In Kakacupama Sutta, the Buddha teaches how to maintain the attitude of boundless lovingkindness (maitri/ metta) and compassion (karuna) to all beings, as the unshaken basis for one’s relationship with the world. The Tathagata shows how pervading the world with this deep sense of kindness and compassion lead us to experience profound peace, patience and openness. In Kakacupama Sutta,
Once, Bhagavan Buddha, while staying at Jetavana, asked his disciples,
“Suppose, bhikkhus, a man were to come with a burning grass torch, and he were to say, ‘With this burning grass torch I will heat up the River Ganga and make it boil.’ Now, what do you think — would he, with that burning grass torch, heat up the River Ganga and make it boil?”
“Not at all, bhante. The River Ganga is deep and fathomless. It’s not easy to heat it up and make it boil with a burning grass torch. The man would only partake of weariness & disappointment.”
“In the same way, bhikkhus, others may address you in five ways of speech – either timely or untimely, factual or fictitious, gentle or harsh, beneficial or non-beneficial, with loving-kindness or hatred. In any case, you should train yourselves: ‘My mind will be unaffected and I will say no evil words. I will remain sympathetic to that person’s welfare, with loving kindness, and with no hatred. I will dwell pervading him with a heart imbued with loving-kindness. Beginning with him, I will dwell pervading the entire world with a heart equal to the River Ganga – vast, expansive, fathomless, free from hostility, free from ill-will.’ That’s how you should train yourselves.”
Loving kindness, according to the Buddha, is not merely an ethical principle, but an essential mental attitude which instills deep joy and peace within the mind. Boundless loving kindness and compassion melt away the boundaries and prejudices from the mind and provide the ground for insight to arise.
The Buddha teaches methods to cultivate loving kindness in many of his Suttas. A direct method is taught in metta sutta. In metta sutta (maitri sutra), Buddha elucidates on cultivating a boundless heart towards all beings everywhere, in the same way as a mother feels towards her only child.(See – The Boundless Heart of Loving Kindness (Metta))
In Kakacupama Sutta, the Buddha teaches another aspect of metta – on how to pervade loving kindness with patience and openness. He gives a parable to illustrate how the attitude of loving kindness and patience should pervade in all situations, not just congenial ones. In the parable, a lady who is well known to be gentle and calm is tested by her servant who tries to irritate her. Finally the lady gets thoroughly angry and hits at the servant injuring her. The Buddha tells his disciples not to be like that lady in the parable who remains gentle and calm when situation is agreeable, but has the hidden seed of anger just waiting to lash out when disagreeable conditions occur.
The Buddha explains how wonderful it is not to give in to irritation and rather maintain inner peace, even if someone were to speak harshly, disagreeably and so on. One can find greater joy in maintaining peace and being sympathetic to that person’s welfare, with loving kindness, and with no hatred.
In this Sutta, the Buddha uses similes of natural phenomena to instill an experiential feel for boundless loving kindness. Then Buddha gives four similes to aid in the cultivation of loving kindness. These contemplations are ‘like earth’, ‘like space’, ‘like the River Ganges’, and ‘like a cat-skin bag’.
In the first simile of ‘like earth’, the Buddha explains that even if a person tries to dig up the earth, spit on it and try all kinds of means to destroy the entire earth, let alone accomplish it, he will not be able to make any damage to the deep and enormous earth. Likewise, when a person tries to behave in a hostile or disagreeable way, instead of reacting, contemplate oneself to be like the great earth — vast, expansive, fathomless, free from hostility, free from ill will.
In the second example of ‘like space’, the Buddha says that even if a person tries very hard to paint in space with all colors and brushes, it will be futile because the space is formless and featureless. Likewise, when a person tries to behave in a hostile or disagreeable way, instead of reacting, contemplate oneself to be like the great space — vast, expansive, fathomless, free from hostility, free from ill will.
In the third example of ‘like the River Ganges’, the Buddha says that if a person tries very hard to burn the River Ganges with a grass torch, thinking that he can heat it up and boil, there is no effect because the River Ganges is deep and enormous. Likewise, when a person tries to behave in a hostile or disagreeable way, instead of reacting, contemplate oneself to be like the River Ganges — vast, expansive, fathomless, free from hostility, free from ill will.
In the fourth example of ‘like the cat-skin bag’, the Buddha says that if a person tries to rustle and crackle a cat-skin bag with a stick, it is not possible because the bag is treated to be very soft, silky, free of rustling & crackling. Likewise, when a person tries to behave in a hostile or disagreeable way, instead of reacting, contemplate oneself to be like the cat-skin bag, soft and flexible.
Finally the Buddha ends the Sutta with ‘the parable of the saw’ to illustrate to what extend one’s loving kindness and patience should be. In this parable, a person is dismembered by bandits limb by limb, piece by piece, but still he remains unaffected, with a heart full of loving kindness.
Bhavatu Sarva Mangalam!