Our focus in this newsletter and in our meditation group is on a form of meditation called Metta Bhavana or cultivation of Metta. Metta here loosely translates to lovingkindness or goodwill - or as Sharon Salzberg suggests 'being a gentle friend.'
Now this is all well and good, but why the focus on Metta? There are many meditation forms, many practices, many paths - so why keep coming back to Metta? Can't we check the box and move on?
I would argue that lovingkindness is fundamental to all of our practices - whatever we choose to do on our path. In the Itivuttaka The Buddha is recorded as saying this to his followers:
Bhikkhus, whatever grounds there are for making merit productive of a future birth, all these do not equal a sixteenth part of the mind-release of loving-kindness. The mind-release of loving-kindness surpasses them and shines forth, bright and brilliant.
What this is saying is that whatever practice or path you work on doesn't have a sixteenth of the effect of cultivating lovingkindness. That seems like a bold - even harsh - claim, but it is one that may seem very familiar to those of you who come from a background in the Christian tradition. In the famous passage from 1 Corinthians 13 Paul tells us:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.Interestingly, there is the same difficulty in translating the word for love (agape) here, with this NIV translation using 'love' and the King James using 'charity' - but all scholars agreeing that the meaning is somewhat deeper and more fundamental than that.
So are these passages telling us that all these other practices are pointless? Should we just cultivate Metta? Of course the answer is 'no.' It is not that these other practices are futile, it is just that they should all be built on a foundation of Metta (or agape). And that is why as a core the practice is so important to us.
So whatever your path or practice I would encourage you to take the opportunity to cultivate Metta as part of that practice. I have linked below a fully guided gentle introduction to the traditional Metta Bhavana practice. You are welcome to use it if you wish as part of your own practice. A group of us have committed to press play together at 7pm PT on Sunday 9th May, and of course you can join us then too.
However you choose to practice I wish you all a calm and peaceful week,
P.S. if you are wondering about the picture at the top it is a screenshot I took from Adam Neely's wonderful video 'Christmas Songs, but they're in a 15/16 time signature' - if you are interested at all in contemporary music theory then I highly recommend his channel. Somehow I felt it was appropriate.
Itivuttaka: The Group of Ones" (Iti 24-27), translated from the Pali by John D. Ireland. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 24 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/iti/iti.1.024-027.irel.html
1 Corinthians 13 NIV