Living With Kindness

The Buddha's Teaching on Metta

Author : Sangharakshita

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Living With Kindness

Book Details

  • Publisher : Windhorse Publications
  • Published : 2004
  • Cover : Paperback
  • Pages : 160
  • Size : 216 x 138mm
  • Category :
    Western Buddhist Order: Triratna
  • Catalogue No : 13425
  • ISBN 13 : 9781899579648
  • ISBN 10 : 1899579648

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Synopsis

A pithy commentary on the Buddha's teaching on loving kindness in the Karaniya Metta Sutta, showing how to cultivate this virtue in everyday life.

Kindness is one of the most basic qualities we can possess, and one of the most powerful. In Buddhism it is called Metta - an opening of the heart to all that we meet. Any friendly feeling contains the kernel of metta. It is a seed that is waiting to be developed, right here amidst the conditions of life. Outlining the conditions the seed of kindness needs to grow, Sangharakshita encourages us to follow the path that leads to a warm and expansive heart - and beyond. And with that heart, we can be happier and more fulfilled in ourselves and empathise with the joys and sufferings of all living beings.

"Just as a mother would protect her only child at the risk of her own lifeā€¦let thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world." from the Karaniya Metta Sutta.

Read an extract of this title

THE SIXTH SENSE

When you are free from greedy or anxious grasping at objects ... you are free to enjoy them fully.

The clarity of purpose discussed thus far finds expression in a particular kind of mindfulness suggested by the term santindriyo. This is often translated as 'with senses controlled' or 'with senses disciplined', as though the senses were like wild horses to be reined in and brought under control. But this is not an accurate reflection of the nature of the bodily senses, or an accurate translation of the Pali word. The literal meaning of santi is not 'disciplined' but 'calmed', and it is not to the wild horses of the eyes and ears that it refers, but to the wild horse within, the wild horse of the mind.

It is traditional in Buddhism to speak not of five senses but of six: not just the senses of sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch, but also that of the mind. And of all six senses it is the mind that is the origin of craving and attachment. It is only as a mental experience that we need to address the issue of sensory experience at all. The physical senses are in themselves quite pure. Their nature is just to register stimuli. They are being stimulated all the time we are awake, as all kinds of phenomena impinge on them and present themselves to our consciousness. In fact, the physical senses are not so much wild horses as windows or mirrors: they maybe obstructed or closed or stained, but they do not determine what degree or quality of light passes through them or is reflected by them. They are themselves incapable of mischief. There is nothing inherently wrong with seeing forms and colours, nothing wrong with hearing sound or tasting food. If our minds were pure, if there were 'in the seen only the seen, in the heard only the heard' (to quote another famous Pali sutta),9 there would be nothing to pacify, no conflict to resolve.
If, for instance, you were to look at a flower, you might experience an intense perception of colour, scent, perhaps movement, and you might simply appreciate that sensory experience. If you didn't appropriate what you saw or smelled, if you didn't react to it with craving, no unskilful mental state would have arisen from that sense contact. Likewise with a disagreeable or fearful object: if you could respond creatively to the experience, without reacting to it with revulsion or horror, no unskilful mental state would arise. Ideally, this is what we need to be cultivating:the ability to appreciate any sort of sense experience simply for what it is, free from the imposition upon it of our likes and dislikes.

Appreciation is very much part of this activity of mindful awareness. Even though we cannot rely on sense experience for lasting fulfilment, it is nonetheless to be enjoyed on its own level. You need food that is wholesome and nutritious, for example. If it tastes good as well, so much the better. If someone offers you some succulent fruit, for instance, you will appreciate it as both nourishing and delicious. On the other hand, if there is no fruit today, but only porridge, that's perfectly fine too. You remain content, because your good humour is not dependent on having that fruit. This is how the peaceful mind operates in relation to sense experience.

It was once seriously suggested to me that high spiritual attainment made all food taste the same. The person who suggested this - clearly he had quite a high opinion of his own level of attainment - claimed that he no longer tasted rice or potatoes or tea, but simply food and drink in a general sense. This is of course nonsense. When you are free from greedy or anxious grasping at objects, you can become aware of them in all their colour, depth, and vitality as never before. You are free to enjoy them fully. The more aware you become, the more sensitive you are to subtle differences of taste, sound, and so on. This is the middle way between hedonism and hair-shirt asceticism. You don't have to avoid good food, but if your ability to remain happy is too dependent on what you are given to eat, then some degree of renunciation is clearly in order.

To be aware of what is pleasant is fine. It is when we move on to forming a desire for that pleasant experience to stay as it is, and therefore the desire to possess it, that we sow the seed of future dissatisfaction. Likewise, unpleasant sensory experience need not inevitably produce dissatisfaction. It is the mind reacting with ignorance, craving, or revulsion that produces thesense of dissatisfaction. All the objects of the senses - things, people, and experiences - are impermanent, always changing, and when the mind is calm you are able simply to let them be as they are, without the anxious desire to grasp at them or to push them away.

Having said that, we do need to limit the sense experience to which we expose ourselves. The movement from the bare perception of something into the desire to possess it (or move away from it) is taking place all the time, but at such a subtle level that we need a certain degree of mental stillness to be aware of it. By exercising choice over our sensory experience, we aim to calm the mind, withdrawing, in a relative sense, from worldly activity, as a way of simplifying and deepening awareness. There are a thousand and one sensory distractions ready to impinge on our awareness in everyday life, and any one of them can quickly engage our interest in an unguarded moment. Modern forms of publicity and mass communication are expert at seizing the attention and manipulating the emotions so as to induce states of greed, craving, and aversion. They make use of the fact that there are certain ideas, images, sounds, and even smells that will affect most people's minds in a particular way. Popular forms of entertainment, for example, rely on violent or erotic images to hold our attention and keep the mind excited and spellbound. For the average person, at least, it is thus not advisable to give free rein to sensory stimuli. The best time to visit the supermarket or pastry shop is when you are not feeling hungry, and therefore more likely to be drawn into a greedy state of mind by the cleverly arranged displays of tempting titbits on offer.

Our aim, however, is not to shut down perception, blinker the senses, or rigidly control input. Isolating ourselves from experience in this way would produce a brittle, artificial contentment that could not withstand the knocks of ordinary life. When calming the mind's response to the world through the senses, you still act, think, make decisions, and engage with people and with things; but you don't allow your choice of actions to reflect a neurotic and rigid adherence to personal likes and dislikes.

Training the mind may well involve restraining the eye from contact with certain visual objects, and the ear from taking note of certain sounds, but with practice your contentment will not be dependent on your living simply. It is fundamentally the mind that has to be pacified, so that it can become more aware of its own movements. Once your mind has become calm, and as your awareness broadens and deepens, you become more sensitive than before to your experience - a sensitiveness that begins to shine through with greater vitality and warmth.

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