“Monks, whatever a monk frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his mind." - Buddha, Majjhima Nikaya Sutta 19
RADIATING METTA IN EVERY DAY LIFE
How many thoughts a day flash through our mind? Innumerable, countless, zillions!
And how many of our daily thoughts might be unwholesome, negative and unskilful? If we look closely, we may find many stray thoughts, trivial thoughts, unhappy thoughts, angry thoughts, worrying thoughts, and hankering thoughts.
We are shaped by our thoughts. Our thoughts define us. We are what we think. If we think angry thoughts, then at that time we are “anger.” If we think thoughts of goodwill, then at that time we are “goodwill.”
If we can keep wholesome thoughts constantly going in our mind, that will be good and beneficial for us. There is one particular thought that is truly lovely and very easy to keep running and turning like a treadmill in our mind.
It is the thought of goodwill, wishing well for beings. It is very simple: every now and then, think these thoughts:
“May all beings be happy,” – wishing well for all, excluding none.
“May so and so be happy,” (insert the name of one person or more that you are wishing for).
“May you be happy,” (addressing the person as if directly in your mind).
“May I be happy.” (Of course, it is lovely to wish for yourself, too.)
To mentally repeat these simple phrases many times a day shouldn’t be too difficult. In fact, it is the easiest thing to do. Make this your mantra. It is the best mantra you can ever have.
Of all qualities, what single quality could our strife-ridden world do well to have more of? Goodwill, naturally. Metta is the Pali word for goodwill, lovingkindness, benevolence and friendliness. It acts as the antidote and cure for hatred, ill will and anger.
So wherever you are and everywhere you go, repeat the metta mantra. Keep it running in your head. And soon it will warm your heart. You will feel more and more this good will welling up in your heart towards all beings, towards particular persons and towards yourself.
Metta is actually more than a thought. It is a wish that is expressed in a thought. And the goodwill fills both our mind and heart, seeps into every cell of our body, is radiated through every pore of our skin, and translates into gentle and wholesome speech and kind, loving and generous actions.
Besides “happy,” you can express additional wishes for somebody, “May she/he be safe….peaceful….healthy….take care of herself/himself happily.” Do what comes naturally. Use just one word, “happy”, if you like or one or more of the other phrases when the mind feels so inclined. Make special or specific wishes for others and yourself, too, when you like.
I have already given detailed instructions here on practising metta in the formal sitting meditation posture. In this essay, I would like to dwell and elaborate on radiating metta as we go about our daily life. It is not sufficient if we confine our metta practice to just the time when we are on the meditation cushion. It is important for us to extend it to all the hours of our waking life.
In his famous discourse on lovingkindness (Metta sutta), the Buddha encouraged us to cultivate metta throughout the day: "Whether standing, walking, sitting or lying down, as long as one is awake, one should develop this mindfulness on love – this, indeed, is called a divine way of living,” he said.
There are a thousand and one ways we can go about radiating metta in our daily life:
Many times a day a particular person might come to your mind. Each time this happens, wish for that person, “May you be happy.” You may forget to do this frequently but there will also be many times when you will remember.
When you are doing your formal sitting meditation there is usually that list of special persons you regularly send metta to. These may be your close and loved ones or someone you are especially grateful to for something they have done for you or for the help and support they have given you. In the course of the day, when these persons come into your mind, send metta to them. It doesn’t matter how many times a day we send metta to the same person because we are cultivating a wholesome mind of goodwill whenever we do it.
Things remind us of people. Whenever you see something that reminds you of somebody, send metta to that person. It could be, for example, something you are wearing or using that is a gift from somebody. This also doubles as a gratitude practice because you remember the kindness or generosity you have received from somebody. This means that you will be remembering many times the person and his or her kindness to you. Frequently recalling kindnesses we received can help us to have a more positive and appreciative attitude towards life and motivate us to, in turn, be kind towards others.
There are some people you know who are unwell, physically or mentally, and are particularly in need of your prayers. You do not forget them. They are in your mind and heart. And so in the course of the day you send them metta, wishing they may be healed and have the strength to bear up with the suffering they are going through.
There are people around you all the time – at home, in the workplace, on the road, in a shop, at a bus or train station or wherever you are. Send metta to those around you. Walking down a street, wish well for the people you are passing by. Sometimes you aim your metta at particular persons you see, wishing for each of them “May you be happy.” If you see a young couple you may mentally wish them a great relationship, that they may love each other well and truly. If you see an old person you may wish him or her strength and health through their aging years. You’ll be surprised at the mind’s ability to think of all kinds of suitable wishes for people you encounter.
When you are going to meet somebody, send metta in advance to the person or persons, sometimes even in the several days leading up to the meeting. When meeting the person you can mentally wish well for the person while interacting with him or her. For example, while the person is talking to you, you can, even while listening, occasionally think the thought, “May you be happy.” After the meeting your mind will go back to the time you spent together and again you wish for the person, “May you be happy.”
You will have met many people in many situations during your day. Whoever they are – friends, acquaintances, strangers, even the people you have encountered in a shop, e.g., the person serving you at a restaurant or coffeeshop, the supermarket cashier who greeted you with a cheery hello at the check-out – give them a thought and a wish, “May you be happy.”
Standing in a queue at a supermarket check-out counter, you can radiate metta to the people in front of and behind you and to the cashier at the counter, giving a thought to how stressful the job may be at times for the cashier and appreciating her or his cheerful demeanour and efficiency.
Whenever you are dealing or interacting with somebody, a customer, a client, a government official, a shop assistant, etc., mentally wish for them, “May you be happy.” This will put your mind in a state of goodwill when engaging with them.
Driving a car you can send metta to those in other vehicles who you are passing by. If you see or stop for someone crossing the street you can wish for the person or persons, “May you be happy.” If you are stuck in a traffic jam you can send metta to those who are also in the jam. “May they be happy and may we all be patient and keep our cool in this jam.”
If you come across a rude or dangerous driver, you might wish, “May you drive more considerately and responsibly and may you be happy.” This kind of response also helps you to check your annoyance and stay calm. If you are stopping at a red light, instead of being impatient for the light to change, you can take that pause as an opportunity to take a breather and wish well for all beings or somebody that comes to your mind.
Traveling in a bus or train, you wish well for the driver and your fellow passengers. When you are in crowded places such as in a busy street, a shopping area, a train station, or a popular eatery you have an opportunity to send metta to a great number of beings.
When you hear a telephone ring, even if it is not yours, immediately send metta to the person who is calling, “May this person be happy.” So, too, if you hear the sound of an SMS message coming in. “May this person who is sending the message be happy.” Before making a phone call, pause for a few moments and wish well for the person you are about to call. Isn’t that a lovely way to begin a call?
When you hear the siren of an ambulance you know someone may have been hurt in an accident or is sick. Wish, “May this person be helped, may he/she reach the hospital safely and receive suitable treatment. May the ambulance driver and attendant transport the patient safely to the hospital. And may the doctors and nurses treating the patient also be happy and able to carry out their duties well and conscientiously.”
When you hear the drone of an aeroplane above you or see it flying in the sky, you can wish for the pilot, crew and passengers that they may be happy and reach their destination safely.
Sounds can be the trigger of your metta. If you hear some voices in conversation, you can send metta to those persons, “May they be happy.” If you hear the sound of a lawnmover or grass cutter, you can send metta to the person cutting the grass. If you hear a dog barking or birds chirping, you send metta to them accordingly. If you hear someone sneeze or cough, you might say “bless you” or “may you be healed,” which is a form of metta, too.
In my country Malaysia, the muezzin would call out to Muslims for prayer five times a day through loudspeakers from the minarets of mosques. Every time I hear the call, my mind immediately responds with the thought, “May the muezzin and my Muslim brothers and sisters be happy.”
What better way is there to wake up in the morning than with the thought, “May all beings be happy!” When you have been making metta your practice, starting the day with a thought of goodwill will come naturally.
Then as you go through the morning rituals of brushing your teeth, shaving, washing your face, answering nature’s calls, putting on your clothes, there can still be thoughts of metta arising in you, wishing well for all beings and for people who already come to your mind. When you are in the habit of radiating metta, you’ll find that people or some person or other will just come to your mind.
It is our practice to combine mindfulness with metta. Thus, for example, as you are mindful when you stretch out your hand to open a door you can, as you turn the door handle, wish: “May all beings be happy.” Similarly, when you switch on or off a light you can, as you press the switch, think “May all beings be happy.”
As you are stirring a cup of coffee or your favourite beverage, you can wish, “May all beings be happy. May so and so be happy.” When you are eating alone, as you are chewing your food, you can send metta instead of letting your mind be lost in thoughts. When you are doing chores, such as washing dishes and sweeping the floor, you can also radiate metta. So, too, when you are working in the garden. Your metta does not stop when you are taking your shower or even when you are sitting on the toilet bowl.
While on the internet, if the connection is slow, you can, while waiting for the screen to change, do metta instead of letting impatience get the better of you. Pauses and gaps are opportunities for us to arouse our mind of goodwill.
If you see photos on the wall, you can wish well for the persons in them. When you see fish in an aquarium you can send metta to the fish. You can send metta to the birds, butterflies, bees, ants and insects you see in the garden.
If you see a multitude of shoes outside a hall, you can think, “May the owners of these shoes be happy.” When you see a mass of bicycles parked closely together, you can wish, “May the owners of these bicycles be happy.”
Finally, when you lay yourself down to bed at the end of the day, you still radiate some metta before you fall asleep. Thus, your whole day is permeated with metta – from the moment you wake up till the time you go to bed. What better way is there to live than this – with a mind and heart that are overflowing with metta!
By now you would have the idea that there are limitless ways you can go about doing metta. It is all entirely up to your ingenuity and creativity. Whenever your mind is idle you know you can always do metta. You make metta your ‘default mind’ – something your mind naturally keeps coming back to or falls back on.
In metta practice, there are various categories of persons who are recipients of our goodwill – very dear ones, dear ones, neutral ones, and difficult ones. It is easy and natural to send metta to dear ones whom we love or are grateful to. These can be our close ones, family members, friends and benefactors.
Neutral ones are acquaintances, people you may not know well or at all. They are people whom you feel a neutral feeling towards. As you do metta in everyday life, you’ll find that a lot of neutral ones will naturally be included. These are, for example, people whom you may not even know but whom you radiated metta to as you walked past them along the road. Or they could be people you met in a shop or somewhere and have a brief interaction or conversation with. You may have had a pleasant exchange of greetings and some friendly words with them. Later when you reflect back on the meeting you radiate metta to them.
Neutral ones could also be people associated with your dear ones and who happen to come to your mind when you send metta to your dear ones. You’ll feel happy to also wish well for these neutral ones. More and more you’ll find your metta reaching out to more than just your dear ones.
Difficult ones are those who may have caused you some grievous hurt or pain. Normally you would not like to think of them or dwell your thoughts on them since the memory is painful. However, they may still come to your mind and when this happens you can still wish them well. You will feel happy to be able to do this. It shows you are magnanimous and noble minded and are not one to nurse a grudge.
You may not have to dwell long (unless you so wish) on the difficult ones. Just a brief wish, “May you be happy,” and then move on to your usual dear and neutral ones. In any case, you can also be happy to know that whenever you wish, “May all beings be happy,” and which is often, this will include the difficult ones as when we say “all” it means all, without discrimination, and include even animals and spirit beings.
Pervading your day with metta will have an uplifting effect on your mind. There being so much goodwill in you, you will feel light and joyful and be less prone to anger and annoyance. You can also imagine the positive changes taking place in the brain as myraids of “metta neurons” are firing away connecting synapses and creating strong wholesome circuits and networks.
Make metta your practice and see the remarkable change it will make to your life!
Footnote: At the beginning of this essay, we mentioned the importance of keeping wholesome thoughts in the mind. Metta is one of these thoughts which we can bring up constantly. However, you can also be mindful of negative thoughts when they arise and check them by thinking wisely in various ways to create a positive and wholesome state of mind. So while metta is often practised, we also exercise lots of wise reflection in the course of the day. These are all wholesome and beneficial thoughts.
"Monks, whatever kinds of worldly merit there are, all are not worth one sixteenth part of the liberation of the heart by lovingkindness; in shining and beaming and radiance the liberation of the heart by lovingkindness far excels them."
Buddha, Itivuttaka, Sutta 27
"Friends, it is impossible, it cannot happen, that when the liberation of the mind by lovingkindness is developed and cultivated, frequently practised, made one's vehicle and foundation, firmly established, consolidated, and properly undertaken, ill will can invade the mind and remain. For this, friends, is the escape from ill will, namely, the liberation of the mind by lovingkindness.”
Digha Nikaya, Sutta 33
“And he should wish: May all beings be happy and safe! May they all have happy minds!....Let one develop this boundless heart of love for the whole world – above, below, and across, unobstructed, without hostility and without ill will.
Whether standing, walking, sitting or lying down, as long as one is awake, one should develop this mindfulness on love – this, indeed, is called a divine way of living.”
Buddha, Metta Sutta