A Swell of the Heart: Metta Sutta

This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech.

Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied.
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.

Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.

Last night I meditated with my sangha (Buddhist community) in the town one over from where I live.  We are a growing community with two evening drop-in sittings every week.  I tend to go Mondays (unless I have class, which this semester I don’t – but did last semester and will next).  There is a core group of Monday-nighters and then others, some brand new to the center, some who come and go as their schedules allow.  It’s a friendly, easy-going group, welcoming of newcomers, explicitly committed to and actively working on diversity, and a great source of comfort and joy in my life.

At each of our drop-in sittings, our meditation is facilitated by a practice leader.  It is someone well-versed in Insight Meditation and has practiced herself or himself for years.  Some are chatty.  Some get straight to business.   Some are self-referential.  Some impart more formal Buddhist wisdom or teachings.  IMHO, some are better at leading than others.  Last night, Paul, my favorite of all the practice leaders was there.  Now, Paul is nearly always there, but last night he was actually leading, too.  It made my heart swell.

Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
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!

Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.

Originally, I was drawn to this particular sangha by its charismatic founder, Arinna Weisman.  Arinna was the first Western Buddhist who did not provoke utter skepticism in me when I pointedly asked whether karma justified cultural oppressions like racism and sexual assault.  She is white, originally from South Africa, and has a gently intense, impassioned, and wise way of teaching.  Not to mention a knock-out accent.

When I started to attend, Paul’s was the first friendly face to get past my nervousness and make a permanent imprint.  He has shown me affection and shown interest in my developing as a minister, attending my sermon on the Buddhist practice of Tonglen.  I have this sense of him always quietly cheering me on, but also keeping his distance.  Once, his mother was visiting the center.  Now, Paul is no spring chicken, so it came as a surprise to me that his mother was still living.  In talking with her, it was evident from whence Paul got his gentle steadiness and steady gentleness.

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,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.

As part of the meditation sitting, Paul read the Metta Sutta.   The Metta Sutta is how Buddha instructed monks to respond when encountering hostile elements: with loving kindness.   Paul read the version from Sharon Salzberg’s book, Loving Kindness.  Sharon is one of the founders of our wider sangha, co-founding the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts, and one of the first Westerners to bring Buddhism to North America in the 1970s, consciously adapting it to this new cultural context.  I am thankful for the privilege to have attended meditation retreats at IMS, helping to deepen my meditation practice and my spiritual connections to and in the wider world.

His reading the Metta Sutta made my heart swell.  And so I offer it to you, in case it will do the same.

This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.

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