindness is not distinguished properly, and when it is limited to some people that we feel close with, then there is a danger. We mistake the recipients of loving kindness to be the actual source of our happiness. Then, we want to possess them so that we can be happy. This is attachment. And, it pains when they are away. We want them to be in a particular way so that our happiness is enriched. This is attachment. In attachment, the wish is for one’s own happiness, but it brings suffering. In loving kindness, the wish is for others to be happy, and that makes one truly happy.

 

Attachment is a dualistic emotion. It sustains only in relation to someone or something. In contrast, loving kindness blazes boundlessly when all dualistic notions fall apart.

 

Inner Attitude and Outer Engagement

Often, people wonder, “Is it practical to have loving kindness to all?”. The answer is, “Yes, and, it is quite easy”.  The problem is that we confuse loving kindness with our ability to actually engage in action to make everybody happy. Of course, it is good if we can do that. But, loving kindness is simply an attitude of mind and not necessarily the ability to engage in action. Loving kindness strengthens the mind and reveals its innate goodness, so that actual acts of benefitting others in the world becomes easier and joyful.

 

In fact, even a mother may not be able to always make her child happy. There may not be always causes and conditions to actually effect the happiness of others. But, the aspiration, the wish for their happiness can thrive in us all the time. Even when there is no way to effect change in the world, the attitude of loving kindness keeps us deeply connected to our innate goodness and makes it possible to act in the world from the vast expanse of our innate perfection.

 

Loving kindness as an inner attitude can blaze even in isolation. Buddhist meditators staying in cave for many years in solitude, do not end up being withdrawn and aloof. Due to their meditation on loving kindness, their hearts remain open and warm. After a long retreat when they again meet people, this is clearly noticeable.

 

Meditation on Loving Kindness

Meditation on Loving Kindness - Metta MeditationFinally, how do we cultivate loving kindness? The first step is to recognize the experience of loving kindness. Think of someone you are deeply connected with. It could be your only child, or it could be anyone else. Think about them and experience the natural bubbling up of loving kindness.  Just think, “May he or she be happy!”. See how that feeling reverberates inside you.  For sometime, just shift the focus to that inner feeling of loving kindness instead of the person. Just relax there. That way, your own quality of loving kindness deepens.

 

Now, think about what happens if that person behaves in a slightly odd way. Would you still have loving kindness? When there is genuine connectedness, loving kindness only blazes high even in such situation. There is tremendous tolerance. Beyond the surface, you see the depth of that person. You see his or her basic wish to be happy and free from suffering. You are full connected there.

 

Then, this can be extended to others. Starting with people you know and are comfortable with, then to the strangers, and then to those who irritate you and finally to the whole world. In each case, try to identify the oneness at the deeper level – how in each of these cases their basic wish and attitude is no different from the one whom you deeply cherish. Try to bring up the thought, “May he or she be happy!”. Experience what you feel. In any case, when there is a resistance, try to observe where that is coming from. As you are able to generate loving kindness to more and more people, see how that settle your mind to a deeper clarity and lightness. Just relax there.

 

May all beings discover the boundless attitude of loving kindness to all, and let that place them in the vast expanse and vibrancy of their innate goodness!

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.