metta and democracy

After my workout at the gym, I sat in the bleachers to rest as my children played with their friends. I watched a pickup basketball game. Here was a mixture of men and women, engaging in a friendly competition on an average Thursday afternoon. Nothing special, right? But these everyday exchanges between citizens are what hold this nation together. This camaraderie, this fellowship, this brother- and sisterhood. Without good will towards not only our fellow countrymen and women, but to peoples of all countries, this world would cease to exist. I mentioned in an earlier post about how our thoughts control our actions, and how attaching to certain thoughts can lead us into a kind of hell. The opening section of the Dhammapada, a collection of verses attributed directly to the Buddha and a work that gives a succinct explanation of Buddhist ethics, says “All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him, as the wheel follows the ox that pulls the wagon…If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.” We see the bumper stickers everywhere that say “United We Stand.” Politics aside, are we really united? When we curse the driver in front of us for cutting us off? When we get upset with the person ahead of us at the coffee shop who takes just a little too long to place her order? How many imaginary enemies do we encounter on a daily basis? But all these people are our comrades and our brothers and our sisters. It’s very easy to succumb to angry thoughts when we feel we have been slighted. But those thoughts will always come back to harm us. The misfortunes we wish upon our “enemies” at the grocery store or the laundromat wind up being visited on us. How can we combat this? One way is by reciting a simple metta prayer. A Pali word, metta means “loving-kindness”, or “universal loving friendliness.” The wording of metta devotions can be different, but their overall gist is the same. This one is taken from the book Mindfulness In Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, published by Wisdom Books: “May I be well, happy, and peaceful. May no harm come to me. May no difficulties come to me. May no problems come to me. May I always meet with success. May I also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.” As you repeat the prayer, you then change the”I” to “my parents”, “my children”, “my teachers”, “my relatives”, “my friends”, “my enemies”, and eventually “all beings.” By changing the subject in this way each time you repeat the devotion, it radiates out to larger and larger groups of people, leaving no one out, not even, as you can see, your enemies. Just thinking these thoughts can be a powerful tool, creating the kind of mental state that will allow us to love and forgive others. The true fellowship that I envision is the same that Walt Whitman envisioned in his poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” An English professor might disagree with me, but I believe Whitman is speaking directly to us across time, imploring us to love one another as he loved us, when he says, “It avails not, time nor place – distance avails not. I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence. Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt. Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd…Closer yet I approach you. What thought you have of me now, I had as much of you – I laid in my stores in advance. I considered long and seriously of you before you were born.” With these words, and with most of Whitman’s poems, he wants to give this nation, and its people, a giant bear hug. So I ask you; can we put our resentments aside and create the kind of loving-kindness and human fellowship that the Buddha and Uncle Walt ask of us? If we can, then all of us really would stand united.


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