Metta, Syrian Refugees and Dazzle

I am reading the Itivuttaka (“This Was Said (by the Buddha)“), which is a small volume of discourses from the Pali Canon. The literary quality of this volume is particularly striking. Each discourse begins with a short prose passage, which is then summarized in a poem. Of course, it is the content and meaning of those discourses which is the most important point.

The Buddha taught some things which are particularly resonant with what Jesus taught, especially love and forbearance for people who wish you harm. It is a timeless and challenging teaching. Sometimes when people look at these ancient teachings, they rationalize them somehow so that they do not apply to us now. But they do. Having enemies is not unique to modern life. Joseph Goldstein tells a story about teaching a metta – loving-kindness – retreat the week after 9/11. So there is the challenge. Can we love people who just flew some airplanes into the World Trade Center? Can we love people who opened fire in public places in Paris?

Metta is not about approval. It is about love and understanding. It is the unconditional love that a parent has for a child. People who do these things cause a great deal of suffering for themselves. From the broad perspective of rebirth, people who do such things condemn themselves to aeons of misery. And even in this life, you don’t see any terrorists looking happy. It is not a happy way to be.

Then there is the reaction, reacting to hatred with hatred. This, of course, only perpetuates the problem. The Buddha tells us to look at the consequences of our actions. If the United States prevents Syrian refugees from entering the country, what effect does that have? How does the Muslim world respond to that? How does banning them from entry make things better?

So the challenge is not to just take the teachings as empty, idealistic and unachievable. They are to be put into practice here and now in your very heart.

And so we go back to the Itivuttaka, where the Buddha says this:

This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard: “Monks, all the grounds for making merit leading to spontaneously arising [in heaven] do not equal one-sixteenth of the awareness – release through good will. Good will – surpassing them – shines, blazes, and dazzles. Just as the radiance of all the stars does not equal one-sixteenth of the radiance of the moon, as the moon – surpassing them – shines, blazes, and dazzles, even so, all the grounds for making merit leading to spontaneously arising [in heaven] do not equal one-sixteenth of the awareness – release through good will. Good will – surpassing them – shines, blazes, and dazzles.

Just as in the last month of the rains, in autumn, when the sky is clear and cloudless, the sun, on ascending the sky, overpowers the space immersed in darkness, shines, blazes, and dazzles, even so, all the grounds for making merit leading to spontaneously arising [in heaven] do not equal one-sixteenth of the awareness – release through good will. Good will – surpassing them – shines, blazes, and dazzles.

Just as in the last stage of the night the morning star shines, blazes, and dazzles, even so, all the grounds for making merit leading to spontaneously arising [in heaven] do not equal one-sixteenth of the awareness – release through good will. Good will – surpassing them – shines, blazes, and dazzles.

When one develops – mindful –
good will without limit,
fetters are worn through,
on seeing the ending
of acquisitions.

If with uncorrupted mind
you feel good will
for even        one being,
you become skilled from that.
But a noble one produces
a mind of sympathy
for                  all beings,
an abundance of merit.

Kingly seers, who conquered the earth
swarming with beings,
went about making sacrifices:
the horse sacrifice, human sacrifice,
water rites, soma rites,
and the “Unobstructed,”
but these don’t equal
one sixteenth
of a well – developed mind of good will –
as all the constellations don’t,
one-sixteenth
of the radiance of the moon.

One who
neither kills
nor gets others to kill,
neither conquers,
nor gets others to conquer,
with good will for all beings,
has no hostility with anyone
at all.

– [Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu, Itivuttaka: This Was Said by the Buddha, 1.27]

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