Still scribbling.

May 2022 be a year of lovingkindness.

May you be happy and safe.
May all beings be happy.

These words come from the Buddha’s teaching on lovingkindness. I have been writing a book of reflections and recently completed one on this teaching, which I post below.  In 2022 I plan to continue to scribble and to practice lovingkindness to all.  In the words of another teaching,

May all creatures, all living things,
all beings one and all,
experience good fortune only.
May they not fall into harm.

The African-American feminist and Buddhist writer bell hooks died recently and many of her insights have been posted on social media.  I had not seen this one before, but it captures what motivates me to write these reflections.

I am often struck by the dangerous narcissism fostered by spiritual rhetoric that pays so much attention to individual self-improvement and so little to the practice of love within the context of community.

As might be expected, bell hooks is even more pointed than the quote from Karen Armstrong which started me on this project and which I posted earlier in 2020.

I recently completed a draft of the latest reflection.  Any comments or suggestions would be welcome.  As with other meditations, this is meant to be read in a quiet place, free of distractions, free to stop and ponder, free of any goal to do the whole reflection in one sitting.  Some people may find all the quotes from Buddhist writings to be distracting.  Feel free to skip over those and add your own reflections.

The way of loving-kindness

Among the many varieties of Buddhist practice, loving-kindness (metta in Pali, maitrī in Sanskrit) beats in the heart of them all. Many are the forms of meditating on loving-kindness, but let’s begin with the ancient Metta Sutta. The Buddha taught this to his monks when they were being frightened by horrible creatures during the night. In South Asia, Buddhists recite this sutta, among others, for protection against illness and danger, not from a belief in some mystical power, but from a belief in the power of truth, the truth of unbounded kindness for all beings.

Let’s read the entire sutta slowly and then go back over each line.

What is to be developed by one skilled in attaining well-being?
Having reached this state of peace,
Be able, honest, and straight-forward,
Gently spoken, mild, and without conceit.

Content and not burdensome,
Not too busy and living frugally,
All five senses calm, prudent
Not rude, or greedy for followers.

Not doing the slightest thing
Which another wise person would criticize.
May they be happy and safe.
May all beings be happy.

Whatever living beings,
Animal and vegetable without any left out,
Long or large,
Mid-size or short, tiny or massive.

Seen or unseen
Which live far or near,
Born or to be born,
May all beings be happy.

Let no one deceive another,
Nor think less of anyone anywhere.
Angry or upset with someone,
Let them not wish pain on each other.

As a mother her own child
With her life protects her only child,
Likewise, for all living beings,
Let one’s heart become boundless.

With loving-kindness for the whole world,
The heart-mind becomes boundless,
Above, below, and all over
Not uptight, without hate or hostility.

Standing, walking, or sitting,
Lying down while very drowsy,
Stay aware of this:
Here, they say, is dwelling in the holy.

Not holding views,
Virtuous, accomplished in perceiving,
With greed for sensual pleasure disciplined,
Indeed, there is no return to this cycle of suffering. (Snp 1.8)

Let’s focus on what the Buddha is telling us here.

He’s addressing us as “skilled in attaining well-being” and listing what qualities we should build as we attain this “state of calm.” Stay a moment with each of the qualities to develop. Reflect on how practicing each quality spreads kindness to our fellow inhabitants of this earth. These qualities are not just ethical foundations for benevolence, they are, individually and collectively, aspects of such love. We become “skilled in attaining well-being” and reach a state of peace, not just for ourselves but with limitless kindness for all.

Therefore, let’s stop to reflect on how to become:

competent, able;

One who is competent and self-confident,
learned, an expert on the teachings of the Buddha,
practicing in accord with these teachings,
is called an adornment of the community. AN 4.7

honest, going in a straight direction, direct, upright, forthright;

Honest in what is done with the body, in words, in the mind,
heading straight ahead, and
upright in what one accomplishes. AN 10.216

very upright, honest, straightforward;

When a noble disciple understands dissatisfaction, understands the origin of dissatisfaction, understands the cessation of discomfort, and understands the practice which leads to the cessation of discomfort, then having completely abandoned the subconscious tendency towards passion, having removed the subconscious tendency towards aversion, having destroyed the subconscious tendency towards the conceit ‘I am,’ having abandoned ignorance, having given rise to knowledge, one has made an immediately visible end of discomfort – this is how one has right perspective, how this perspective is upright, how one is possessed of certainty and confidence in the teachings, how one has arrived at this true teaching. MN 9

gently spoken, easy to admonish or correct;

Since one is easy to correct and possesses qualities that make one easy to correct, one is patient and receives instruction respectfully. This, too, is a quality that serves as a protector. AN 10.17

mild, flexible, pliable, soft;

In the same way, there remains only equanimity, pure, bright, pliable, workable, and radiant. MN 140

without conceit, humble;

Their deeds and behavior are always consistent with the precepts. They’re content, kind-hearted, and humble. They want to train. They use the necessities of life after reflecting on their purpose. They’re energetic. AN 10.101

content, satisfied, pleased, happy;

When, without seeking guilty pleasures, one is content
with next to nothing but the ready-to-hand;
when one’s mind is not distressed
because of a lodging,
clothes, drink, and food,
one is not hindered anywhere. AN 4.27

not burdensome, frugal;

So, begging bowl in hand I’ll follow thee, wherever thou mayst lead,
Nor shalt thou find me burdensome or difficult to feed. Ja 529

not busy, having few duties, free from care;

Restless, they relish
work, talk, and sleep.
Such a mendicant is incapable
of touching the highest awakening.
That’s why one ought to have few duties,
being wakeful and stable.
Such a mendicant is capable
of touching the highest awakening. Iti 79

living frugally, living lightly;

This world is led on by old age, sickness, and death. But restraint here by way of body, speech, and mind is the shelter, protection, island, refuge, and haven for the departed. AN 3.51

with all five senses calm, all faculties peaceful;

So, you should train like this: ‘We shall have peaceful faculties and peaceful minds.’ That’s how you should train. When your faculties and mind are peaceful, your acts of body, speech, and mind will be peaceful, thinking: ‘We shall present the gift of peace to our spiritual companions.’ That’s how you should train. AN 2.36

prudent, intelligent, clever, adept;

If you should find a prudent friend
or companion, one who lives well, a wise one,
overcoming all your troubles
you should live with that one, glad and mindful. Dhp 328

not rude, not reckless, not impudent;

Someone with six qualities is raised up to heaven. What six? They don’t kill living creatures, steal, commit sexual misconduct, or lie. And they’re not greedy or rude. Someone with these six qualities is raised up to heaven. AN 6.82

not greedy for followers, without greed when among families;

Humbling their heart,
a mendicant should walk for alms
from family to family indiscriminately,
with sense doors guarded, well-restrained.
They should be content even with coarse food,
not hoping for lots of flavors.
The mind that’s greedy for flavors
doesn’t enjoy meditative absorption. Thag 10.6

behaving wisely, not doing the slightest thing which the wise might criticize.

There are these five drawbacks of bad conduct. What five? You blame yourself. After examination, sensible people criticize you. You get a bad reputation. You drift away from true teachings. You settle on untrue teachings. These are the five drawbacks of bad conduct. AN 5.245

As we practice these qualities, we practice kindness. Opening kindly to all without exception, our hearts speak out in the Metta Sutta.

May they be happy and safe.
May all beings be happy.

We extend kindness to all living beings without exception:

Animal or vegetable,
Tall or short,
Massive or tiny,
Whether we see them or not,
Whether they live near or far away,
Wherever they are in the cycle of life.

As we reflect on these categories, we see them for what they are: boxes that close off, walls to divide “me” from “other.” Let go of making these boxes so that we can open to spread kindness to all beings. The Buddha calls this “signless (animitta) liberation.”

One whose defilements have ended;
who’s not attached to food;
whose domain is the liberation
of the signless and the open:
their track is hard to trace,
like birds in the sky. Dhp 92

As we stop pigeon-holing, we open to how we have been and are “I-making.” We let go of me-myself-and-I to open kindly to all with no distinctions.

Any kind of form whatsoever, Rahula, whether past, future, or present … far or near—having seen all form as it really is with correct wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not myself,’ one is liberated from making distinctions. …
When one knows and sees thus, Rahula, then in regard to this body with consciousness and in regard to all signs (sabbanimittesu), the mind is rid of I-making, mine-making, and conceit, has transcended discrimination, and is peaceful and well liberated.” SN 22.92

Then, the Metta Sutta returns to three more ways to practice kindness.

not deceiving anyone;

Those who are deceivers, stubborn, talkers,
imposters, haughty, unconcentrated,
do not make progress in the truths
that the Perfectly Enlightened One has taught.
But those who are honest and sincere,
steadfast, compliant, and well concentrated,
make progress in the truths
that the Perfectly Enlightened One has taught. AN 4.26

not thinking less of anyone, not despising or scorning anyone;

If any man, whether he be learned or not, consider himself so great as to despise other men, he is like a blind man holding a candle—blind himself, he illumines others. Sayings of the Dharma With Stories (Chinese)

When a monk who is involved in a conflict is speaking in the Sangha, … He should persuade when persuasion is appropriate, should make others understand when making understood is appropriate, should look on when looking on is appropriate, and should inspire when inspiration is appropriate. … Thinking, “I am learned,” he should not despise those who are ignorant. Thinking, “I am more senior,” he should not despise those who are junior. Vinaya (Rules for monks)

not wishing harm when angry or upset.

Give up anger, get rid of conceit,
and escape every fetter.
Sufferings don’t befall one who has nothing,
not clinging to name and form.

When anger surges like a lurching chariot,
keep it in check.
That’s what I call a charioteer;
others just hold the reins.

Defeat anger with kindness,
villainy with virtue,
stinginess with giving,
and lies with truth.

Speak the truth, do not be angry,
and give when asked, if only a little.
By these three means,
you may enter the presence of the gods. Dhp 221-224

With minds and hearts open, the Metta Sutta continues,

we care for and protect all living beings,
wherever they are—above, below, or around us;
we love each and all like mothers love their children,
whatever we are doing—standing, sitting, or walking;
even lying down when tired,
we pay attention to being kind.

“All living beings.” As another protective sutta, this time against poisonous snakes and reptiles, intones:

May all creatures, all living things,
all beings one and all,
experience good fortune only.
May they not fall into harm. AN 4.67

The Pali word translated above as “one and all” captures the opening of all our mental boxes through loving-kindness. The Pali English Dictionary explains kevalā as an “expression of the concept of unity and totality: whole,complete, adv.altogether.” We spread kindness to all—not individually, not collectively, but as one.

And how have we changed through opening up with boundless kindness?  The Metta Sutta tells us:

We realize that we live in the sacred.

Just as we let go of the boxes into which we have put other living beings, we let go of “views.”

Not holding views,
Virtuous, accomplished in perceiving,
With greed for sensual pleasure disciplined,
Indeed, there is no return to the womb (to this cycle of suffering). (Snp 1.8)

This passage is often translated as “not holding wrong views.” In keeping with the sutta’s emphasis on opening our hearts and minds, however, all views become walls limiting how we look at the world. Even how we look kindly on other beings can become a limit. As the ancient commentary on the Metta Sutta explains,

Because loving-kindness has beings as its object, it is close to a view of self. Hence, by way of rejecting the adoption of views, he says this to show those bhikkhus the attainment of the plane of the noble ones reached by using that same concentration on loving-kindness as a basis.

The sutta traces movement from dwelling in the holy (“concentration on loving-kindness”) to understanding of phenomena, physical and mental, without viewing/separating/closing them off with “name and form,” but seeing them just as nodes of conditions. Living virtuously and controlling sensual desires, one can see more clearly, thus stopping this cycle of unsatisfactory living.


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