Before I continue with reflections from the Eightfold Path, I wanted to indulge in some shameless name-dropping. If you’ve been to my classes, you’ve caught wind of this. But during my last retreat at IMS in December, I re-met, an intellectual hero of mine, Robert Wright. I say re-met, because 8 or 9 years ago, I bumped into him at a retreat, not knowing who he was at all. Subsequent to that encounter, I looked him up and promptly became a doting fan of his work. At any rate, amongst many of his positions, Bob is a senior editor at The Atlantic, and he wrote this about his retreat experience: Should Buddhist Meditation Make You Happy?
Ok, turning back to the Eightfold Path, this week, I’ll briefly mention the second aspect of Wise Intention, the intention of good will or friendliness (metta). I say ‘briefly’ because after we practice our way through all limbs of the Eightfold Path, I’ll be circling back to a much deeper investigation of metta.
For now, the practice of good will might be seen as a proactive way of opposing ill will, anger or aversion within the mind. As Bhikkhu Bodhi observes, “Spontaneous feelings of good will occur too sporadically and are too limited in range to be relied on as the remedy of aversion.” Time spent with family over the holidays may have validated this assertion and, thereby, reinforced the need for active cultivation.
Now, if you’ve truly been honest with yourself, you may have realized that your mind is rather stingy with regards to how freely it truly wishes good will to others. At least, I have. My default mode is to assume that another person’s gain is my loss. In other words, from a contracted perception, our well-being is inversely correlated, locked within a zero-sum dynamic (kudos to Bob Wright and his book Nonzero). Of course, I don’t like that default, but in a limited kind of way, that is often the case. And practice, if done well, facilitates a perceptual shift to a deeper recognition of interconnection (Wise View). From interconnection, the zero-sum dynamic yields to a nonzero-sum dynamic, one where outcomes our mutually dependent. For more on what all this zero-sum and nonzero-sum stuff is, please click through to this link.
So, in some sense, the practice of metta —of actively cultivating good will to oneself and to other beings — helps to bridge the chasm between the isolated sense of separation and the more expansive realization (and absolute reality) of non-separation.
We’ll revisit this theme down the road. But for now, I wanted to share with you a translation of the Metta Sutta.
I recommend clicking on the link, printing the sutta, and reading it before your meditation practice. It’s a great reminder about what it’s all about.
Originally published on January 4, 2013