Metta for Divided Times
These last few weeks have been hard for all of us as we have been witness to lives being taken through institutionalized racism and the subsequent reactions as people either stand up against the oppression or choose to justify, deflect or downplay it. In an already divided world the divisions have appeared to become even more stark.
There's an old saying that "If you're not angry, you're not paying attention," and it is very easy for all of us to respond to what is happening with anger. When this anger arises - and it has arisen in me in the last week - the question isn't whether it is justified or not, but what we choose to do next. We can either choose to feed it - in which case it will grow and consume us - or we can choose to recognize it as something that causes suffering and instead cultivate lovingkindness and compassion.
The great teacher and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh says this:
“When we get angry, we suffer. If you really understand that, you also will be able to understand that when the other person is angry, it means that she is suffering. When someone insults you or behaves violently towards you, you have to be intelligent enough to see that the person suffers from his own violence and anger. But we tend to forget. We think that we are the only one that suffers, and the other person is our oppressor. This is enough to make anger arise, and to strengthen our desire to punish. We want to punish the other person because we suffer. Then, we have anger in us; we have violence in us, just as they do. When we see that our suffering and anger are no different from their suffering and anger, we will behave more compassionately. So understanding the other is understanding yourself, and understanding yourself is understanding the other person. Everything must begin with you.”To me, the most important thing here is "Everything must begin with you." We may wish that other people were more loving, more compassionate, less cruel or more just, but the only person we can have any control of is our self. We can allow our minds and our actions to be driven by anger, or we can choose to cultivate compassion and love.
This isn't to say that we should choose inaction. There are times when we have to stand up and speak for what is right. Much of the current problem has been enabled by the majority staying silent. However, it is important to understand that the outcome of our actions are driven by the intentions behind those actions. If our actions are driven by anger, hatred and fear then the outcome will only be to drive more suffering. As the Dhammapada says:
Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.
It's easy sometimes to believe that our meditations, our cultivation of the Brahma Viharas (Love, joy, compassion and equanimity) are only relevant for 'good' times, and that in times like these it is naive or weak to talk about these things. I would argue the opposite, that the cultivation of love, compassion and non-violence has never been more important. These are the moments we train for.
A note on cultivating Metta:
We practice cultivating 'Metta' - Love, loving-kindness or goodwill - through the practice of Metta-Bhavana. This meditation practice is, I would argue, the most important thing we can all do right now. I have linked a fully-guided audio meditation below, and I would encourage you to practice this powerful form. A group of us have committed to press 'play' together at 7pm PT on Sunday June 7th, and you are welcome to join us then if you wish.
Note that in this recording the final part - the 'sending to the ten directions' - starts from where it was recorded in the Pacific Northwest. As you practice with us please feel free to re-imagine that part for wherever in the world you are located.
If the above player doesn't work for you please click here.
"Yamakavagga: Pairs" (Dhp I), translated from the Pali by Acharya Buddharakkhita. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/dhp/dhp.01.budd.html .
Photo by Daniel von Appen on Unsplash