minted this word to help me write about this practice, this practical art of loving. Meta
is a prefix, variously meaning change and transforma- tion, or a highly organized form, or
transcending. Metta is a Pali word meaning lovingkindness. The paradox of practice,
that is, of living consciously, is that we use words to find that which is beyond words.
We use forms, including our bodies and tools, to enter formlessness. We develop concepts
to go beyond concepts.
In the spirit of this marvelous
paradox, called being human, I humbly offer some ideas about love, about meta-metta. Here
is a teaching, a prayer, an affirmation, a song of the heart-mind. It is very old in this
form, maybe 2,500 years old. It is the classic metta meditation saying:
May all beings be filled with lovingkindness.
May all beings be well.
May all beings be peaceful and at ease.
May all beings be happy.
This is a very powerful practice.
Dont take my word for it. Begin with yourself. With movement of deep compassion
toward yourself, affirm:
May I be filled with
This initial phase of metta practice
is often especially difficult for occidental cultural people. Self-loving is equated with
selfishness. With traditional western moral training, we may find it unseemly to say,
"May I be happy."
I think the discomfort goes deeper
than an assumption about selfishness. It is rather a failure to acknowledge and challenge
deep self-hatred. This violence against self, so obvious, is the raw material as well as
the product of a delusional and fragmented society. It is the key to the seduction of
advertising and also to the ashes that follow the fleeting and vapid satisfaction of such
Metta toward oneself is a radical
practice in our culture, a practice that fosters integrity, self-reliance, civility and
altruism. If I am to practice compassionate action toward all beings, that includes me:
"May I be filled with lovingkindness."
After awhile, extend that, to
someone whom you know you love, a child, a parent, a friend, a sweetheart, a teacher
and bless them:
May (this person) be well.
You may be visualizing a light
expanding, or your heart enclosing more and more people or your loving breaths traveling
further into the world of forms. About visualization: I am aware that there is both a
common belief in, and common skepticism against, the idea that visualization and intention
mean actual change in the world (beyond the individual meditator). Readers are aware of my
own optimistic, romantic skepticism. The debate on "non-local effects of prayer"
Ill save for another Metaphoria.
"visualization", (perhaps better called "sensory imagining" since we
can use other than internal pictures), because it can deepen the effect in the
practitioner: acting accordingly, integrity, self-reputation.
Eventually, as you deepen in
awareness of lovingkindness, you may expand to others: neighbors, co-workers, people
everywhere, mammals, insects, the whole earth, all beings:
May all beings be peaceful and at
The tricky part, the difficult part,
is the next expansion. "What next expansion?" you may wonder; Ive already
expanded this practice, this prayer, to "all beings." Remember the song from hair,
"Easy to be Hard"? Here are the lyrics:
How can people be so heartless?
How can people be so cruel?
Easy to be hard.
Easy to be cold
Especially people who care about strangers
Who care bout evil and social injustice
Do you only care about the bleeding crowd?
How about a needing friend?
I need a friend.
This song is about this part of
practice, about the ability to extend lovingkindness to the nameless bleeding masses, and
yet be unable to peel the plasters from the eyes of the heart and see the suffering person
in your own living room.
The tricky part is to extend
lovingkindness to the most difficult people in your world. Notice, I did not say the worst
people. I said the most difficult for you. These could be people you are angry at, or
disgusted with, or dont understand.
Examples in my life and practice
My racist neighbor
A homophobic ministerial student
My old boyfriend (violent, abusive, alcoholic)
The man who murdered my sisters best friend
These are some people whom I have
tried to include in my metta meditations, and some days I can, with an open heart; other
times my heart constricts and the names catch in my throat. It is easy to say, "may
all beings be happy." It takes practice to say - and mean - "May Slobodan
Milosovic be happy."
Metta practice is not for the
weakhearted. It is for creating the tender heart. It is to develop the strength of an
exquisitely, painfully, vulnerable heart, the open heart of lovingkindness, which finds us
standing with our chest open, our hands empty.
The shell, the plaster cast, the
defensive armor we have forged to protect our heart, can break open like a chrysalis, and
we can emerge like a butterfly, aware of our true self - which is like a butterfly:
ephemeral, graceful, joy-giving, and soon gone.
With practice, we may cultivate
lovingkindness. Cultivate. You dont buy this bouquet at the florist, you
cultivate it in the garden of your own life.
An especially interesting part of
this practice actually is metta for those whom we dont understand. With Milosovic we
can send love in the hope of healing, with reflection on a perceived pathology; we can
develop creative non-violent responses, and we can truly practice with compassion and not
There is a word, "ahimsa",
meaning non-harming. It is the heart of Ghandian non-violence, the human power which
transformed the subcontinent and founded the largest democracy in the world, India.
Pacifism is anything but passive. Ahimsa is a central tenet of Buddhism.
What of those whom we dont
understand, or whom we are uncomfortable with, especially when we dont understand
This takes practice. And reflection;
and work. We must examine the root of avoidance. Our fear. Our misunderstanding.
In our culture today, and in our
little local cultures ¾ congregation, workplace, family, union, neighborhood ¾ and in
the even more local culture, the horticulture, the garden of each person, there is a
It is the conversation about
humanness and otherness. Us-ness and them-ness. It is about the imaginary lines scratched
in our psyches. About racism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism.
It is a conversation in which the
participants are variously: speaking, shouting, cajoling, lying, praying, testifying,
singing, silent. Too often they are silent in avoidance.
Metta-lovingkindness for ourselves
can allow us to examine those fearful places within where anger, confusion and hatred are
Metta-lovingkindness for others can
allow us to have compassion for them, even as they may express, fear, anger, confusion or
hatred of us. Metta allows us to develop responses to such actions and attitudes
without succumbing to the seduction of violence, without demonizing others.
When I speak of meta-metta, I mean
the transformative, organized practice that contains and transcends the rest of the
dharma: compassion, lovingkindness.
of the Heavenly Homes
May you be filled with
May you be well.
May you be peaceful and at ease.
May you be happy.
A little glossary of words, offered
here because the intellect loves to collect new gems (and these jewels are also very old),
and because the heart loves to be reminded of itself, and because the body loves the feel
and sound of fine words. Saying the same words people have said for thousands of years
connects us to a lineage of the heart-mind, to a long community of caring and doing, to
The brahmaviharas (heavenly abodes,
divine homes) are four qualities of consciousness we may develop, ways of being in and
with the world:
Mudita sympathetic joy
Metta has two root meanings:
gentle and friend. The Tibetan word for this quality of lovingkindness translates as basic
Karuna: Compassion is the
strength that allows us to see clearly the suffering of others (and of ourselves), and to
act. Compassion is not sentimental; it is not pity. Karuna (from Sanskrit and Pali)
translates poetically and graphically: It is the feeling of the heart moving
trembling or quivering in response to some beings pain.
Mudita: is not that fleeting
happiness we tend to cling to (and suffer as it inevitably passes). Sympathetic joy is a
gladness, a gratitude and rejoicing in the happiness of others. Therefore, it is a quality
not to be impeded by judgement, comparing, scorn, envy or boredom.
Upekkha: equanimity is to be
at home in ones own life. It has to do with patience, courage, integrity. This is
not about detachment. One may be (cannot help but be) engaged in the world. Equanimity is
how we cultivate balance; upekkha shows the difference between detachment (a species of
avoidance) and non-attachment.
The Jataka tales are hundreds of
stories which are traditionally told of the many reincarnated lives of the one who was
finally born around 563 BCE as Siddhartha Gautama, the Sakya prince, whom we call Buddha.
A little knowledge of folk tales will make it clear that many of these stories are older
tales which have been adapted into the Buddhas legend, because they are teaching
tales which highlight wisdom and compassion. Here is a popular story of meta-metta,
compassion turned into action.
Long, long ago, the Buddha was born
as a happy little parrot. He lived in a great forest and delighted in his life, spreading
joy to the other forest-dwelling animals with his playful gladness, his joy in living.
One day a great storm roared by and
lightning struck one ancient tree which burst into flames, popping and cracking with
sparks which the gusting wind carried to ignite the whole forest.
Terrified animals ran wildly,
desperate and blind in the smoke and flame. The little parrot, who could have flown out of
the fiery forest, raced through the smoke and fear crying to the animals, "Run! Run
to the river!" His voice rang clear and cut through the clouds of their fear as it
cut through billows of smoke, and many did run to the safety of the river.
But other creatures were trapped by
the flames, the smoke. The brave little parrot flew above the fire, wondering how to help
Suddenly, he went flying to the
river himself. He dipped himself in the water and flew back to the roaring, consuming
fire. He swept low among the flames and shook his wings, letting fall the few drops of
water. Again and again and again, he flew from river to forest, forest to river,
scattering a few drops of clear water with each pass. His feathers grew tarry with soot;
he reeled with exhaustion and with lack of oxygen, which the fire was breathing in only to
breathe out heat and smoke and destruction. It was a desperate quest, but the little
parrot kept on, vowing not to stop his meager, brave attempt to save others.
In the heavenly realms there were
devas, angels, gods, relaxing on rich cushions in precious palaces, feasting on ambrosias
and nectars. They idly watched the drama far below them, and some of them mildly laughed
at the foolishness of the little parrot. They found him silly, absurd in his attempts to
fight a blazing forest fire with the few glistening drops he scattered.
But one god was quiet, and found his
heart moving within him, moved by what he saw. He became a large golden eagle and flew to
the bedraggled little parrot. In a great golden voice the eagle called over the crackling
blaze, "Little bird, give up. This task is hopeless. Save yourself. Before it is too
late, save yourself!"
The little parrot heard the eagle,
yet he flew on. He heard the sense in the eagles words. He heard the voice of his
own death in the roaring fire. Yet he heeded the other voices, those of the suffering and
terrified animals still trapped below in the blaze. He continued to carry his sticky wet
wings to scatter droplets.
The golden eagle continued to call,
"Foolish bird! Stop! Save yourself!"
But the little parrot swung into the
flames coughing, "Advice! I dont need advice at a time like this! What I need
is someone to help!"
And the god eagle, the golden angel,
felt his heart moved, and, his own golden voice choking with compassion rather than smoke,
he called out, "I will help!" With that, the eagle began to weep. What happens
when a god weeps? Streams of clean, cool, sparkling tears ¾ rain.
Soon the flames were gone, the smoke
disappeared, and all was washed clean and fresh, including the little parrot who flew
laughing into the sky, wheeling through the restored forest now miraculously green and
whole. All the animals were well, and buds and flowers were blooming glistening with
I followed the metta meditation and
the description of the brahma- viharas with a tale of radical action in the face of
overwhelming odds, the Parrot Bodhisat. Intelligent, compassionate action is the present
requirement of human beings in service to others, to themselves, to the world.
We shall not, can not, pray or
meditate our way to freedom. We cannot meditate or pray our way to peace. While prayer,
meditation, affirmation can help our intention and attitude, the real work of changing the
world is through action. Acting with intention and compassion, a guided
There is a tendency for some folks,
whether from fear or laziness or just misperception, to think meditation or prayer is a
better or higher, more spiritual response to pain in the world. Those people are fooling
themselves. Acting in the world may be confusing, uncertain and difficult at times, yet it
is the calling of human beings - to care; to serve; to love.
The present Dalai Lama, when
discussing attachment to anger as related to loss of mental peace, was asked if it
wasnt also necessary to practice meditation to obtain mental peace. He answered,
"My experience is that it is obtained mainly through reasoning. Mediation does not
help much." In the same interview he was asked, "What is the main method to
foster inner awareness?", and responded, "Introspection and reasoning is more
efficient for this purpose than meditation and prayer."
In modern western psychology this is
called Cognitive Therapy (and it has many names through different cultures in history).
So, I conceive of metta-meta, in my
life, as intelligent, compassionate action, bringing the intention of meaning of this
meditation to form in the world by acts of service, acts of witness, acts of speaking
truth to power.
May all beings be filled with
May all beings be well.
May all beings be peaceful and at ease.
May all beings be happy.
"The greatest challenge of our
day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with
each one of us?"
service is the rent each
of us pays for living - the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare
time or after you have reached your personal goals.
"Compassion and nonviolence
help us to see the enemys point of view, to hear his questions, to know his
assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our
condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the
brothers who are called the opposition."
"Great becomes the fruit. Great
the advantage of earnest contemplation, where it is set round with upright conduct."
"We must cultivate our
"Human progress is neither
automatic nor inevitable
This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time
for vigorous positive action."
" Theres no use in trying,
she said: one cant believe impossible things. I daresay you
havent had much practice, said the Queen. When I was your age, I always
did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes Ive believed as many as six impossible
things before breakfast. "
"The only thing necessary for evil to triumph
is for good men to do nothing."
"Complacency is a far more dangerous attitude
"My definition of a free society is a society
where it is safe to be unpopular."
"In the struggle for justice the only reward is
the opportunity to be in the struggle. You cant expect that youre going to
have it tomorrow. You just have to keep working on it."
"To love without role, without power plays, is
"Being on a tightrope is living, everything
else is just waiting."
"Lean liberty is better than fat slavery."
"In the end more than they wanted freedom, they
wanted security. Where the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society
to give to them. When the freedom they wished for was freedom for responsibility, then
Athens ceased to be free."
© JeanneE Hand-Boniakowski