Recently the Religion Department hosted a Theravadan monk here at Dickinson College--he stayed for dinner in the cafeteria and then offered a dharma talk about Metta and the practice of Loving Kindness. This was not his first visit, and it will not be his last. He is becoming something of a semi-annual visitor, and we look forward to his time here, his easy smile, open manner and skillful means.
During his most recent dharma talk, he shared a bit about his childhood. Committing to Buddhist study as a young boy, a child still, he talked about life in the monastery and leaving behind his family. While it was clearly a traumatic loss for his mother and father, as he explained it, he never looked back.
I have heard this story before, but this time he shared a small detail that gave me a new perspective of his practice.
He described, as a 12 year old, once becoming so enraged with another student that he hauled off and punched him. The punch provoked a scrappy fight before the boys were separated by their teacher. You may think, oh just a school yard fuss, but for Buddhists of all ages, here is a point to ask, 'what is this?"
The boys were sent to their rooms, (yes, that happens even in monasteries), and they were left to think about their aggression toward one another.
Eventually, our young student was called upon to explain his actions, and all he could tell his teacher was, "I am so angry, I am angry all the time!"
Wisely, his teacher assigned homework, three simple affirmations, to recite each night before bed:
"I am well, I am peaceful, I am happy."
Today, as an ordained Priest and teacher, the monk teaches this simple practice wherever he goes. He calls it a Metta practice and leaves it at that, and I think this is a small but significant disservice for his students.
As in the past while listening to his dharma discourse, I was once again left with the feeling that something was missing, something left a little undone.
As if halting the motion of the brush is mid-enzo, I felt un-satisfied.
Can one stop the brush in mid-enzo, brush loaded with fragrant ink, paper waiting, the energy unnaturally curtailed?
The more I thought about it, the more I realized what was missing for me: a Metta practice is the dynamic flow relationship, it is a union with all we imagine we are separate from, it is symbiotic and does not reach fruition without a target of gratitude, without the wish for all others to be well, to be peaceful, to be happy.
Offering Loving Kindness must begin with the self, naturally, but it does not stop here: indeed, the practice billows out like a vast sail, catching the winds of compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity . If we do not include all others in our Metta practice, from our benefactor to our enemy to all beings, we do indeed halt the ink-laden brush in half enzo, never joining what we imagine as separate, forever living from the delusion of duality.
The beauty of Metta is that we are never alone in this Universe, and we experience our deep interconnection with and through Buddha! We are Buddha-ing!
We may very well come to think the moon is always waning and never waxing into its lovely fullness, only to begin her cycle once more.
The Metta practice is not complex, but its well choreographed steps are essential to fully cultivating Loving Kindness, in all its richness and beauty!
While I see the benefit of teaching Ahimsa, the practice of non-harming, as well as Metta for the self, this is merely the jumping off point for deeper maturity, self-awareness and awakening.
Take the leap and don't be half-assed about it!