Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
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.
These lines of the metta sutta sound beautiful, but the ideas here are so common as to seem clichéd. Some people might even roll their eyes at them. Heard it all before, they'll say. All religions say the same things. Play nice, share your toys, blah, blah, blah. Do unto others. But does it really say that?
I have to admit I've got a bit of problem where humanity is concerned. I have a strong tendency to lack compassion for humanity in general. Shocked? I think if you're honest, you'll find the same tendency in yourself. It's natural. It's not an active hate, necessarily, but a tendency to stay so focused on our own tiny universe that we just don't notice the rest of the world in any meaningful way. And if I don't bother to notice humanity in more than a vague, uninterested way, how little must I consider animals, plants, and all the other forms of life! You might be thinking, well, I have friends, I like animals, I'm worried about the ecosystem. Hey, I recycle! I give to charity. But I don't think that's what the Metta Sutta means here. A lot of those things we do, we do because we think we're supposed to. They're like those 'duties' we burden ourselves with. The Metta Sutta is about a genuine, deep love for all living beings. A love that springs up because we know we are not separate from anything else. How can we not feel an overwhelming and abiding love for something we're part of? Sounds simple, but this realisation of interbeing is the essence of awakening, it's perfect nirvana, and it's not to be found in our heads, our emotions, any of the five skandhas or anywhere that we can perceive. It's one of the reasons we meditate.
It's so easy to look at someone and say, 'My god she's fat!' or, 'I'm so sick of these skivers living off my tax money,' or 'Well, that whole part of the world has been war-torn for the last couple of thousand years, what's to be done?' or 'It's their own governments' fault they're all in poverty and dying of AIDS, they shouldn't be so corrupt' or any other number of dismissive and judgemental thoughts about others. It's not so easy to feel compassion because 'this is like this because that is like that.'
On the other hand, there's some comfort in that last thought. If the rose is garbage and garbage is the rose because we all inter-are, then maybe I'm not so bad after all for sometimes harbouring uncharitable thoughts. Maybe I've got to stop this Western-mind habit of looking at everything as good or evil. I need to see deeply that everything is everything else.
We are imprisoned by our ideas of good and evil. We want to be only good and we want to remove all evil. But that is because we forget that good is made of non-good elements. You cannot be good alone. You cannot hope to remove evil, because thanks
to evil good exists, and thanks to good evil exists. In the light of non-duality, there is no problem. As soon as the idea of good is there, the idea of evil is there. When you perceive reality this way, you will not discriminate against the garbage for the sake of the rose. You will cherish both.
~Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Understanding
My favourite line from this section of the Metta Sutta is 'Let none despise any being in any state.'
That goes a lot further than 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' And even further than the Dalai Lama's version, 'Do unto others as they would have it done unto them.' I guess it's more like, 'Do unto others…because there are no others.'
May all beings be at ease.