Buddhist Metta

By the Late Venerable Ashin Thittila

Metta is the world’s supreme need today, greater, indeed, than ever before. As you know, in the world now there is sufficient material and money and, as you see, we have very advanced intellects, very clever and brilliant authors, philosophers, psychologists, scientists and also religious people, ministers of law, morality, religion and so on. In spite of all these brilliant people, there is no real peace and happiness in the world. it shows that there is something lacking.

That is Metta. a Pali word which has been translated into English as ‘Love’. When you use the word ‘love’ you have different ideas in the interpretation of this word and you may mean many other things, because it is a word that has been loosely used and in some cases misused or abused. Therefore when you talk about love, people may have a different concept. So we use the Pali word ‘Metta’ to mean Loving-kindness – not the ordinary, sensual, emotional, sentimental kind of love. As you know, the word ‘Love’ has been defined in many ways in the English language, according to the ideas in the minds of different people professing different religions.

For instance, a recently published booklet entitled ‘Love’ has been given to me for my perusal and I would like to comment on it. I am not going to discuss any particular point in this book. I just want to show you how different from Metta a definition of ‘Love’ can be. The author of this book is a highly respected teacher of a certain theist faith. According to his definition of Metta, and he uses our Pali word. ‘Love is God. Love emanates itself in any of the creations of God. Man is foremost’.

I would like to read a little about ‘Love’ towards animals from this book.

‘Man requires vigour, strength or procreation to serve God …to protect him and others and to control the world successfully. In order to be strong and powerful man must eat nutritious food and for this reason God has instructed Man to kill and to eat …bullocks, camels. He is not permitted to kill wild animals . . otherwise he would himself become wild in course of time. By reason of the flesh of domestic animals being eaten by man, the goodness of these animals mingles with men’s souls and thus (sic) indirectly obtain Heaven. This amounts to a good turn done to them by men – an act of compassion shown by men to them. This is not cruelty in life’.

With due respect to the author I have read this passage out to you just for comparison. He equates Metta with ‘Love’, with his, to us, rather peculiar logic and way of looking at things.

What is the Buddhist idea of Metta? Metta has been translated by modern translators into English as ‘generous mindedness, loving-kindness, sending out thoughts of love towards others’, but in the words of the Buddha, Metta has a far wider significance – a much more extensive implication than this. It means a great deal more than loving-kindness, harmlessness (Ahimsa), sympathy. I would like to mention a point here. According to the Christian Bible ‘Goodwill’ is supposed to be very good. You remember the message of goodwill given by the angels when the child Christ was born. The angels, they say, gave a message of goodwill to the world, ‘Peace on earth to men of goodwill, etc.’. When you examine this message you realize that the angels gave peace on earth only to men of goodwill and not to all the people. That is the message. In Buddhism, Metta has been emphasized. It is much deeper than goodwill. Also harmlessness is a very, very good, grand principle but it is a negative aspect. This loving-kindness, according to the Buddha’s Teaching, has two aspects. One is negative, that is adosa (amity) as explained in the Abhidhamma: it is an explanation of Metta but it is negative, meaning ‘absence of hatred and hostility’. Though absence of hatred is a grand thing, it is not good enough unless its active aspect is emphasized – that is loving-kindness. Not to do evil is very good but it is only a negative aspect – to do good is the positive aspect. So also Metta has its positive aspect.

What is love? Love is also defined in the Oxford Dictionary. According to it, love means ‘warm affection, attachment, affectionate devotion etc.’. These are the synonymous terms for love. They all refer to sentimental, worldly love. Therefore, Metta has no full English equivalent because this Metta is much more than ordinary affection – warm affection. The Pali word Metta means literally – ‘friendliness’, also love without a desire to possess but with a desire to help, to sacrifice self-interest for the welfare and well-being of humanity. This love is without any selection or exclusion. If you select a few good friends and exclude unpleasant persons, then you have not got a good grasp of this Metta. Love is not merely brotherly feeling but a principle for us to practise. It is not merely benevolent thought but performing charitable deeds, active ministry for the good of one and all. A subject – not to be talked about but to be – to put it in your being – to suffuse it within ourselves. It is, then, a dynamic suffusing of every living being, excluding none whatsoever, with dynamic. creative thoughts of loving-kindness. If the thoughts are intense enough, right actions follow automatically.

People talk about ideas to counteract other ideologies. We Buddhists do not need any new ideologies, we have enough in the teachings of the Buddha. Out of the four Brahma Vihara – this Metta – which is one of them, is good enough to create anything noble, anything grand to make peace and happiness at home, in society and in the world.

Metta – pure loving-kindness – embraces all beings everywhere, either on earth or in the skies or Heaven. It also embraces all beings high or low, without measure because the poor people, lowly people, evil people, ignorant people are most in need of it. Because in them it has died out for lack of warmth or friendliness – this Metta becomes with them like a weak stream running in a desert. This Metta includes loving. unloving good and bad people.

You may ask. ‘Should we love foolish people – fools?’ It is a common question asked in foreign countries, Should we love snakes?’ European ladies also asked ‘Should we love mice?’ European ladies do not like mice. But we should not hate a person just as a doctor does not hate a patient but his duty is to quell to get rid of the disease the patient is suffering from, to take out anything that is wrong in that person, or we may say the disease that is afflicting the person. Therefore, it should include all beings without measure.

This Metta is entirely different from sensual lust which has passed as ‘love’ in the world today, which has also been admired and talked about as emotional love. This Metta is much higher – in fact it is the highest form of love. It is much higher than sentimental, sensual love.

In its outward appearance sentimental love seems to be very sweet but it is like fire – indeed far worse than fire. Once it is born it grows rapidly, flowers at one moment and then it scorches and burns the possessor in another moment leaving ugly wounds and scars. That is why in Burmese we say ‘Achitkyi, amyetkyi’. The more sentimental love you have, the more hate you have and the more suffering you have; because it is like fire which burns very easily. But Metta has a cooling effect like the soft touch of a gentle hand – soft but firm – without changing its sympathy. So it only creates a calm, pleasant atmosphere.

Sorrow for loved ones is not a sign of this love – Metta. Love is strength, because it is pure and gives strength. It is not weakness.

I would like to recite, not Pali but a translation of a passage from the Metta Sutta – a very valuable Sutta. You hear Sayadaws( Sayadaw: Burmese for Mahatheras. A Thera is a fully ordained Bhikkhu of 10 years’ standing. A Mahathera is a fully ordained Bhikkhu of 20 years’ standing ) recite this Sutta in Pali on almost every occasion.

This passage gives an example of what love is. This is not a perfect example, but for want of a better example the Buddha has chosen the love of a mother. He says in the Metta Sutta: ‘Just as a mother, even at the risk of her life loves and protects her child – the only child – so let a man cultivate this Universal Love – towards the whole universe; below, above, around, unstinted, unmixed with any feeling of opposing interest. Let him remain steadfastly in this state of mind, all the while from the time he awakes, whether he be standing, walking. sitting or lying down. This state of heart is the best in the world’.

This is the model held up by the Buddha to the world. This is the ideal of what man should be to man. This is the appeal to every heart. It is a service for all in the form of a mother’s love. Does a mother merely radiate her love in the bringing up of her child? Can any one express this deathless love of a mother for her child that she has within her heart? If you consider a mother’s love for her child you will find that it is boundless. Therefore it is called ‘Appamana’ in Pali. It has no limit.

The love of a mother who has only one child is the example chosen by the Buddha. Imagine a mother’s love; when a child is hungry she is watching carefully to feed it before it asks her for it. When the child is in danger, she will risk her own life. Thus in every way she helps her child. Therefore the Buddha asks us to love all beings as a mother loves her only child. If we can do it even up to a certain extent, I think the world will be a different place – happier and more peaceful.

Though we talk much about love and repeat the formula ‘Sabbe satta avera hontu. avyapajjha hontu etc.’ (May all sentient beings be free from danger; may they be free from oppression. etc.) without this love how can it be effective? This passage is not merely to be recited. The Buddha does not ask us to learn any of his teachings for recitation only. They are in the nature of prescriptions. The doctor may diagnose, find the cause of your disease and will give you a prescription according to his findings. Will the disease be cured by merely reciting the formula backwards and forwards? You may have a recipe how to cook food, how to cook curry. You may recite it backwards and forwards but you will not have the result. So recitation is nothing practical. Theory is good but is not good enough, because it is not the end of a thing, it is only the beginning of it. So recitation of the Metta Sutta is good but the Buddha did not mean it to be merely recited. He exhorted us to follow his instructions in it so that we might realize Metta, the best state of heart in the world. Therefore my advice is, do not be satisfied with the mere recitation of the Sutta but strive to know its meaning with a view to practising it and ‘to become it’ – to make it suffuse your being. That is the point. Meditation does not mean merely to think about it, but to practise it in our daily life.

I would like you to do a very short meditation on Love. So as to make you familiar with meditation, I would like to show you a practical method which you can practise wherever you go.

Now, coming to the message of Love. We are asked to be loving towards all beings as a mother loves her only child. Therefore, Metta must go hand in hand with helpfulness, with willingness and a spirit of sacrifice for the welfare of other beings.

In the Digha Nikaya, it is said by the Buddha that almost every virtue such as unselfishness, loving sympathy and loving-kindness is included in this Metta. If you have real Metta you can be almost everything; you can radiate a noble, grand peace. It is this Metta that attempts to break away all barriers which separate beings one from the other.

Some people may doubt as to whether Love can be a basis of policy for settlement. Many people look upon this Love – Metta – as a feminine virtue. They say it is a soft feminine virtue. But true Love is a masculine dynamic power which breaks all the barriers and builds. Who has built the most lasting empires? Is it Alexander, Caesar or the Buddha? We often talk about the Roman Empire, French Empire, Russian Empire. Where are those empires now? Those empires lasted temporarily because they were based on hatred, pride and conceit. They were not based on love. Any policy used, which is not based on love, cannot last very long.

In this connection. I would like to use a simile. Life is like a big wheel in perpetual motion. This great wheel has numberless small wheels in it each of which has its own pattern. The great wheel and the smaller wheels – the great Universe and the individuals are so linked together that we depend one on another for service, for happiness, for development. Therefore, our duty is to bring out the goodness in each one of us – which is in harmony with the pattern of the world. For all the wheels to revolve in harmony. the highest good in each one of us should be produced. For instance, in a car, to make it in running order – to use it – every part should be in order. If we are going to create a happy family. happy house, everybody in the house, at least the majority, must be in good order. If we are to create a good harmony in ourselves, the majority must be in good order so that it will be in harmony with happiness and peace. It can be done here and now by the performance of daily, hourly duties with love, courtesy and honesty.

The ideal placed by the Buddha before us is mutual service – men being in need of each other – to help each other, bear each other’s burdens. We have three types of work as mentioned in the Nikaya – three modes of conduct for the Buddhist, In Pali we call it ‘Buddhattha Cariya, Natattha Cariya, Lokattha Cariya’ (striving for Buddhahood, working for the benefit of one’s relatives and friends, and working for the benefit of the whole world). Similarly, each one of us has three modes of conduct – ‘Atta-Cariya’ is striving for self-development so that one may attain happiness, self-culture and self-realization. The second mode of conduct – ‘Natattha Cariya’ is working for the benefit of one’s relatives and friends. The third mode for us to follow is ‘Lokattha Cariya’ to work for the benefit of the whole world without making any distinction as regards caste, colour or creed. The Buddha has asked us to practise these three types of conduct. Buddhism being a method of development – self-development, is an education of the heart. Therefore our task is to practise these principles laid down by the Buddha, to refine our own nature, to elevate ourselves on the scale of beings.

Modem education, as you know, is mainly education in the means to make money, how to arrange things and control them. Buddhism is an education of the heart. Therefore, if religion is taken only as an intellectual faith in the mind, it has no force. If religion is not followed by practice, we cannot produce any’ result. In the Dhammapada the Buddha said: ‘A beautiful word or thought which is not accompanied by corresponding acts is like a bright flower which bears no fruit. It would not produce any effect’.( Dhammapada – Pupphavaggo. verse 51) Therefore, it is action, and not speculation; it is practice, not theory that matters. According to the Dhammapada, ‘Will’ if it is not followed by corresponding action, does not count. Therefore, practice of the noble principles is the essence of Buddhism.

In this connection I also want to say that this Metta – Universal Love – is generally taken to exist in connection with other people, but in reality love for self comes first. It is not a selfish love, but love for self- pure love – comes first. When we meditate on love, we meditate on love of self first. (Aham avero homi . . . etc.) (May I be free from harm). By having pure love, Metta, as we defined it, for self; selfish tendencies, hatred, anger will be diminished. Therefore, unless we ourselves possess Metta within, we cannot share, we cannot radiate, we cannot send this Metta to others. Supposing you have no money how can you send even a few small coins? So meditation on love is to be started within ourselves. You may say that we love ourselves, If you can say that you love yourselves, can you harm yourselves by having angry thoughts within yourselves? If you love a person will you do harm to him? No. To love the self means to be free from selfishness, hatred anger, etc. Therefore, to clear ourselves from these undesirable feelings we must love ourselves. According to Buddhism self-love comes first. Buddhism always is a method of dealing with ourselves. Therefore, it is self-help. By helping ourselves we can help others effectively. We talk about externals, meaning by this the duty to help others; but as pointed out by the Buddha, if a person cannot help himself well, he cannot help others well. (‘One should first establish oneself an what is proper; then only he should advise another; such a wise man will not be reproached‘. – Dhammapada. Verse158.) Also in the Dhammapada, (Dhammapada 42) it is said no enemy can harm one so much as one’s own thoughts of craving – thoughts of hatred, thoughts of jealousy and so on. If one cannot find happiness in himself, he cannot find happiness anywhere else. It is also said that people who cannot control themselves cannot find happiness. In social service, the so-called social workers are not happy in the performance of their duties unless they are calm themselves. If they are not calm in themselves, they cannot produce calm in others. We must, therefore be properly trained not only’ in outside organization but in our inner culture. In the case of many so-called social workers, the real thing they are doing is telling others what to do like dictators. And they say that, ‘We do our best but others are not willing to accept our help’. Everybody is in need of help if the help is properly given in the way they like to be assisted but not in the ways others want to help them. So a true social worker should be a person who has true love for himself first filled with a love which is nothing but pure, unselfish love. Then he can confer a double blessing; that is, he, having pure, true love, enjoys himself while helping others, at the same time making others happy.

You remember the Jataka stories where the Bodhisatta, the Buddha-to-be, is always trying to strengthen himself by helping others – so that other people will be happy, so that he will be stronger to give greater help.

Again, if a person cannot be right with himself, he cannot be right with others. He should be like an engineer who first perfects himself in his trade and then only produces perfect work because he has perfected his training first. A doctor without the required qualifications may try to help patients but he may do harm instead. Therefore, a leader of any kind, social, political, religious, if he has no mental culture. may be leading his followers in a wrong direction.

We are so used to seeing external raining that we forget inner training, the training of ourselves. We like to train other people and forget to train ourselves. We tend to take it for granted that we are always right and others are in the wrong. It seems to be a characteristic of people that they blame others; even when they are late, they blame others – because of wife, because of friends or somebody else, etc. I do not mean to say that we should blame only ourselves. There is a saying of Confucius – a very wise, useful saying: ‘An uncultured person blames others, a semi-cultured person blames himself, and a fully cultured person blames neither’. The problem is, ‘What is wrong and not who is wrong’. According to the Buddhist method, training oneself comes first. Individual perfection must be first, so that the organic whole may be perfect. The state of the outer world is a reflection of our inner selves.

To conclude I would like to ask you to meditate a few minutes on love, so that our thoughts, actions and words may be filled with love. From trained minds, come right thoughts, right actions and right words.

In true meditation, first you fill yourself with love mentally, ‘May I be well and happy’. After a while you extend it to all others, saying mentally, ‘May all beings of the Universe be well and happy’. Mean it and feel it. Also try to see that the world is filled with your love, with a great desire that they may be happy, a desire such as a mother has for her only child.

If you send out these thoughts of Metta before you go to sleep. I am positive that you will have extraordinarily peaceful sleep. If you can maintain these thoughts of Metta, you will have a serene, peaceful, successful life and you will be loved because you are loving. The world is like a great mirror and if you look at the mirror with a smiling face you will see your own smiling beautiful face. If you look at it with a long face, as the English say, you will invariably see your own ugly face. There is also an expression in the form of greeting. ‘Well friend, how does the world treat you?’ The usual answer is, ‘Well. I am all right’. Your answer should be. ‘Well, the world treats me as I treat the world’.

If you treat the world properly, kindly, the world will treat you kindly. We should not expect other persons to treat us kindly first, but we should start by ourselves treating them kindly.

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