This paper was presented at the 5th International Buddhist Research Seminar, organised by Buddhist Research Institute, Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University, Thailand on 22nd May 2013 and published in Voice of Buddhism June 2013 Vol 54 issue. Malaysia was represented by 3 speakers representing Buddhist Missionary Society Malaysia.
Reproduced with pictures added
Metta Meditation: Applying Dhamma in Contemporary Society
We are living in a society that is filled with stress whether internally or externally driven. On a global basis, both natural and man-made disaster has inflicted tremendous stress on the people directly impacted by these disasters and also people indirectly impacted by them.
Over the past 10 years, global disasters both natural and man-made had caused economic lost of over USD1 trillion! The economic lost for the last 3 years alone adds up to over US$600 billion (2010 at US$138 billion, US$371 billion in 2011 and another USD$138 billion in 2012). In 2012, some 310 disasters killed over 9,300 people and affected 106 million others (mainly in the US, Italy and China). Within a short 5-day period, between 16 – 20 April 2013, we have 4 major disasters, the bombing at Boston Marathon, the earthquake in Iran, the explosions at a fertilizer plant in West Texas and a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Sichuan, China.
The lost of houses, office lots, factories, agriculture land, infrastructure, etc. Resulting in the lost of home, jobs and life comforts. What about the cost on human life lost? The loss of limbs, sight, hearing… Unquantifiable! Then there is the cost of lost relationship – a parent, a child, an aunt, a teacher, a friend, a colleague, not forgetting the pets. These are immeasurable!! What about the impact on the mental well-being – the lost of security, peace, harmony, stability? The grief, the sadness, the anger, the hatred that arose is just unimaginable!
What about the impact on the caregivers? Doctors and nurses, healthcare workers, family and friends, the humanitarian relief personnel? The security personnel – the police and army forces? Every day, they are confronted with so much suffering? What are the impacts on these personnel? How do they serve those people in need? Do they serve with love and compassion? Do they serve with kindness and empathy? Or after so many such cases, have they become indifference? Have they heart close-off – to protect themselves from being paralysed by their feeling of grief, anger, hatred and even delusion?
Then there is the stress of daily living. Stress of keeping what is happening around us from affecting or impacting us, such as robbery, murder, rape, cheat, etc. Every day we see more and more crime being committed. Next is the stress of keeping up with society norm – a society wanting more and more. There are so many material things to pursue. So much stress in keeping up with the “Joneses”. We achieve our material wealth but at what cost? We may have gratification and happiness for an instance before we have to work harder to get more, to accumulate more. Not only adults are in this cycle of wanting more and more. Children are not exempted. In some society, a child at age of 4, have to be trained to meet certain criteria before they can be accepted into play school! It got more stressful as they got older – keeping up with their grades, wanting latest gadgets that their schoolmates have, envious of the neighbour children’s holiday abroad, the list goes on and on. These create a lot of greed, jealousy, anger and hatred. If the parents are able to ‘match’ materially, the child will be greedy for more, wanting to be ahead of all his peers. What if the parents cannot keep up or the child cannot match up? They may harbour anger and perhaps even hatred towards the parents, jealous of friends. In extreme cases, they may end up with low self esteem, depression and even suicide.
Matthieu Ricard shared during his talk on The Habits of Happiness: The Dalai Lama was once in Portugal, and there was a lot of construction going on everywhere. So one evening, he said, “Look, you are doing all these things, but isn’t it nice, also, to build something within?” And he said, “Unless that — even you get high-tech flat on the 100th floor of a super-modern and comfortable building, if you are deeply unhappy within, all you are going to look for is a window from which to jump.” World Health Organisation reported an increase in suicide rate of 60% over the last 45 years. Every year, almost one million people die from suicide; a “global” mortality rate of 16 per 100,000, or one death every 40 seconds!
These stresses that the society is experiencing nowadays are creating a lot of unhappiness! There stresses are also causing the society to move further and further away from a communal society that support one another into a silo society where each fence for himself or herself. We live in a world which is very much divided. Division within family circles, within various levels in the community, as well as at national and international level. The root cause of this division lies with our limited idea of the “self”, our emphasis on “I” “my” “me” and “mine”, to exclusion of others. In order to cut across the divide we need to go beyond our ‘self’.
That is why Venerable Mahinda Maha Thero initiated this project called Metta Round the World on 1 January 2012 – to connect like-minded individuals and groups throughout the world, to encourage the practice of Metta, beginning with at least twice a month, during full moon and new moon days. By combining the positive mental energies of people around the globe, harnessing the power of ‘collective consciousness’, the project aims to promote peace, harmony and stability on an international scale.
Metta in Pali, or maitri in Sanskrit, amongst others mean loving-kindness, friendliness, benevolence, friendship, good will and kindness. Metta is the wish for all sentient beings to be well and happy. It is also referred to as ‘boundless’ or ‘universal’ love – a love that transcends all barriers, such as caste, colour or creed, a love which goes beyond selfish desires. One of the stanzas in the Lord Buddha’s Discourse known as the Karaniya Metta Sutta – the discourse on the cultivation of loving-kindness – states:
METTAÑ CA SABBA LŌKASMIṂ
MĀNASAṂ BHĀVAYE APARIMĀNAṂ
UDDHAṂ ADHŌ CA TIRIYAÑ CA
ASAMBĀDHAṂ AVERAṂ ASAPATTAṂ
Let thoughts of boundless love
Pervade the whole world
Above, below and across
Without any obstruction
Without any hatred,
Without any enmity
Metta, or loving-kindness, takes us beyond borders. It has the power to break divisions at all levels. It is a powerful healing force which will transform us into a more compassionate, caring and resilient community. When we develop the wish for all sentient beings to be well and happy, we will naturally become more aware of the manifestations of suffering in the world around us. This will arouse our compassion, and we will be moved to act to relieve the suffering of others in whatever way we can.
So, can the practice of Metta make a difference? Can we as an individual make a difference? Or collectively can we make a difference? Can the teaching of the Lord Buddha on the practice of Metta improved on the quality of life?
In Dhammapada 1, it is stated that:
All states of being are determined by mind. It is mind that leads the way. Just as the wheel of the oxcart follows the hoof print of the animal that draws it, so suffering will surely follow when we speak or act impulsively from an impure state of mind.
While in Dhammapada 5, it states that:
Never by hatred is hatred conquered, but by readiness to love alone. This is eternal law.
Metta may be the prescription. Metta or loving kindness is one of the Four Divine Abodes (Four Brahma Viharas), or Four Immeasurable or Boundless Thoughts. The other three being Karuna (Compassion), Muditha (Sympathetic Joy) and Uppekha (Equanimity). The practice of Metta underpins the other three ‘divine abodes’, and as ones Metta develops, so will ones compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity, which will in turn increase ones loving-kindness. Eventually, when ones practice reaches a very high level, each of these qualities will become boundless and unlimited, and one will really be living in a ‘divine abode’. The suttas often quoted the Lord Buddha as regularly abided or retreated in Metta.
So, what is Metta? Metta is a wish for all beings to be well and happy. A very simple wish yet if we were to practice truthfully to its essence is not that simple. How many people can wish themselves to be well and happy? How many people can wish their enemies to be well and happy? Yet, it is not such a difficult practice as mind is the forerunner (Dhammapada 1), we just need to apply our thoughts over and over with this thought that all being be well and happy. As we practice more and more the true essence of Metta will naturally manifest. The essences of Metta are as follows:
- Metta does not seek self-benefit, and therefore has not expectation.
- Metta is a generosity of the heart. It is openness.
- Metta is not dependent on external conditions.
- Metta will not turn into disappointment, ill will or jealousy.
- Metta makes no distinction between people.
- Metta embraces all beings – has an immeasurable and boundless quality
Metta is an antidote for hatred/anger (Anguttara Nikaya 3.68). It has the calming and peaceful effect where Chanmyay Myaing Sayadaw describes as the metta air-conditioning which is able to relieve the fervent burning of the mind. As we progress with our Metta practice, we will develop more patience, tolerance and understanding.
In the Anguttara Nikaya 11.16 Mettanisamsa Sutta — Discourse on Advantages of Loving-kindness, it listed the 11 benefits that will be experienced by any individual who practices Metta. They are:
- One sleeps happily
- One wakes happily
- One does not suffer bad dreams
- One is dear to human beings
- One is dear to non-human beings
- The gods protect one
- No fire or poison or weapon harms one
- One’s mind gets quickly concentrated
- The expression of one’s face is serene
- One dies unperturbed
- Even if one fails to attain higher states, one will at least reach the state of the Brahma world
When one is at ease with oneself, living in peace and harmony, the people around this individual will also benefit from association.
What about when practice collectively? John Hagelin, world-renowned quantum physicist, educator, public policy expert and leading proponent of peace, conducted an experiment in Washington DC in 1993 by bringing a large number of meditators to one area between July and July of summer in which crime rate usually rise in co-relation with the temperature. When the number of meditators reached 2,500 and grew to 4,000, noticeable was the distinct significant drop in crime compared to the expected rate based on previous data, weather conditions and a variety of other factors. “It was only a few thousand people in a city of about a million and a half. So, a relatively small group was influencing a much larger group. That is what is so fascinating,” said Hagelin in an article titled “The Power of Collective”.
As furtherance to the Metta Round the World initiative and also based on the premise of the power of collective, in June 2012, we started to conduct Metta Weekend workshops to introduce Metta Circle. Metta Circle encourages participants to form groups with 5 – 15 members within their community to come together to practice Metta meditation and to radiate Metta together for world peace, harmony and stability. It is also a platform for them to learn and to share and to support one another and ultimately, to build a community based on love and compassion.
One of the workshop activities is to get the participants to experience an abridged Metta Circle session. We got all the participants to sit in circles of 8 – 10 members, where we have between 35 – 60 participants per workshop. With just a short chanting followed by a 13 minutes guided Metta meditation session, we noticed a change in the energy within the hall where the workshops were held. We felt so much more peaceful and calm. The discussion session that followed was with much more love, kindness and compassion.
This result is achieved from where only 10% of the participants are regular Metta meditation practitioners. The rest, 10% are new to Metta meditation and another 80% who having attended Metta meditation retreats and occasionally do their post-retreat Metta Meditation. How much more powerful and healing will the Metta energy be as the number of Metta Circles grow and develop around the world and the participants become more and more skillful in their Metta practice?
Since July 2012, we have completed 4 Metta Weekend workshops and now have more than 10 active Metta Circles running on weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis. One of the Metta Circles where the members are more inclined towards energy healing, has reported better energy flow. Another circle where a number of their members have some medical issues reported that they feel more peaceful and calm.
In closing, the practice of Metta can definitely make a difference to us as an individual. When practice collectively, it will definitely have a positive impact on the community and hence improve on the quality of our life. As Venerable Mahinda has expounded in his message on the Metta Round the World initiatives: “When practiced together with wisdom and insight, Metta will indeed become a powerful healing force which transform us into a more compassionate and caring community, as well as transmuting all negative energies and entities into light, love and harmony.”
May all beings be well and happy!
Anguttara Nikaya 3.68 The Chapter of the Threes: Lust, Hatred and Delusion
Anguttara Nikaya 11.16 The Discourse on Advantages of Loving Kindness
Sutta Nipata 1.8 The Discourse on Loving Kindness/Goodwill
2012 Disasters in Numbers:http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/31685_factsheet2012.pdf
Economic losses from disasters set new record in 2012http://www.unisdr.org/archive/31685
How to Develop Metta (Loving-Kindness) by Chanmyay Myaing Sayadaw (published by Chan Khoon San ISBN 13: 978-983-41633-2-7)
Matthieu Ricard on The Habits of Happiness:http://www.ted.com/talks/matthieu_ricard_on_the_habits_of_happiness.html
Metta Circle http://mettaroundtheworld.org/mettacircle/
Metta Round the World – Message from Venerable Mahinda: http://Mettaroundtheworld.org/about-us/message-from-bhante-mahinda/
The Power of Collective by John Hagelin published in Shift: At the Frontiers of Consciousness magazine (http://istpp.org/pdf/Shift-PoweroftheCollective.pdf)
World Health Organisation – Suicide Preventionhttp://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/suicideprevent/en/