Monday, July 4, 2011

Double Take on Loving Kindness

Jack Kornfield, Ayya Khema, Gil Fronsdal, Sharon Salzberg, Ruth Denison, Jon Kabat-Zinn, six  teachers . . . all big fans of loving kindness.

U Tejaniya has a different take, worth listening to:
For some people, to practise metta bhavana when they are angry can create an internal conflict. For them it does not work. What is real is the anger, and trying to intellectually suppress it won't help. I tried to send metta to people when I as angry with. But now my wisdom just cannot accept it. My wisdom tells me: "Be real! Watch the anger! Understand the anger!" It feels like the mind is trying to lie to itself. I have done quite a lot of metta bhavana in the past, even practiced all night long and got into absorption, into really blissed-out states for a whole day, but it did not make me a less angry person. The moment I stopped practicing I was full of anger again.
After I had been practicing satipatthana at home for many years, continuously watching all mental activities, I started having periods during which there was really no more dosa in the mind. Then it was easy to send metta to anyone - no problem. My teacher would sit until his mind was really peaceful and only then send metta. Because then it was real metta. Only if you have money in your pocket, can you give some away 
[. . .]
The metta I would like you to have is real metta, not the kind you try to create for yourself or towards someone else. If there is no dosa, then metta, mudita, karuna, and upekkha all become possible, and you can radiate as much metta as you like. Metta grows our of adosa and it is therefore more important to acknowledge, observe, and understand dosa than to practice metta. I emphasize this point of first dealing with the dosa because it is real.
[. . .]
I always tell yogis who want to practice metta to be aware of themselves while they are doing it. When you are observing yourself while sending metta, you are doing satipatthana. Watch your mind at work sending metta; check whether you really feel metta. Then you will also notice if you are angry and that it is really difficult to send any metta when you are angry.
I think I see U Tejaniya's point. There are times when it gets tough inside, and I decide to be easy on myself, and I give into the sweetness of metta, just to give the heart a break. Times when fear threatens to take me down, or when the heat of anger needs to be cooled. Investigation stopped, and instead, a deliberate cultivation of wholesomeness in the mind. The big question raised by U Tejaniya is of whether it would not be more wise to continue the investigation of the fear, or the anger. Getting down to the bottom of the hindrances, until they get dissolved completely through wise, sustained attention.

I also fully ascribe to the value of substituting unwholesome thoughts with wholesome thoughts. Responding to the state of fear with thoughts about peace, and ease. Responding to the anger with well wishing thoughts about happiness, and well-being. The neuroscientists have confirmed the Buddha's findings, that the brain can be rewired through the cultivation of specific thoughts. 

Maybe there is a middle road here? To practice metta, WHILE at the same time continuing to be very aware of the hindrances still present, and their effect on one's happiness. Also to know one's limits, and have compassion for one's aching heart. Holding the fear, and the anger as a mother would hold her unhappy child. The idea being not to substitute the anger with love, but to envelop it with love, giving it space to move. Coming full circle with U Tejaniya's point about wisdom.

Metta by itself, no. Metta with wisdom, yes.


  1. Ah, yes! This reminds me of a compassionate abiding practice I was recently introduced to. The practice involves looking at our emotions, such as anger, and neither acting them out or repressing them.

    Locating the emotion and where it's coming from. Feeling the very real energy that's associated with it. Then, instead of shying away from it, embrace it. Hold the emotion just like your lovely example above of a mother holding her child. Gently stop any thoughts related to the emotion so that you can remain with the true feeling and essence of the emotion.

    Thanks so much for this. It's a reminder for me to not only practice sending metta to others, but also learning to generate love and compassion for myself.

  2. Thanks for sharing this lovely practice, Nate!

    I am a big fan of mindfulness and investigation :) two powerful ways to find out for ourselves the truth about self-inflicted suffering as it is being played out in the body, and the mind.

  3. Actually, the way I see it, mindfulness is just the intentional awareness of what is present, without reactivity... That being said, noticing that there is an inner conflict... anger when one wants peace or lovingkindness and seeing that tension which is just dukkha, right? When things are not as we wish, that's dukkha. To know it as it is - then this knowing transforms it. I'm thinking of Gil's recent talk on the Book of Eights - knowing the painfulness of dukkha, the natural response is to let go. But we can't do that willfully, we can't force the mind to let go - that just creates more dukkha! We just need for the mind to experience it fully and then naturally, the mind let's go.

  4. Yes, to attend to, and to investigate the experience fully, so that the heart and mind become convinced to let go, at last . . .

  5. Thanks for this post. It is a good reminder. Sometimes we are so sincere about changing ourselves into more compassionate beings that we resort to methods that do violence against our feelings and emotions, negative though they may be. It can all be so tricky, but I've found that I must (absolutely must!) surround myself with compassion, otherwise there is no way that I can extend compassion toward others.