Metta for Troubled Times

In a recent online article for Lion’s Roar, Mushim Patricia Ikeda offered her way of practicing Metta (“How to Practice Metta for a Troubled Time,” June 3, 2020). Across many different presentations, the core practice remains the same: the familiar set of phrases one repeats, extending Metta (loving-kindness, goodwill) to oneself, others, friends, neutral people, enemies, plants and animals, and eventually to all things boundlessly. What changes is the presentation and context within which this practice is offered, which changes the intention and mindset of the practitioner. Here is where Mushim’s offering is so needed now.

Please read her post. Here are some key quotes to see how the practice is framed:

“Metta meditation is not a magical spell you can cast on the population of the U.S. in order to produce a state of utopian bliss. It is not a cure-all for oppression and the unequal distribution of power and privilege.”

And then later…

“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., talked about the need for “aggressive nonviolence.” There are times and situations in which we have to show up and throw down, and this may be such a time. Whether I do that from a mind of toxic hatred, or from a mind that recognizes that every human being has at some point been my mother, my parent, or guardian, depends on how well I practice metta.”

Sometimes people wonder how can I be a Buddhist and protest? Is being an activist and practicing Metta incompatible? Mushim cuts straight to it: Metta practice is not some magical formula to fix things; you still have to act and get out there on the streets and shout Black Lives Matter and, if you are a white person like me, listen and follow Black leadership as you do so; but HOW you do so will impact a great many things – how you engage your fellow activists, how you confront agitators, and how you explain your actions to those who question you will create effects (wholesome, unwholesome) in the minds and bodies of those around you; and so the intention you bring to your actions matters.

Metta is a tool for shaping that mindset, not to keep one from acting, but to shape that action.

Bows to you, Mushim, for writing this piece and shaping Metta practice in this way. May whoever comes across this blog and her article read her article with openness and interest. May we all practice Metta so we can be of service to those around us with right intention and right heart and right action. May we all shout Black Lives Matter and may we follow those shouts with actions – marching, supporting with our dollars and our voices, advocating for change at the local, state, and national levels, and more, always more…

Loving-Kindness as Protection from Fear

The Metta Sutta is one of many traditional Paritta or protection chants across Buddhist cultures. It is said that the Buddha first gave the practice of metta or loving-kindness to monks who were afraid of the tree spirits in the forest. By practicing metta, the monks transformed their fear into love and transformed the anger of the tree spirits into kindness and generosity.

Sharon Salzberg comments on this story with the following wisdom: “…a mind filled with fear can still be penetrated by the quality of lovingkindness…a mind that is saturated by lovingkindness cannot be overcome by fear.” (From Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness)

Here is a part of the Metta Sutta to recite to yourself. See if it protects you from fear, even if ever so slightly. See if it brings loving-kindness to yourself and to those around you.

“[And so I wish]: 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!”