by Bhante Mahinda
It is often thought that if we try to practise loving-kindness and compassion all the time, we will become weak and passive. But this is not true. As we deepen our metta practice further and grow in wisdom, we will have greater ability to handle challenging situations in a constructive way. Sometimes we need to apply loving-kindness and compassion with a certain degree of firmness. Our hearts may be soft and gentle but our actions are strong and firm. Externally we may appear wrathful, but internally we are loving and kind.
We can observe this with a mother and child. When the child wants to play with fire, the mother will stop the child’s action, perhaps in a forceful manner. The child may cry and be very unhappy, but the mother needs to act in such a way in order to protect the child from the danger of being burnt. Sometimes we need to take strong action to prevent harm to ourselves and others.
Similarly, saying ‘no’ to a friend at school or a colleague at work does not necessarily mean that we are angry or unkind. Although when we are angry we may say ‘no’ to everything, when we practise metta with mindfulness and wisdom, we say ‘no’ out of loving-kindness and compassion for both ourselves and others.
The strong motivating force of genuine loving-kindness and compassion will prompt us to take action in order to protect the life and welfare of all beings, not just ourselves and our loved ones. The examples of people such as Ghandi have shown that peaceful and non-violent means of effecting change are very powerful.
We need to have confidence in the law of cause and effect, knowing that when we act purely out of loving-kindness, we have not created any negative action or intentional harm to anyone, and this will be the source of future good, although we may not completely avert a negative situation in the present. Even if we make some people angry or upset along the way, ultimately our sincere intention to act for the benefit of beings will overcome any animosity.
It takes great courage to sincerely exercise loving-kindness in the midst of threatening situations or confrontations. We need to understand that even though we may not be able to get the best solution in the short term, we will avoid creating further problems by our actions. If we give in to anger and craving, protecting our own interests at the expense of others’, eventually the negative effects of our actions will backfire, creating further problems for ourselves and others in the long-term.
We have to learn to see the bigger picture. If we look closely at the many conflicts in the world today – over territory, resources or the actions of another group of humans etc. – we can see that greed, hatred and ignorance have produced generations of suffering, vicious cycles of retaliation and endemic social problems. Until the tendencies of greed, hatred and ignorance are replaced by an attitude of forgiveness, tolerance, sharing and understanding, any positive developments usually end up being short-lived.
The preamble to the UNESCO constitution declares that:
“since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”.
Therein lies the greatest ‘power’ in the world – the power of the human mind to develop loving-kindness and compassion, to develop wisdom. It is because we have not developed these potentials of our minds that greed, hatred and ignorance hold sway. That is why it is crucial for each and every one of us to take every opportunity to act with kindness, compassion and wisdom as much as we are able to and to strive to develop these qualities further. Then we will have the strength and the confidence to confront and address even the most difficult issues in such a way as to ensure the welfare and happiness of all beings.