|October 1989||2533||Number 10|
Letting Go is the Greatest Kindness
A few days ago -a couple of us were talking about how important it is to be respected and feel appreciated: if people don't feel appreciated then they begin to feel depressed. When its brought to mind its so obvious; and yet why does it seem so difficult for us to stop and actually respond to people, particularly the people that we live with?
I've noticed that it is quite easy for me to take some people for granted. In the monastery there are the efficient ones, the ones that I know are wise enough, the ones that, if I am a bit abrupt or grumpy with them, it's not going to ruin their day. They can get things done; and because of that, I can very well take them for granted.
It's easy to take people for granted. Of course we love them, of course we care for them - but when was the last time that we actually let them know?
There are many different ways of expressing affection, and "metta bhavana", the cultivation of loving-kindness, is a way of doing so on the more subtle level. It's the most beneficial way of using the intellectual or conceptual level of the mind, the world of thoughts and ideas that tends to get scattered into a myriad of things. With metta,we direct that in a very precise and beneficial wag.
Over the years of practising this, I've noticed that one of the ways it manifests is in a greater patience and tolerance with adversity and with people who are annoying or unkind. Rather than taking some position as to how they should be, we can accept them and not contend. And when there is that lack of contention, then what we have to offer others is more tolerance, more patience or willingness just to be with them as they are, even if we are not particularly liking it. But not contending does not mean that we condone; "loving-kindness" does not mean that we like all things, all beings - some are quite evil - but we choose not to contend, not to take a position against them.
Whenever we hold on to a particular view of ourselves as being one way or another, inevitably the "compassionate cosmos" comes along and presents us with just those sort of circumstances which shake us until we let go.
I have noticed over the years of being in the position of teacher and abbot of a monastery, what used to cause,me a lot of pain was my unconscious attitude towards some of the people in the monastery. I felt that I had to impose my ideas on them, and that they would probably deviate from what I thought would be right and proper. And it took a while of experiencing; the pain of that before I noticed that the source of the pain was my attachment to a particular view of myself in relation to them. I saw myself as one who is forced to train others, one who is forced to be an example, and whenever I held onto that particular view of self in relation to them, it always inhibited free flow of information, and real communication.
I kept seeing them in relation to a view of myself, and it was not until I could start letting go of my own preconceived notion of who I was and what I was supposed to be doing with all of them, that I could let them be as they needed to be.
And sometimes the way people need to be is not the way I think they should be. What I've found is that to just back off and give them the space to grow and mature and practise and live, brings about a great deal more peace within mg own mind and it seems to have quite a beneficial effect on the community at large.
Whenever we hold on to a particular view of ourselves as being one way or another, inevitably the "compassionate cosmos" comes along and presents us with just those sort of circumstances which shake us until we let go. We are moved and we are disturbed until we see what it is that we are attached to; and then we let it go.
Parents are frequently people whom we have had love-hate relations with. And even though in some cases they have been dead for a long time, still we carry them around with us and they can be very real, very much alive. We can cling to a particular idea of ourselves and to a view of them, how they were, or how they are. And that's a great injustice both to ourselves and others - we are changing all the time.
How are we? Who are we? We've taken the idea of "me", as a particular person, to be true. "This is how I am:" "That's how they are:" "They were unloving, they were intolerant, they denied me some of the things I really needed for mydevelopment:" "If they were more loving, more affectionate, had more time for me, I would not have to experience this:" Can we see what the mind is doing then? Why do we believe that particular way of thinking? Why do we accept it as being valid, so completely true? Yet from experience with my own family I am amazed, absolutely amazed, at the power of family relationship, and how easy it is for one to get pushed back into an old role.
It has taken years of very conscious effort on my part to be able to relate to my family in a more cool and less fixed position. But the benefits have been quite marvellous. I find that I can really listen to my mother, really listen to my brother and sisters instead of being impatient with them, anticipating what they're going to say, or assuming they know what I'm thinking or what I want - and getting annoyed when they don't. But to really be with them as other people, is a matter of allowing quietness to pervade.
Through quietening down we become really sensitive and can be with that person. All of us can develop the ability to listen, but unfortunately we do not give much time to it. I am sure that many of you have had that experience, when you are talking to someone. One gets the distinct feeling that they're just waiting for you to pause for breath so that they can say what is churning away in their mind. Of course, there is no communication there: it's people speaking at one another without listening.
Ajahn Chah used to encourage us to learn to listen with the heart instead of the mind. That puzzled me for a long time. It sounded wooly, airy-fairy. Yet he was a meditation master, obviously one who had real skills and abilities in teaching people. It was not till later when we were being forced repeatedly, to be with people, and to listen to them, that it became gradually clearer that if I allowed the conceptual part of the mind to play less of, a dominant role, I became more quiet.
When we let the quietness be what people become aware of in our presence, then as a natural and intuitive response to our quietness they feel freer, less pressurized by our preconceived notions about how it should be: and a real communication its much more likely to take place. People are more open in such an environment. I have noticed time and time again, when I suddenly react to what someone has said from -a preconceived notion of what I think they mean, or what I think is right for them, it doesn't really resonate.
But when there's a quietness, then the response comes from the quietness. Then there is a certain feeling or tone about the exchange that tends to stay, and when that response is needed by the person it seems to be there.
To let go of fixed views or positions about ourselves and others is a very charitable, a very kind thing for us to do.
Traditionally, there are eleven benefits to the practice of Metta bhavana, meditation on loving-kindness. Of these, the first is that when we go to sleep, we wake up easily and happily. We are never troubled by unpleasant dreams. Some of the other benefits are that divine beings love and protect us, and also human beings love and protect us. But if we want desperately to be loved, the obvious connection is that to receive love, we must give it. That doesn't mean that we go out embracing people on the streets, but practise in the much more subtle ways that I have been explaining.
In this practice joyfulness also arises naturally, and joy is one of the Factors of Enlightenment. When there is that joyfulness, then what accompanies it quite naturally is a physical ease, and these two factors lead on to greater tranquillity and concentration. Then the concentration which follows is the suitable condition for the arising of insight.
Another benefit of metta is that we die without confusion, and if prior to death we have not developed insight, then metta bhavana will condition rebirth in a divine abode, or a very favourable state.
Now, whether or not one wants to accept that there are all these benefits, I think we've all had some taste of what it feels like to infuse the mind with lots of goodwill. Imagine what it would be like if we made much of this practice, so that it became something that the mind turned to quite naturally instead of frequently being filled with negativity - which tends to be the norm for most of us. If we could put that aside: not feeding it and not denying it, no longer allowing the mind to dwell on it....
Metta bhavana can be very difficult at first. Much of my life has been doing what I did not want to do - and it has just intensified since I have been a monk. Sometimes when the alarm goes off first thing in the morning I think, "Oh, my God, even the birds do not have to get up this early," and I'm too tired, and you know - we all know - what the mind is saying. The negative whine. So I try to turn that around a bit, not give it any room in the mind, and instead, spend a few moments focusing on the breath and on thoughts of goodwill.
I've been doing that for a while now, and it has been a very fruitful and influential practice. Apart from other effects, it brings a clear intention for my life: to live in a way that brings benefit to the world. These strong influences help determine the way I respond to circumstances.
When I was on retreat last summer, another senior monk was staying in the room I had vacated. One night I returned to get a book or something, and although it was quite late at night he still was not back. He was probably out teaching. I was about to leave when my eye caught sight of the bedding on the shelf so I decided to take it down and make up his bed, so that when he came in, a bit shattered from the day's activities, there it would be. I did it without thinking and on the way back to where I was staying, I started to feel quite happy about doing that for him. It surprised me a little bit because it was such a simple thing and it would have been just as easy to walk out and say, "It will only take him a minute you know, thirty seconds, to pull the bedding down, throw it on the floor and go to sleep" Yet some time later he mentioned it in passing, saying, "I don't know who did it, but it certainly made me feel appreciated."
So these very insignificant little actions can have quite an impact on the person. This way of practising deals with the thinking mind in a very skilful way, whereby we can encourage thoughts that have a beauty and nobility. Then we can respond to the world from a noble viewpoint, taking care to closely observe those views of self and others that we cling to.
So I offer this for your consideration tonight in the hope that it will be of benefit.
The Blessings of Loving-Kindkness
Visit to the Buddha-land
Sunday at Chithurst
Our Visitor from Thailand
Part of the lineage; Part II
Ajahn Sucitto: What do you think a monk from Australia or Thailand
might learn in a British monastery?
*Recently one bhikkhu and two samaneras have taken ordination, and one bhikkhu has gone to Thailand.
Help Needed in Assam
This is to introduce ourselves, that under the aegis of "Jinaratan Buddhist
Missionary Destitute Home and School" sponsored by International Brotherhood
Mission, Dibrugarh was established in the year 1981. There are 75 destitute
children both male and female at the mission and we received nine children
from the Judicial Custody at Dibrugarh for their reformation. Apart there
are staff members. The mission is providing all the basic needs of the
destitutes. Having been registered under the Societies Act of Govt. of
India, it has no regular and permanent sources of income to bear its heavy
day to day multifarious expenditures.
Thanking you, With regards, Yours truly,