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Buddhadharma : Spring 2017
36 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly spring 2 0 1 7 in the preoccupations of our day. The moments of deepest distress and despair in our lives are the moments when kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity are most prone to disappear, yet these are the moments when these qualities are our great- est allies and most needed. Rather than being discouraged by these many moments of forgetfulness—the times of anger, fear, despair, and reactivity—we come to recognize that this is the classroom in which the immeasurable capacities of our hearts are nurtured and cultivated. This is a present-moment recollection, a quality of mindfulness where we learn to cultivate kindness in the midst of harshness, compassion in the face of the seemingly impossible, joy in the midst of sorrow and darkness, and equanimity in the midst of the events of our lives that feel designed to unbalance us. This is not a path of postponement that waits for the ideal conditions and moments to be kind, compassionate, joyful, and balanced within. This is the nature of the immeasurable—it embraces all moments, events, and conditions. Kindness, com- passion, joy, and equanimity can only be cultivated in the present, in our willingness to meet our life with a responsive and wise heart. IN ONE OF THE EARLIEST collections of the Buddha’s teachings, the Sutta Nipata, lies the jewel of the teaching—the Metta Sutta, the discourse on immeasurable friendliness. The word metta draws on the Pali/Sanskrit word mitta, which translates as “friend.” In turn, mitta draws on an earlier Sanskrit word mit that translates as “growing fat with kind- ness” or “spreading out”—spreading out in friendli- ness to the world. The four immeasurable qualities of kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity should not be seen as linear or hierarchical, yet metta is the only one of these qualities that in the early collection of teach- ings merits its own dedicated discourse. It is seen to be the foundation of an ethical life, of words, thoughts, and acts of integrity. It is understood to be the necessary foundation of all ennobling quali- ties, including compassion, joy, and equanimity. It is said to be the necessary foundational attitude underlying all meditative development. Metta is not described as emotion or a transient state, but as an abiding—the home where our hearts and minds dwell. It is an attitudinal commitment brought to all moments of experience. With this teaching, the Buddha describes a way of being in the world, in all moments, all circum- stances, with a mind abiding in a boundless kind- ness in which greed, confusion, and ill will have come to an end. It is an all-inclusive befriending, a fearless kindness rooted in mindfulness and insight. Metta is also a verb: “befriending.” We learn to befriend ourselves, all of the people who come into our lives—the difficult and the lovely. We learn to befriend all events and circumstances. The Buddha recognized, as we recognize, the toxic power of ill will. Hatred, aversion, and fear fracture our communities, our societies, and our world. Historically and today, ill will creates wars and conflict, oppression, violence, and prejudice, and the suffering scars our lives and world. Ill will is not an abstract concept. Each one of us knows the pain of receiving ill will through the thoughts, words, or acts of another. Judgment, blame, harsh- ness, rejection, condemnation, and suspicion leave a powerful imprint on our hearts and minds. We equally know the pain of being gripped by inwardly generated ill will when we judge, condemn, or are harsh to another. We know too the damage done through inwardly directed ill will—the all-too ➤ ChRiSTiNa FELdmaN is cofounder of Gaia house in England and a guiding teacher of the insight meditation Society in Barre, massachusetts. This teaching is adapted from Boundless Heart, published by Shambhala, 2017.