December 16, 2013
When my kids were teenagers, they went to the high school about a half mile from my work. Whenever I’d hear a siren during school hours, I would first check the time. Are they in class or at lunch in another teenager’s car going who knows where? My mind would tense and my heart would tighten as I worried that something horrible had happened to them. It became my habit, and has remained so, that whenever I hear a siren, I say a metta phrase to myself. Something like “may they be ok, may they not be too hurt, may they be safe.” I know that my wishes are not magic, and won’t change whatever has happened. And I also know that my wishes make me feel better and restore my mind and heart to a more comfortable less frightened place.
“The Buddha first taught the metta meditation as an antidote to fear, as a way of surmounting terrible fear when it arises. The legend is that he sent a group of monks off to meditate in a forest that was inhabited by tree spirits. These spirits resented the presence of the monks and tried to drive them away by appearing as ghoulish visions, with awful smells and terrible, shrieking noises. The tradition says that the monks became terrified and ran back to the Buddha, begging him to send them to a different forest for their practice. Instead, the Buddha replied, “I am going to send you back to the same forest, but I will provide you with the only protection you will need.” This was the first teaching of metta meditation. The Buddha encouraged the monks not only to recite the metta phrases but to actually practice them. As these stories all seem to end so happily, so did this one—it is said that the monks went back and practiced metta, so that the tree spirits became quite moved by the beauty of the loving energy filling the forest, and resolved to care for and serve the monks in all ways.
The inner meaning of the story is that a mind filled with fear can still be penetrated by the quality of lovingkindness. Moreover, a mind that is saturated by lovingkindness cannot be overcome by fear; even if fear should arise, it will not overpower such a mind.”
Sharon Salzberg, Loving-Kindness; The Revolutionary Art of Happiness.
Here is the Buddha’s original teaching on metta, The Metta Sutta. I hope you enjoy it. As you read it, you might find that a certain line feels particularly meaningful, and then another and then another. Spend some time with it and see what seems most important. Then come back a read it another day and see what’s important then. Or you might choose to keep a particular line in mind as you go through your day as a reminder or an intention.
Metta Sutta; The Buddha’s Words on Loving-Kindness
This is what should be done
By those who are skilled in goodness,
And who know the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech,
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied,
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways,
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: in gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born—
May all beings be at ease!
Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world,
Spreading upward to the skies,
And downward to the depths;
Outward and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down,
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.