This is the Fourth in a five part series. Here are the links to all parts:
So here we are at part four of the “All of Us” metta series. So far we have discussed various methods of training the mind in metta, limitless goodwill for all beings. This week we will discuss metta in action, most specifically related to the other two avenues of volitional action available to us besides the mind, which is body and speech.
I once heard a question asked to Bhante G, which was “where does metta fit into the teaching of the Buddha?”, as the questioner could not see it taking a major place on any grand Buddhist lists or strata of important topics. Bhante G’s answer to that was “everywhere, it suffuses and permeates the Buddha’s teachings”. I will expand on that statement via the framework of the Noble Eightfold Path, which is Skillful(Right) View, Skillful Intention, Skillful Speech, Skillful action, Skillful Livelihood, Skillful Effort, Skillful Mindfulness, and Skillful Concentration.
Skillful Intention is the domain of the mind. A “right” or Skillful intention consists of thoughts and mind states of renunciation (as opposed to covetousness/greed/attachment), goodwill (as opposed to ill-will), and harmlessness (as opposed to harmfulness). Through our previous metta practices we have developed these thoughts of goodwill and harmlessness for all beings. This will lead to that goodwill and harmlessness playing a part in our interactions with all beings.
Skillful Action and the 5 Precepts
Now we move into direct physical actions that we perform with volition. The Buddha describes Skillful Action in the framework of three of the Five Precepts. These five precepts are the very basic acts of virtue that one can perform that will lead to great benefit for yourself and others for a long time.
In fact the Buddha called the five precepts “faultless gifts to the world”:
“There are these five gifts, five great gifts — original, long-standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated, unadulterated from the beginning — that are not open to suspicion, will never be open to suspicion, and are unfaulted by knowledgeable contemplatives & brahmans. Which five?
“There is the case where a disciple of the noble ones,abandoning the taking of life, abstains from taking life…Furthermore, abandoning taking what is not given(stealing), the disciple of the noble ones abstains from taking what is not given…Furthermore,abandoning sexual misconduct, the disciple of the noble ones abstains from sexual misconduct…Furthermore, abandoning lying, the disciple of the noble ones abstains from lying…Furthermore, abandoning the use of intoxicants, the disciple of the noble ones abstains from taking intoxicants.
In doing so, he gives freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings. In giving freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings, he gains a share in limitless freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, and freedom from oppression. This is the first gift, the first great gift
By not harming any living being, by not taking things that have not been given to us, by not performing sexual misconduct(ie nonconsensual sexual acts with adults or minors and acts that cause social harm such as with engaged/married persons), by not lying, by not using intoxicants(while not “bad” in itself, can lead to heedlessness and unskillful actions), we are showing our intentions of good will and harmlessness(ie Metta) for all beings, including yourself, as you share in that gift. What greater gift can you give to others(and yourself) then the gift of fearlessness, of trust, of freedom? This is the beginning of what happens when your intentions of metta become your ACTIONS of metta.
Skillful Speech and the 5 Precepts
“For the person who transgresses in one thing, I tell you, there is no evil deed that is not to be done. Which one thing? This: telling a deliberate lie.”
As we saw above, lying is one of the five precepts and actually covers a few different types of speech, this is where Skillful Speech comes in.
“And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.”_
It should be fairly obvious how lying can cause harm. Divisive speech is speech used to divide people, to cause enmity between people, abusive speech can be emotional harmful and idle chatter leads to heedlessness and the arising of the other forms of speech to avoid.
We all know that for most people, no matter how much we say things like “ sticks and stones may break our bones but words will never hurt me”, or “ words are wind”, unskillful speech can really cause mind states that lead to anger, fear, jealousy, hurt feelings, etc, both when said TO us and BY us. This is why it behooves us to be skillful in our speech, both internal speech and outward speech directed to others. The Buddha had a good amount to say about skillful speech, especially when instructing his young son:
“Monks, a statement endowed with five factors is well-spoken, not ill-spoken. It is blameless & unfaulted by knowledgeable people. Which five?
“It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will.”
“One should speak only that word by which one would not torment oneself nor harm others. That word is indeed well spoken.
“One should speak only pleasant words, words which are acceptable (to others). What one speaks without bringing evils to others is pleasant.”
Observe your speech before, during, and after you speak:
[The Buddha speaks to his son, Rahula:] “Whenever you want to perform a verbal act….While you are performing a verbal act….Having performed a verbal act….you should reflect on it: ‘This verbal act I want to perform — (would it?, is it currently?, did it?) lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Is it an unskillful verbal act, with painful consequences, painful results?’ If, on reflection, you know that it would lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it would be an unskillful verbal act with painful consequences, painful results, then any verbal act of that sort is absolutely unfit for you to do. But if on reflection you know that it would not cause affliction… it would be a skillful verbal action with happy consequences, happy results, then any verbal act of that sort is fit for you to do.
“In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, and endearing & agreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them. Why is that? Because the Tathagata has sympathy for living beings.”
Even when your speech meets the criteria of being factual, true, beneficial, endearing and agreeable.. there is STILL a right time to speak. This is another example of metta in action.
So that is Skillful Speech. Making sure what comes out of your mouth comes from a place of wisdom, goodwill and harmlessness.
Being heedful before, during, and after our actions is putting skillful effort into practice.
Skillful effort is the effort behind everything in the practice. It is a fourfold process of abandoning unskillful mental states that have arisen, stopping more from arising, and on the flip side abiding in skillful mental states that have arisen and promoting further skillful states as they arise. Let us use a real world example of skillful effort in action. A Person at work annoys you for a variety of reasons. When you see this person, because of previous mental, verbal, and physical actions you have performed related to them, you will have instant habitual actions that, if you are not mindful, will automatically come out in the form of unskillful physical and verbal actions(you physically try to avoid them or even make physical contact, you verbally abuse them, etc). What I have described is both unskillful mental states that are already in your mind, and more of said states arising.
Our job is to replace those states with skillful states, that is our right effort, and that right effort is an act of metta for yourself and others. So let us return to this example. This person brings up aversion in your mind, the first step is metta practice mentally. Through this practice the habitual tendencies start to break down. You are not doing this to love the person, or even to LIKE the person, but to release your mind from the grips of ill-will and negativity.
When you see the person next you may find that the level of your aversion is less. The old habits will still be there though at any rate, so this is where it takes effort to be mindful and cut off the old habits at the root before they manifest in unskillful physical and verbal actions. This is not automatic, nor easy, this takes skillful effort in developing skillful intention, actions, and speech. Out of goodwill and compassion for yourselves and all beings you have decided to put forth effort, it is a noble pursuit.
Ok So the Buddha told us what NOT to do… Did he tell is what TO do?
So far we’ve gone over a lot of the “what to avoid” in our actions, now let’s go over what the Buddha encourages us to do. Using our right effort as described above, we should strive to perform acts of generosity. This generosity can be mental, physical and verbal. It is a giving of yourself in some way to others and is the very basis of the practice. Helping others with your money, time, and/or effort, IS metta in action and is a skillful act that leads to your benefit and the benefit of others for a long time to come.
We can speak in ways that unite, in ways that benefit others, in ways that bring happiness and trust, speaking with a calm, peaceful and trustworthy manner. Your words can be a vehicle for good, if you put in the effort to make it so. This is our metta in action.
We can perform various acts of kindness, compassion, and good will, from as small as simple things like holding the door for others to as grand as we can imagine. This is our metta in action.
The Buddha said patience is the best meditation. Oh what benefit we give to the world when we practice patience. Patience is metta in action.
Bhante G is very big on metta in action, he will more often speak of how you show metta then how to perform it as a meditation. All of these and more bring the goodwill we developed in our mind out into the world, into the realm of kamma(action). You can tell when a person pervades metta both inwardly and outwardly. There is a glow to them, an aura of peace and trustworthiness and non-judgment. You trust yourself around that person and know you will come to no harm from them.
If you’ve never experienced being near a person like that, you will know it when it happens. It has happened to me once or twice and it is an amazing experience that has encouraged me to practice and become the same way, I’ll get there one of these days.
Next week we will close with the benefits of metta(as if that’s not already evident after 4 articles!) and final thoughts.