Dear Friends in the Dhamma,
In my view, Metta to oneself & Metta to others have not much of a difference. We are all subject to Dukkha, Suffering! We are all nothing but, the Dukkha, the five aggregates affected by clinging! I am suffering, we are suffering: so, we all need the Metta! The perception that we are all full of Dukkha would help develop Metta to oneself as well as to the rest of the world.
For Metta Meditation to work, Karuna, (Compassion), is an essential pre-condition. Not doing any evil acts & engaging in virtuous deeds would create conducive conditions for purifying one’s own mind. (Verse 183, the Buddha Vagga, Dhammapada). When one’s own mind is at peace, then the mind opens up in a joyful way. Meditation becomes easier! Wishing oneself & also, the rest of the world happiness & peace becomes just the second nature! Metta Bhavana takes off!
So, a peaceful mind is the stepping stone to develop Metta to oneself. Engaging in wholesome acts to help others is the best way to develop a peaceful mind. Such wholesome acts can be as small as helping a small insect drowning in a cup of water or could be in medium to large scale depending on one’s own resources & capabilities. At family level, one could help make the life a bit more comfortable for one’s own spouse/partner. Washing one’s own cup is a good start! Helping one’s own relatives who are in need would give more happiness than ignoring their suffering. Helping unknown people who are in need would be another way of practising Karuna in an unattached way. One could use well-known, global organisations such as UNICEF, UNHCR, Buddhist Global Relief, BSWA, Oxfam etc. &/or little-known, local organisations, personally known to each individual. If one has the desire to help, finding such local organisations is not difficult at all. Where there is a will, there is a way, always!
Memories of past kind acts by oneself to others & by others to oneself or any such kind acts by anyone would certainly help calm the mind & generate Metta. One doesn’t need to remember them intentionally but, if done with a pure heart, they will come out at the right time, when needed!
• A few years ago, a person went for a certain medical procedure. At the end of it, a nurse was holding a piece of cloth & putting some pressure to stop bleeding. After a few minutes, the nurse said, “I can’t stop this bleeding”. The patient though a little startled, started to pass Metta to himself, to the nurse & the others in the recovery ward. Out of the blues, a memory came to him of a kind act that he did about 35 years ago when he was working as an expatriate in Zambia. He was the Acting General Manager of the company that he was working for, on the day in question. He went out of the way & authorised to pay for airlifting a company employee whose life was at threat due to a mishap in a surgery when there was no obligation on the part of the company to pay for the airlift. After a week or so, the employee returned to work, came to his office & said, if not for your very kind act, I wouldn’t be here! When the nurse said I can’t stop this bleeding, he remembered what he did to save that person’s life, all those years ago. His mind became calm & the bleeding has stopped!
• Ven Ajahn Brahm, in his award winning, very popular book Good? Bad? Who Knows?, tells the story of how he enjoyed helping as a volunteer at the Occupational Therapy Department for those Institutionalised for Downe’s Syndrome at a hospital in London. That time he would have been about 20 years old & Ajahn says in his book, (page 78), “To this day, I regard them as the experts, my teachers”. So, if volunteering could benefit even a very gifted person like young, Peter Betts who was to become the Great Ven Ajahn Brahmavamso Maha Thero, what about the rest of us!
• A lady who is working two days a week, a couple of hours a day, at the local Op Shop says, it is like a therapy for her & it helps her calm her mind.
• Yesterday, (22 July 2018), at the Entry to the Rains at Bodhinyana, when Ven Ajahn Brahm was telling the story of the Tsunami Crocodile, (also, in Good? Bad? Who Knows, page 31), a person could not stop the tears coming down! Even though he has heard the story a number of times, when listening to the story of the kindness of some unknown person & the unbelievable result of that kindness, the mind became very calm, happiness arose & the conditions became conducive to meditation! If not for the end of the ceremony & also, for the need to come home, prepare & take some medicine to a very sick monastic, it could have been a very good Metta meditation session!
So helping others, in whatever the way, within our means, would go a long way to bring us happiness & peace. Such acts stay in one’s mind & when needed, they come out & help in calming the mind!
In the Dakkinavibhanga Sutta, (MN142), Lord Buddha discoursed on different levels of results that may be gained by making offering of gifts to different beings. Lord Buddha discoursed that by giving a gift to an animal or to an immoral person, the offering may be expected to repay a thousandfold. In the same Sutta, Lord Buddha discoursed that the offering of gifts that would bring highest merits would be those gifts offered to good, practising monastics that follow the Noble Eightfold Path. Not only would such offerings bring higher results but, would help purify one’s own mind, making the conditions favourable to the practice of Metta meditation. We don’t have to go very far to find good practising Sangha. They are right here, in our midst, at Bodhinyana & Dhammasara Monasteries & at Patacara Hermitage. Offerings need not be just requisites & cash donations! One could clean the cottages at Jhana Grove, join the volunteer teams at Dhammaloka, join a sub-committee, offer the specific medicinal needs & care to the sick Sangha, provide transport services to monastics, provide a helping hand in the office or such similar acts. So, what are you waiting for?
Of course, the best way of practising virtuous acts is to practise the 2nd factor of the Noble Eight Fold Path, Samma Sankappa, (Right Motivation), which encompass motivation to renunciate, having no ill-will & practising non-cruelty. No doubt, the monastic life is the most conducive way of practising Samma Sankappa but for lay-people, too, it is not difficult to engage in the practice of Samma Sankappa. There are various levels of practising renunciation. For example,
• a young man who had a very lucrative, comfortable engineering job in a global organisation, in his own home town, gave up that job to follow his dream of helping this world tackle the effect of climate change. That is Renunciation!
• A family, who has been sponsoring needy, deserving students for over 25 years, says that some of the students that they sponsored are now practising as medical doctors somewhere in Sri Lanka but, don’t know where they are! That is giving without clinging!!
So, if you wish to practise Metta meditation, to oneself & to others, don’t just sit there on the cushion but, also, go & help those in need! Recollecting one’s own good deeds is the best way to develop Metta to oneself & to others!!
With Metta to all beings,