It’s helpful to begin the new season on a positive, uplifting note. For this cold start, I have a warm word: metta. Metta is sorely needed to balance out the negativity and discord that is present in today’s world.
If we consult a good English language dictionary, we find metta defined as affectionate benevolence. This definition barely scratches the surface as to what metta is. If we look towards contemporary spiritual writings we discover that modern scholars equate metta with loving-kindness.
The scholar Acharya Buddharakkhita further defined the word as, “…a multi-significant term meaning loving-kindness, friendliness, goodwill, benevolence, fellowship, amity, concord, inoffensiveness and non-violence. The Pali commentators define metta as the strong wish for the welfare and happiness of others… True metta is devoid of self-interest. It evokes within a warm-hearted feeling of fellowship, sympathy and love, which grows boundless with practice and overcomes all social, religious, racial, political and economic barriers.”
The fact that metta goes beyond our artificial social definitions and boundaries reminds us that these positive qualities are all-inclusive for humans, other creatures, plants, and the Earth as a whole. To be aware of these qualities and to cultivate them does not require us to convert to or de-convert from any religion or belief system. These qualities are simply innate and human.
The awareness of metta is cognizance of the preciousness of life. Metta reminds us of our connection with the entirety of the Universe. Contemplating metta enhances and ennobles our intentions. When we consider how we impact the world when our intent goes beyond self-interest, we can see the beauty in everyone and everything. This is not woo woo. Metta is more akin to a paradigm shift. We experience the world from a different, less jaded perspective.
Some folks who are just beginning to practice metta make the mistake of believing that metta is passive. Metta is not passive, nor does skillful practice of metta create “people pleasers”. Compassionate loving-kindness does not mean that we are to become doormats allowing people to do whatever they want to harm us or take advantage of us. Sympathy for all living things includes metta for ourselves, too.
It is during the act of practicing metta that we come to understand its strength. The compassionate nature of metta brings awareness of the suffering and struggles of others and ourselves. When we see the dis-satisfactory nature of the world’s situations we can choose to give up and become indifferent or we can choose to speak justice to power and act unhesitatingly against injustice. To be aware of injustice and to act benevolently is a strong aspect of metta.
Metta is unification with our better selves. The practice of metta is an ongoing revelation of our integrity. Metta is not dogmatic. Metta is a mental process that is intrinsic to our inner nature. Metta is a strong state of mind that, through regular practice, is undamaged despite change and disruptive external forces.
Metta is a form of wisdom that allows us to begin to release our expectations of life and how we believe others should behave. Metta encompasses these concepts in an active, non-passive manner. We contemplate upon and practice metta for ourselves, for everyone, and for everything.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama. “Cultivating closeness and warmth for others automatically puts the mind at ease. It is the ultimate source of success in life.”