Then also in meditation we can cultivate it towards other people -
as to oneself, so to others. One way of doing this is to bring people
to mind and wish them well. It's recommended we start with people that
tend to evoke a sense of kindness and develop it first with them, and
as we get more skilled at it, then we can start bringing to mind those
people that we find more difficult. This practice doesn't mean that
we just sit down and start thinking these thoughts and all of a sudden
our heart starts oozing with Metta - we might feel very tight or miserable
on a level of the heart. Again it's something we have to develop, we
have to start somewhere, and we can always start on the level of intention.
The experience of this is that we start with intention and as we sincerely
keep those intentions going then, over time and with practice, things
start getting down to the level of the heart. At first it might seem
like there's an incompatibility there, trying to think one thing but
feeling another, but we have to start somewhere.
I like an analogy; it's like if our hand's cold and we hold something
that's warm, our hand doesn't get warm as soon as we touch it. But the
more we hold on to it then the heat from that object will permeate the
hand. Now at first our hand's cold so we can't really grip the object
very well, we lose it. Similarly the more we practise at it, the more
we can hold these sort of thoughts in mind, then the greater the possibility
of that intention working its way down to the level of the heart.
I used to find mornings were a time when either I felt dull and sleepy
or niggly. I've found it's a very good time to bring up some thoughts
of Metta as a way of energising the mind that's just going to fall asleep
if I don't do anything. If I try to watch my breath and I'm tired then
it's.... I'm hearing it not watching it! But if I try to bring up some
skilful thoughts then I find that can energise the mind in a good way.
And it can help dispel that morning niggliness, that critical morning
mind that, if we get caught in it, can ruin our whole day. So bringing
to mind the people we have to interact with that day and wishing them
well. And, of course, as we bring people to mind there are different
responses depending on our relationship to them, but if we can we maintain
that intention, 'May they be well', because we have to start somewhere.
This is a practice I've found has helped me very much with relating
to people in a community situation.
One of the benefits of this is a mind that is more easily concentrated.
An experience I've had on occasions is sitting down in meditation thinking,
'Right I'm going to concentrate the mind' but it's going here, going
there and there's a sense of agitation. But rather than just struggling
like that, to bring up a few thoughts of kindness towards people or
remembering good things people have done, then sometimes what can occur
is a mind shift. All of a sudden you find the mind stops struggling,
the mind starts to stay with the breath. A subtle change of mind state
can make such a difference.
It's also helpful to consider that life is a mixed bag. There are some
things that are great about it and some things that aren't so great
about it. There's always going to be times when there'll be misunderstandings
and people won't be getting on, and this and that - that's the way life
is. So at times when we do get agitated and the mind's getting too caught
up into the complexities of life, just to bring a simple, skilful thought
to mind and hold it there can have a very good effect. It can bring
us back to something a bit more calm and skilful, and then it's amazing
how different things look. We see the way things look from the anxiety
mind, and then how they look when the anxiety mind's not there - it
could be better, it could be improved, but it's not a problem. And if
there's anything I can do to help with things, then such action will
come from a mind that is more calm, which has more of a sense of kindness
there, rather than a worried, anxious, fearful mind.
The benefits of the cultivation of Metta are quite wonderful according
to the teachings of the Buddha. When we develop it we can live more
in harmony with people and, the Buddha says, we become dear to human
beings and dear to non-human beings, animals, devas and deities. On
the human level one can see how, at times when we're friendly towards
people it does bring a more favourable response than at times when we
act or speak on ill-will. If people come at you in an attacking way,
then of course, the tendency is to get defensive or attack back. But
we can acknowledge that initial response and then think in terms of
kindness, 'Well what can I do to help to pacify the situation.' I've
always found on the occasions when I've managed to respond in a friendly
way, how nice things have come out of it.
One of the occasions I remember was when I was going to visit my parents
at Christmas. I was going up on a train which got delayed and as I then
missed my connection I ended up on Piccadilly Station at 8 o'clock in
the evening, a couple of days before Christmas. Now it's not where I'd
like to have been, seeing that I had to go to a remote platform to catch
the train. As it was quite cold out and I wasn't very warmly dressed
I huddled into the waiting room. I was just sitting there all by myself
and then lo' and behold a group of teenage girls came in, all full of
Christmas spirit in possibly more ways than one. They came in and went
behind me and I could hear them whispering. 'Whoops! I've been spotted'.
Then they started singing raunchy songs - I don't know if this was for
my benefit or just what they usually sing when they go on to the platform
of Piccadilly Station. And then there was a silence and again a whispering
and they all came round to introduce themselves. Now actually I'm a
sort of working class lad myself, and I used to sing such songs once,
so I found I could respond to them quite well. I felt quite friendly
towards them. They asked me a few questions and after a while they went
back to their songs. When the train came in they seemed preoccupied
with their songs so I went to the door, opened it and said, 'Hey! The
train's come.' As I held the door they all charged out. Then I went
and stood on the platform as the train came in. It stopped with the
two sliding doors right in front of me. When the doors opened I stood
back ready for the girls to charge; they did come running up, but all
of a sudden they all stopped, composed themselves and invited me to
get on to the train. And I thought that was really nice; that for a
moment there was that stopping, composing and a gesture of kindness
as though they reciprocated the friendliness I'd shown to them in the
With our relationship to animals, we can see how when we have a sense
of friendliness towards animals, that does bring out a better response
from them. If you can actually manifest it when a dog comes up barking
at you, it often stops barking. In Thailand, animals can prove very
afraid of the village people, but a deer came into Ajahn Chah's monastery
and would eat out of Ajahn Chah's hand. Maybe some of you have seen
the photograph of Ajahn Chah feeding the deer. So this sense of being
dear to animals and deities, you don't know how they help us in ways
we can't see. In Buddhist stories it's those people who developed skilful
things who the deities protect. You might be quite sceptical about this;
which is understandable because what we can't see or we have no experience
with we doubt.
But coming back to more tangible things, if we develop Metta then we
tend to sleep better, wake up better, have less unpleasant dreams. And
we are peaceful when it comes to our death. We have peace and confidence
about what will happen to us. These are some of the benefits that the
The Buddha recommended for us to develop it in all postures, walking,
sitting, standing and lying down. In our life we queue up at supermarkets,
we sit in traffic jams, we lie down before we go to sleep; here are
opportunities to cultivate this. Rather than grumbling, 'Why isn't the
traffic going,' we could use that situation differently. Here in the
monastery often we have to wait for the meal, and we can sit and think,
'how inconsiderate,' but instead we could look at the people who are
here, who cooked and brought the food, and send a few nice thoughts
in their direction. If we have this inclination we can use many situations
in our lives. Times when we're waiting and we're not doing anything
in particular we can cultivate such attitudes. Life seems to be getting
very full these days and maybe there doesn't seem much time for this
but consider for yourself what's important. What is important at the
end of the day?
The cultivation of Metta is something important that if we do now will
be a great help to us. But if we put it off, and get preoccupied with
little niggly things, then it's going to be difficult to remember later.
So, we need to consider how we use our time, the things we can do to
help us live in harmony with people. If we can live in harmony with
others as well as be on our own, if we can go between the two and keep
a feeling of harmony, that's a good balance. If we cannot live with
other people and find some sense of ease with that, I wonder how far
we can go with our meditation. If we can learn how to live with other
people and feel a sense of ease, then that shows that we have a good
foundation for our meditation. Practice is not just being on our own
and meditating, practice is also learning from our interactions with
people; hopefully the two can complement and support each other. When
things happen, when we interact, we can willingly learn from those situations
to deepen our commitment towards skilful things and strengthen them.
When I think about the magic of life, of tuning in with the wonderful
things in life, for me the access to that is through things like Metta
practice. It does, for many people, give a sense of the wonder, the
mystery, the benevolence of the universe.
Be mindful and let things take their natural
Then your mind will become still, like a clear forest pool.
All kinds of rare animals will come to drink at the pool.
You will see many wonderful and strange things come and go but
you will be still.
Luang Por Chah