Thanks for your responses Craig, Mike and thecap.
I feel the same about metta myself. As I've mentioned in my OP, I see it primarily as a means of cultivating wholesome states of mind. Whilst this does not directly affect others it may still benefit others in the sense that it allows me to better relate to others. I don't think non-Buddhist would have any problems with such an answer. To this extent thecap is right to point out that
We as Buddhists, however, I assume know that "all experience is preceded by mind, led by mind, made by mind". Before speech and action, there is intention. Ideally, right intention. Isn't metta part of right intention, and thereby one step on the eightfold middlepath?
But I'm referring to another scenario. What I'm curious about is something else that takes place when we direct metta to others. Again, let's take the case of Retro's hospitalisation as an example. Upon learning that he was in the hospital, many of us felt that the best thing to do is to direct metta to
him. We intuitively feel that this is what we ought to do. Speaking more generally, I have encountered situations where a dhamma teacher calls upon a group to direct metta to a member of a group who is experiencing difficulty.
What I am curious about is when we practice metta as a kind of 'intervention' (<--- this may not be a good word but I can't think of another one at the moment), when we practice metta almost as a kind of obligation or duty, when we practice metta out of a certain sense of responsibility. In such cases, we obviously still recognise that we are benefiting ourselves by cultivating altruistic states of mind. But yet, the fact that we feel impelled to direct metta to the person in question suggests that we are hoping to generate on some level or another some positive effect on the person in question.
Maybe I shouldn't speak for others. But I have certainly felt this way. I have certainly felt the need to 'intervene' in the situation of others by directing metta to them. I 'intervene' out of a certain assumption that my practice would somehow benefit the person in question. And this is what I'm getting at: If pressed, I don't think I can explain why I feel my efforts would actually benefit that person, for I really have no basis to say that it would indeed
benefit that person. Still, I'd do it anyway.
thecap wrote:On the other hand, what do you wish to accomplish by (over-)analyzing it? Do you feel like having to explain yourself as a Buddhist?
Yes, there is certainly some analysis going on here. But I am not analysing metta per se
. Nor do I feel like I have to explain myself as a Buddhist. Rather, what I am doing in positing all these questions from a hypothetical 'non-Buddhist' is to analyse the assumptions I may or may not have about metta, and by implication, the assumptions I may or may not have about dhamma practice on the whole
Thinking along these lines, I find that I am coming up against an aspect of dhamma practice that seems to elude rational explanation but which I cannot deny is a vital component of the dhamma. And I wonder if has to do with 'faith'?