The Buddhist practice of metta is the practice of opening the heart to everything around and within us. Sometimes translated as lovingkindness, I prefer to think of metta as gentleness toward all beings and experience, a true caring for the wellbeing of ourselves and others. The Karaniya Metta Sutta, the Buddha’s words on metta, instructs us:
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world:
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded.
Metta for All Beings
When we practice metta, we often repeat phrases with the intention of cultivating this heart of kindness and care toward others. When I practice metta, I end it by offering the loving intentions to all living beings everywhere. I like to think that in this moment, somebody is cultivating metta toward you. Whether it is in your town or across the world, somebody is offering metta to all living beings. This idea is beautiful, but as with many of these practices, it is most helpful to act upon them. We can respond with gentleness to each person we come into contact with, but how do we actually act upon our desire to lessen the suffering of others and see them happy?
Metta for the Earth
This is one of the most basic ways in which we can truly care for the wellbeing of all living beings. There is a line in the aforementioned sutta that reads:
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born —
May all beings be at ease.
Caring for our planet is an absolutely wonderful way to care for those living near and far away, and those alive and to be born. I don’t want to be too cheesy, but it is OUR planet. We all share it, regardless of age, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion, political belief, and so on. We can all take a little more action to care for our planet a bit more. As the environmental novelist Wendell Berry wrote over 40 years ago, a conservationist is a “a person who knows that the world is not given by their fathers, but borrowed from their children.” We do get this world from our ancestors, but we really are borrowing it from OUR children. What planet are we leaving the “to-be-born” with? Are we leaving them with a world that will promote ease and joy?
There are many ways we can make a difference. We can recycle more, making that extra effort to put things in the right bin. Maybe we can take up composting. There are simple ways we can all make a true difference in the world. Did you know that recycling a four-foot stack of newspapers saves the equivalent of one 40-foot fir tree? Or that every glass bottle recycled saves enough energy to light a 100-watt light bulb for 4 hours? Maybe we can carpool to work, or ride our bikes more often. A few things we have personally taken on as practices are planting our own garden for cooking, riding our bikes or walking places, making sure lights are shut off, using re-usable water bottles, and using our own bags at the grocery store. These are all relatively simple things, but make a huge different. It feels better to know that we are making an effort to care for all beings. We are able to put our intentions of metta into action.
Metta and Injustice
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We all know that there is a great amount of injustice in the world today, and perhaps there will always be. This shouldn’t stop us. I hear this argument quite a bit, that there will always be injustice and it’s just too much for us to do anything about. It brings to mind the classic Zen Bodhisattva vow, the vow that Zen Buddhists take to free all beings from suffering. It says “Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to save them all.” I find this vow beautiful and cheeky. There are numberless beings, but I am going to try to save them all. It’s quite the paradox, and what can be taken out of it is that although it may be impossible to end all injustice, we still should aim to end all injustice.
What injustice do you see in your community or the world? One issue near to my own heart is that of the criminal justice system in the United States. Having been incarcerated myself, I have seen the harm caused by the criminal justice system. In practicing metta for all beings, I do what I can to lessen the suffering with this issue. I write my congressperson, attend marches, and teach meditation in jails. These are ways in which I try to bring metta to my experience with injustice. Maybe this doesn’t hit home for you, but there is probably an issue that does. Perhaps it is the gender pay-gap, racial inequality, or economic injustices. Whatever it is that sparks some passion in you, turn toward it and investigate it. There are many institutions and systems in our world that are causing great suffering to our fellow beings. Practicing metta toward all living beings means taking some action against the injustice that we see.
Metta and Dharma
For me, this is one of the greatest ways in which I can practice cultivating metta for all beings. The dharma has helped me so deeply in my life, and I have seen it help those around me. I have personally experienced a lessening of suffering from these practices. Knowing that this path is working in my life, I make it my intention to offer it to those who are looking to lessen their own suffering. This is why I teach meditation, why One Mind Dharma exists, and one of the reasons I continue to study Buddhism. The more I learn, observe, and experience, the more I have to offer my students. I don’t go around proselytizing or forcing conversions, but I do make myself available as a dharma leader. Sometimes, we can offer the dharma without using dharmic language. When I teach in treatment centers, I don’t directly speak about Buddhism, but I do share the ideas of mindfulness, concentration, metta, and compassion. When we share the dharma, we are offering a great tool to others.
Maybe you have a religion, spiritual practice, belief, or experience that could help others that is not dharma. It could be that therapy has really helped you or exercise has changed your life. If you have something in your life that has lessened your suffering, don’t keep it to yourself! Caring for all beings near and far, offer people the methods of liberation and happiness that you have found. There is enough joy and growth to go around, and we can be of great service to our fellow beings by sharing our practices.