Good will, loving-kindness, friendliness, a friendly feeling, metta. How do you practise metta? You start by trying to understand the value of your own life; you must see how much you love yourself. The dearest thing for every individual in the world is their own life. Therefore, first of all, feel the love for yourself. I do not mean carnal appetite when I use this word ‘love’; I mean good will and benevolence. You must hope for the welfare of your own life.
Anyone who doesn’t love himself or herself cannot love others. First practise love for yourself, and then extend that very same love to your nearest and dearest — your child, for example. Do this until you feel that there is no difference between your child and yourself. Then go a little further and try to feel love for, say, a brother. Again, do this until you feel there is no difference between you, your child and your brother. Continue practising like this from person to person, from individual to individual. Extend love to relatives, friends, neighbours and all the people in your vicinity. Then direct your loving-kindness to those living further away, and on and on until you gradually encompass all the people in the whole country. Then continue; extend your love to those in surrounding countries, and further and further until all the human beings on the whole earth are the objects of your love.
After this, extend your love to nonhuman beings, to animals and unseen beings (if you believe there are gods, angels or spirits). Extend your love towards them. In this way you may spread loving-kindness to all living beings everywhere. This is one method.
There is another method. First, again, love yourself. Then extend your love to all beings in the eastern direction. Next extend it to those in the south-easterly direction. After that, direct your love towards those living in the southern part of the world, then the southwest, the west, the northwest, the north, and the northeast. Continue practising this over and over again. Do it repeatedly. Then extend love towards those beings beneath your feet and those above your head. In this way, you will be practising loving-kindness for all living beings on this earth. Continue, still, by spreading love to all beings in other worlds, other planets; little by little extending it towards every living being in the whole universe.
There are many ways of practising metta, loving kindness. You may practise it in whatever way you like.
Sometimes, however, an obstacle may rise up beyond which you cannot seem to go. One of the main obstacles is the so-called ‘enemy’. When you practise love, someone may come to mind whom you cannot touch with loving-kindness. Instead, you feel irritation or anger. What is to be done to overcome such an obstacle? First, you must understand the nature of the enmity. What was the disagreeable thing done to you by this person? Remember it. Someone does something, commits a crime against another person (sometimes as a result of a misunderstanding; sometimes out of weakness). Anger is a weakness, an unwholesome state, that rises up in the heart of an imperfect person. In every worldly being there is the possibility of this anger. It is not only he or she who experiences this; even you become angry sometimes! It is a weakness of humanity.
When others are about to do something against you, their anger spoils their hearts, their minds; the minds of those people at that time become polluted by that anger. So you should extend pity towards them because they are spoiling themselves. They draw themselves back from their development; they fall to lower states; they harm themselves. You should pity such people because of their weakness. This is one way of thinking of so-called ‘enemies’.
When a person harms you as a result of sudden anger, you may feel you want to take revenge. In order to do this, however, first you have to find the real enemy. Someone gets angry and does something you don’t like. Who is the enemy? Is the body the enemy? But body is not responsible for what it does; the body is merely used by the mind. It is the mind that has done something against you through the body. Like a driver who hits someone with a car. There is no point in punishing the car! If anyone is to be punished, it is the driver. The driver has been careless. Likewise, it is the mind that has harmed you, using the body. Therefore, if you think you would like to beat the body of the person who has harmed you, it is a foolishness; it is just like punishing the car because of the damage caused by the driver. If you punish another’s body because of the mind that has used that body to harm you, that is your foolishness.
Now, let us come to the mind. Mind is not one thing. What we call mind, conventionally, is not the same thing all the time. ‘Mind’ is a stream of thoughts, a stream of different types of consciousness. In this moment consciousness arises and vanishes immediately. And without a gap, another consciousness arises. Successions of thoughts rise and vanish incessantly. This whole stream of thought, the different thoughts, are termed ‘mind’.
When someone does something against you using his or her body, it is a thought which has influenced that body to act. All of that person’s thoughts are not responsible for that particular act. A person can’t do harm to you with all their thoughts. Only when anger arises, only with that thought, is harm done. And not every thought is an angry thought. In the very same person good thoughts may also rise up: kind thoughts, thoughts full of love, thoughts full of devotion. All those thoughts are not responsible for what a previous thought has done. The thought in which anger arose has now gone, so that person whom you call your enemy has no such thought now. The thought which used that body to harm you has gone. At this moment different thoughts are arising in that person. So, on whom do you take revenge? Your enemy has gone! If you try to take revenge on the present thoughts of the person and the present body, you are making a mistake.
The body that was used by a past angry thought is not the present body. Body is a mass of material states rising and vanishing. And those material states which were used by that angry thought have gone. Now, at this moment, other material states have arisen which you see as that person’s body; they are the succession of those previous material states. The present thought and the present collection of material states of his or her body are not responsible for what some previous thought and some previous material states have done to you. Whom are you going to punish? Your enemy has gone. There is no enemy now.
Philosophically, or psychologically, try to understand the nature of the so-called ‘enemy’. After all, you don’t find any kind of enemy there now because everything has changed. At a particular moment, some mental state together with material states called ‘body’, did some harm. But, immediately, they passed on. In this psycho-physical process, there may also arise good thoughts, the qualities of which influence physical, material states. At that moment, the so-called ‘enemy’ is a good person. So, every moment the ‘person’ changes. The same person does not exist for two moments, and you cannot find your enemy. It is very easy for you to extend your loving-kindness, therefore, to that ‘enemy’ if you understand that there is no real enemy for two seconds.
You can think of other people in the same way. And, if you learn a little dhamma, if you follow the example of the Lord Buddha, then you can also curb your anger. The Buddha extended his kindness even to those who had harmed him. Devadatta was always trying to kill the Buddha, though he could not do it. Up to his last days Devadatta was very jealous and hostile towards the Buddha, and he tried every possible way to kill him. Buddha knew that, but was always very kind to Devadatta. In previous births also, Lord Buddha practised forbearance and patience. Others beat him, wanted to kill him, but still he didn’t get angry. His feelings were never hurt. Instead, Buddha extended loving-kindness towards them all, just as a mother might love her only child. He regarded all living beings as his children. Children might be disobedient to their mothers, but their mothers are still kind to them.
So, just like a mother towards her child, you can extend your loving-kindness towards all living beings. That is the advice of the Buddha. We should take examples from the Buddha’s life, and, together with the knowledge of our own lives, think of our enemies and try to understand what those enemies are. There is no enemy! At a particular moment some person, owing to a misunderstanding, might do something we don’t like. You need to pity that person. Removing the ill will that at any moment might arise in your mind, in your heart, is the way to overcome it, to subdue it. Then you will be able to successfully extend your loving-kindness towards all living beings.
When you feel no difference between yourself and all otherbeings, then you have come to the topmost state, to the culmination of the development of loving-kindness.
[Adapted from a talk given by Venerable Ananda Maitreya in 1985 on the practice of metta.]
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From Buddhism Now, August 1995