This past weekend I received a snail-mail letter from Lobsang, one of the Tibetan monks I sponsor in India. He usually informs me about his studies at the university at the monastery where he lives. Lobsang also likes to include a small bit of wisdom or share a thought that he thinks I might appreciate.
His latest letter included the “Metta Prayer”. The term “metta” is a Pali word that can be translated into multiple English language equivalents. They include: amity, benevolence, concord, fellowship, friendliness, goodwill, inoffensiveness, non-violence, and, most commonly, loving-kindness. Buddhist scholars define metta as the strong desire for the happiness and welfare of others. Basically, it is an attitude rooted in altruism not self-interest.
Lobsang stated that metta is a practical need for day to day living. It is especially necessary in our contemporary world that is brimming full of destructiveness, ill-will, and hatred. Metta is one of the fundamental tenets of all the Buddhist schools. Its aim is to promote the well-being of all humans, animals, and plants. In practice, it is the intent to act benevolently towards all things on Earth.
The foundation of metta is the ethics portion of the Noble Eightfold Path, that is Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood. The practice of skillful ethics yields fearlessness and security towards others. The teachings advise the practitioner to be “honest and upright while being gentle in speech, meek and not proud.”
Because metta promotes the well-being of all sentient beings, it is a basic type of humanism. It promotes moderation and restraint as a lifestyle. That means the practitioner’s few tasks lead to the actual well-being of everyone. Metta is not something held in isolation or compartmentalized in the mind.
Effective, efficient, gentle restraint occurs in a conscious discipline of frugality and moderation through meditation. This mental conditioning causes metta to become effortless and natural. The personal result is tranquility in the mind of the practitioner.
Sometimes metta is described in negative language. Monastics and practitioners are taught that metta’s qualities include: non-harassment towards all beings, non-tormenting, inoffensiveness, non-destroying, and non-vexing. Thinking of these negatives naturally causes the mind to balance them with the positives of principled and caring conduct.
The contemplation of negative language leading to positive virtues fosters a very mature and developed approach to living ones life. The ability to act in ways that are inoffensive, non-harassing, non-destructive, non-torturing, and non-vexing are strengthened by consciously paying attention to our actions. We see these values manifested when we encounter a member of a monastic order. His or her behavior is beautiful, refined, and loving. We feel at ease in his or her presence.
According to one ancient teaching, metta is a solvent that dissolves not only the practitioner’s pollutants of anger, offensiveness, and resentment, but also those of others. Because metta takes the attitude of friendship, an adversary might also be thought of as a friend.
It must be stressed that metta is not wistful sentimentality. Metta practice is a powerful tool to be used in the art of living. If I could only practice one discipline, it would be metta meditation, hands down. There are no guidelines nor principles of action more efficient and helpful in all areas of life than that of metta meditation.
There are resources about Metta Meditation on the Web that can provide more in-depth information and techniques.
The Blue Jay of Happiness remembers this traditional saying: “For it is only when a person shall have peace within and have boundless goodwill for others, that peace in the world will become real and enduring.”