Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Psychology of Metta

This is taken from "Metta: The Philosophy and Practice of Universal Love" by Acharya Buddharakkhita. It is excellent and covers the history, meaning and application of Metta, the practice of Loving Kindness. It has nothing to do with religion or doctrine and everything to do with softening one's heart and loving the world. You can read the entire piece by going to this link: Metta

I found section 5, "The Psychology of Metta" to be wonderful. If this broadens your understanding of Metta or if you know nothing of the practice but gain some insight into it from this posting that fills my heart! May you all be safe and protected. May you be peaceful and happy. May you be healthy and strong. May you experience ease of well being and except all the conditions of the world with wonder and joy.

Happy New Year!


The Psychology of Metta

The Pali commentaries explain:
 One loves all beings:
 (a) by the non-harassment of all beings and thus avoids harassment;
(b) by being inoffensive (to all beings) and thus avoids offensiveness;
(c) by not torturing (all beings) and thus avoids torturing;
(d) by the non-destruction (of all life) and thus avoids destructiveness;
(e) by being non-vexing (to all beings) and thus avoids vexing;
(f) by projecting the thought, "May all beings be friendly and not hostile";
(g) by projecting the thought," May all beings be happy and not unhappy";
(h) by projecting the thought, "May all beings enjoy well-being and not be distressed."
In these eight ways one loves all beings; therefore, it is called universal love. And since one conceives (within) this quality (of love), it is of the mind. And since this mind is free from all thoughts of ill-will, the aggregate of love, mind and freedom is defined asuniversal love leading to freedom of mind.
From the above passage it will be seen that metta implies the "outgrowing" of negative traits by actively putting into practice the correlative positive virtues. It is only when one actively practices non-harassment towards all beings that one can outgrow the tendency to harass others. Similarly, it is with the other qualities of inoffensiveness, non-tormenting, non-destroying and non-vexing in deed, word and thought that one can outgrow the negative traits of being offensive, of tormenting others, of destructiveness and of vexatiousness. Over and above such positive conduct and principled way of life, one further cultivates the mind through that specific technique of meditation called metta-bhavana, which generates powerful thoughts of spiritualized love that grow boundless, making consciousness itself infinite and universal.
Thoughts that wish all beings to be friendly and never hostile, happy and never unhappy, to enjoy well-being and never be distressed, imply not only sublimity and boundlessness, but also utter freedom of mind. Hence the appropriateness of the expression "universal love leading to freedom of mind."
As for the meanings of the five aspects opposed by metta, harassment is the desire to oppress or damage; offensiveness is the tendency to hurt or injure; torturing is a synonym of the sadistic tendency to torment, subjecting others to pain or misery; destructiveness is to put an end to or to finish, the trait of the extremist and the iconoclast; vexing is to tax, trouble or cause others worry and strain. Each of these tendencies is rooted in antipathy and malevolence, and provides a contrast with metta, both as a mode of conduct and as a psychological state or attitude of mind.
The substitution of a negative trait by the opposed positive course implies a very developed and mature approach to life. The ability to remain non-harassing, inoffensive, non-torturing, non-destructive and non-vexing means a very refined, beautiful and loving mode of behavior in a world where interaction between human beings creates so much tension and misery.
According to the Visuddhimagga, metta is a "solvent" that "melts" not only one's own psychic pollutants of anger, resentment and offensiveness, but also those of others. Since it takes the approach of friendship, even the hostile one turns into a friend.
Metta is characterized as that which "promotes welfare." Its function is to "prefer well-being" rather than ill. It manifests as a force that "removes annoyance" and its proximate cause is the tendency to see the good side of things and beings and never the faults. Metta succeeds when it loves, and it fails when it degenerates into worldly affection.
It will be clear from this analysis that only when one tends to see the good in people, and prefers the welfare of others, and accordingly is inoffensive (to remove any annoyance or hurt) and actively promotes well-being, does metta function as a solvent. It is said that the ultimate purpose of metta is to attain transcendental insight, and if that is not possible, it will at least effect a rebirth in the sublime sphere of the Brahma world, apart from bringing inner peace and a healthy state of mind here and now. Hence the Buddha's assurance in theMetta Sutta:
 Holding no more to wrong beliefs,
With virtue and vision of the ultimate,
And having overcome all sensual desire,
Never in a womb is he born again.
Love wards off ill-will, which is the most damaging of emotions. Hence it is said: "For this is the escape from ill-will, friends, that is to say, the freedom of mind wrought by universal love" (Digha Nikaya, III. 234).
In the practice of metta it is important to understand the emotions which nullify metta either by being similar or being dissimilar. The Visuddhimagga calls them "the two enemies — the near and the remote." Greed, lust, worldly affection, sensuality — all these are said to be the "near enemies" because they are similar in tendencies. The lustful also sees the "good side" or "beauty," and therefore gets involved. Love should be protected from it lest the masquerades of these emotions deceive the meditator.
Ill-will, anger and hatred, being dissimilar emotions, therefore constitute the "remote enemy." The remote enemy can easily be distinguished so one need not be afraid of it, but one should overcome it by projecting a higher force, that of love. But one has to be wary of the near enemy because it creates self-deception, which is the worst thing that can happen to an individual.
It is said that metta begins only when there is zeal in the form of a desire to act. Having commenced through earnest effort, it can be continued only when the five mental hindrances — sensual desire, ill-will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and doubt — are put down. Metta reaches consummation with the attainment of absorption (jhana).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Power of We

Today was a beautiful, crisp winter day and I decided to go for a run. As many of you know from this column I usually combine some type of mantra or chant with my running, making it kind of a running meditation, in line with walking meditation. I will usually focus on either the breath or a chant/mantra "Namo Amituofo" or "Om Mani Padme Hum" or "Nam Myoho Renge Kyo." You get the picture. As I ran, I felt the wonderful cold air pass through my lips and fill my lungs...while meditating I was filled with Life...My goal, you see, was not to be filled with anything but it just happened...A new perfect mantra or chant appeared in my mind...WE..."We" you ask? Yup! "We!" We came naturally into my Soul, my Psyche, my Spirit, my Breathing...

Meister Eckhart said "The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God's eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love." 

Whether you believe in God or not is not the point...I believe in Life, Spirit....I call it the Divine. In Buddhism we say in greeting one another "Namaste" which means, "I bow to the Divine in you." I try to do that all the time because Divine IS IN YOU. If you have life in you, you have Divine in you. The Divine has been present in you BEFORE you were born. All life, everything has Divine in it. Love, peace, pain, emptiness, joy, sadness, growth are all part of the Divine. Because I am in the heart of the Ultimate Mind, the Divine, the Power, the Great Spirit, the Breath, Thought...whatever you want to call It, the Divine naturally is in my heart. If you are alive, conscious, breathing, you are part of real Life...the Divine. You are part of It and It is part of you. I am part of It, It is part of me. We are all related! "The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God's eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love." All life is Divine, trees, animals, the Buddha (all Buddhas), all spiritual masters, Jesus, my mother who passed away when I was a child....WE...

"We" kept repeating over and over in my head...through my heart. "We" is the Light that filled my being as I ran, it was the air that I breathed, it was the sun on my was everyone that passed me in cars as I ran, birds flying above...You see, "We" encompasses everything. God is We. You are We, Life is We, I am We. I bow to the Divine in you because we share the Divine...we are Divine together. You are as much a part of me as my breath, my soul. "We" unites everything and makes it possible to understand how simple it is to love one another, how to appreciate how very precious life is...We is...Everything! I am comforted saying it over and over in my mind....I feel you, I feel Life, I feel Love...We are We!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Do Buddhists Believe in God?

This is a fantastic talk given by Kusala Bhikshu to students at a high school in Los Angeles. Bhikshu explains in a simple way and dispels sone common beliefs....

Do Buddhists Believe in God?
by Kusala Bhikshu

Why is it... The Buddha never talked about the One God of the desert, the Judeo-Christian God? Does this mean that all Buddhists are atheists and don’t believe in God? Did the Buddha believe in God?

These are some of the questions I would like to try and answer today.

The Buddha was born 500 years before Christ, in what is now Nepal. His dad was a king, his mom was a queen, and his dad wanted him to take over the family business (the kingdom) when he got older.

The kind of world the Buddha was born into was magical. Everything seemed to be alive. The trees, mountains, lakes, and sky were living and breathing with a variety of gods in charge. If you needed rain you asked one god, if you needed it to stop raining you asked another. The priests of India did all the religious work, and got paid for it.

In India at the time of the Buddha you became a priest if you were born into the right family, and not because of the school you went to, or the grades you got.

There were other kinds of religious people as well.

Mendicants were men who left their family, friends, and jobs to find the answers to life. They did not live in homes or apartments, but lived under trees and in caves, and would practice meditation all day long. They wanted to really be uncomfortable, so they could understand what suffering was all about.

Many kinds of meditation were practiced by these mendicants. In Tranquility Meditation for instance, you think about just one thing, like looking at a candle or saying a word over and over. When the mind becomes focused in oneness, you experience a great peacefulness.

Even if the mendicants were sitting in the rain on a cold day, they were still content. They found in their meditation practice the essence of happiness.

Renunciation is when you give up all the things that make your life pleasant. Sometimes the people with money and power in India would buy a lot of stuff to make themselves happy and their lives more comfortable, thinking that happiness and comfort depended on what they owned.

When the mendicants could see their own suffering clearly, after many years of renunciation, they understood that happiness was not dependent on the things they owned, but the kind of life they lived.

Even all the gods in India could not end the suffering of one human being.

At the age of 29, the Buddha stopped praying to the gods to end his suffering and the suffering of others. He left his family and friends, went to the edge of the forest, took off all his clothes and jewelry, covered his naked body with rags of cloth, cut off his hair and started to meditate.

He became a mendicant, and It took him six years of hard work and much suffering, but in the end he was able to stop his suffering forever (Nirvana) and help others stop their suffering as well.

Did the Buddha believe in God, the One God of the desert, the God of the Christians, Jews and Muslims?

Well... No... He didn't... Monotheism (only one God) was a foreign concept to the Buddha, his world was filled with many gods. The creator god Brahma being the most important one.

At the time of the Buddha, the only people practicing the religion of the One God of the desert, were the Jews. Remember, it was still 500 years before Christ came into the world.

The Buddha never left India. The Buddha walked from village to village... In his entire lifetime he never went any further than 200 miles from his birthplace.

The Buddha never met a Jew... And because of this, he never said anything about the One God of the desert.

There is also nothing in the teachings of the Buddha that suggest how to find God or worship the god's of India, although the Buddha himself was a theist (believed in gods), his teachings are non-theistic.

The Buddha was more concerned with the human condition: Birth, Sickness, Old age, and Death. The Buddhist path is about coming to a place of acceptance with these painful aspects of life, and not suffering through them.

Please be clear on this point... The Buddha is not thought of as a god in Buddhism and is not prayed to. He is looked up to and respected as a great teacher, in the same way we respect Abraham Lincoln as a great president.

He was a human being who found his perfection in Nirvana. Because of his Nirvana, the Buddha was perfectly moral, perfectly ethical, and ended his suffering forever.

Does that mean that every Buddhist in the world is an atheist?

No!!! I have met a lot of Buddhists who believe in God. I have met a lot of Buddhists who don’t believe in God... And a lot of Buddhists just don’t know.

All three points of view are OK if you’re Buddhist because suffering is more important than God in Buddhism.

Sometimes a student will ask me how everything in this world got started... "If you don’t have God in Buddhism then who or what caused the universe?"

When the Buddha was asked how the world started, he kept silent. In the religion of Buddhism we don’t have a first cause, instead we have a never ending circle of birth and death. In this world and in all worlds, there are many beginnings and ends. The model of life used in Buddhism has no starting place... It just keeps going and going.

Now having said that... If you’re a Buddhist it’s OK to believe God was the first cause... It really doesn't go against the teachings of the Buddha, his focus was on suffering... It's also OK to believe science has the answer… Like the big bang theory, etc... Some Buddhist’s don’t even care how it all started, and that’s fine too. Knowing how the world started is not going to end your suffering, it’s just going to give you more stuff to think about.

I hope you can see that God is not what Buddhism is about... Suffering is... And if you want to believe in God, as some Buddhists do, I suppose it's OK. But, Buddhist's don't believe God can end suffering. Only the teaching's of the Buddha can help us end suffering through wisdom and the activity of compassion.

In his whole life and in all his teachings the Buddha never said anything about the One God of the desert.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Reflection on Enlightenment

Prajnatara T Bryant holds a B.A. in Psychology, an M.A. in Religious Anthropology, certification in Spiritual Direction and Adult Education, and has extensive training in Buddhist spirituality, psychotherapy and meditation instruction. She has worked in the areas of counselling, meditation instruction and pastoral ministry in university, hospital and community settings for over 25 years. She currently works part-time as a psychological counsellor at King’s University College, UWO, is the founder of Mosaic Retreats and is a Gankonin (ordained Buddhist Minister) with the Amida Buddha Order, England.
Pranjnatara Bryant is a wonderful friend and my teacher. I asked her if she would consider contributing to the Italian Buddhist and she graciously accepted. I am very fortunate and humbled. She will be a guest contributor from time to time so my excitement is grand! Keep her and our sangha, The Amida Mosaic Sangha in your kind thoughts and meditations!
Namo Amida Bu,


There are many interpretations as to what enlightenment means and what the experience of the Buddha was on the day he declared as the earth was his witness that he was indeed free to love!  Today, we tend to gravitate to the notion that enlightenment is some far off state to be worked at and perchance accomplished after a life time or many life times of heroic effort.  The Buddha felt similarly and spent a great deal of time and energy engaged in rigorous spiritual practice and study before he finally came to rest at the foot of the bodhi tree.

Rest, a spiritual practice aligned with  purity of heart, is what we do when we surrender, or more to the point, give up grasping toward some perfected and exalted state. Rest, Thomas Merton tells us, is a kind of simple "no-whereness and no-mindedness that has lost all preoccupation with a false or limited self."   In other words, to rest is to be at peace in the possession of the sublime "Nothing".  It is a radical yes to the presence of Loveand a dramatic shedding of the need to know, hold on to, or possess.

In these days of darkness, we are invited to rest in that which is unknown.  Like the Buddha, we too may be exhausted from a life of too much, too many and too often.  This may be our season to seek out a bodhi tree of our own.
May the deepening 
Darkness gently draw you into the silence ofLove.