I will preface this by saying I have also not watched the video, but I am more replying to Thanissaro and the previous discussion here.
I think that everyone and in particular Thanissaro is pointing to the idea that we should not and cannot treat every living being in the universe in the same way a mother treats their son. This is a fairly reasonable conclusion, but then we have to ask what is it that we are supposed to take from the simile. Thanissaro obviously thinks that we have to switch the meaning around in two ways, by changing the definition to “goodwill” and by saying the motherly love is a simile for protecting your goodwill, not a description for the loving-kindness itself.
I think that there is a subtler point that lies underneath this distinction and that the approach Thanissaro takes is perhaps slightly crude for pointing it out. In my view the underlying difference is that between emotion and responsibility. What I mean by that is that there is a difference between how we feel or the emotional response we have and the responsibility we have towards that situation.
We can have an emotion or feeling that does not require us to take action or to do anything or where it is not possible to take action or do anything. We can care extraordinarily deeply about someone, with a fully open heart, but perhaps they are on the other side of the world and in need of urgent help. In that case no matter how we feel about them, there is nothing we can do. In this case we can see there could be very strong loving-kindness, but no requirement or duty of care possible.
Responsibility is the other side of the coin. A mother has a responsibility to their child, especially a young one because it is a relationship of dependence. Similarly, we have a responsibility for ourselves, we are responsible for our actions, for our kamma, etc. In these cases, we have responsibility for the choices we make.
Getting back to loving-kindness, I think Thanissaro is selling loving-kindness short by calling it goodwill. The love of a mother for her only child is extremely powerful, open, vulnerable and unconditional. These are powerful qualities. To me, developing that kind of love towards the world is very powerful in practice. It seems to be almost opposite to the hindrances. With that kind of feeling we can be non-reactive, we can be open and not have unwholesome feelings arise toward the world.
We all know how good that feels. We seek love, intimacy and anything else that makes us feel more loving or open to others or the world. Much of new-age spirituality seems to be playing into this dynamic. Of course, there is a very positive side to this, if wielded skilfully, we can let go of our afflictive and reactionary minds towards the world. We can stop fighting against our experience.
The difficulty is being that open can also open us to very painful feelings. Having loving kindness towards a horrible person forces us to hold both the suffering they caused and our love for them simultaneously without being able to do anything to balance them. Imagine the pain of truly feeling that much loving-kindness towards all of the suffering beings in the world? That is not easy. But it is possible if there is not confusion between emotion and responsibility. Can we have loving-kindness and then be able to not respond? Not because we don’t want to, but because we can’t.
I think that this confusion is common, I certainly make it and I think men in general might struggle with it more often. Emotions are powerful, being with them without “doing something” about them is even harder. I know for myself that this dynamic is one reason why I suppress emotion rather than just to let it be. I can deny and resist the feeling to prevent feeling the paradox of caring deeply but being powerless to do anything to ease the suffering of those I care about.
Not surprisingly I think the Buddha exemplifies this dynamic and balance perfectly. One example is when the Buddha expels monks from the sangha for a pārājika offense. Obviously the Buddha still cares and has loving-kindness towards that being, but their behaviour has forced him to expel them from the sangha. Similarly, when the monks at Kosambī got into the huge argument about an issue of discipline (see chapter 10 of Khandakas in the Vinaya). They argued and fought and could not resolve it, even with the Buddha’s help and input. Upon seeing that he was of no use, the Buddha left before the argument was resolved and spent three months meditating in the forest by himself. Once again, I think he had loving-kindness for all of these monks, but he also saw the limits of his capabilities and responsibilities.
The Buddha acted out of compassion for the world, but even he knew this meant that people still had to save themselves. In the same way I don’t think we have to sell short any idea of mettā as goodwill. I believe we can have the same level of loving-kindness as a mother towards her only child as we do towards all beings.