Explaining metta to non-Buddhists

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zavk
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Explaining metta to non-Buddhists

Postby zavk » Wed Feb 18, 2009 11:21 pm

Dear friends,

As you know, when we practice metta we direct lovingkindness to all beings and especially to those who are suffering. Now, if non-Buddhists were to ask me what metta is, I would point them to the metta sutta. And if they were to ask me why I practice metta bhavana or what I hope to achieve when I practice metta bhavana I would tell them that it is a means for me to cultivate wholesome states of mind and to promote wholesome volition. I think it shouldn't be too hard to explain to them the aims of metta in this way.

But in the case where I'm directing metta to someone specific, to someone who is experiencing difficulties, how does one explain the practice?

If someone were to say, 'OK. I can see how you practice metta to cultivate wholesome state of mind. I can accept that. But how does your practice actually affect someone else, especially someone whom you do not have direct contact with? How would your practice actually benefit the person whom you are directing metta to? How would it actually alleviate that person's illness or circumstances or whatever? Are you suggesting that metta would actually generate some kind of cosmic energy that would somehow 'touch' that person in question? If you choose to talk about Buddhism in term of its 'scientificity', in terms of its pragmatism and rationality, how then would you explain this supposed beneficial and helpful effect of directing metta to others, something which cannot be 'verified'?

I'm not quite sure how I would respond to these questions. In fact, to be honest, whilst I practice metta everyday and whilst I would direct metta to people I know who are suffering (e.g. just recently when Retro was in the hospital), I wouldn't know how to explain it to others. I mean I can of course explain it in terms of how metta helps me cultivate wholesome states of mind but how would I explain its supposed effect on others?

Perhaps these questions miss the point of metta. But they would not be unreasonable questions for non-Buddhists to ask. How would you respond?

Metta,
zavk
With metta,
zavk

thecap
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Re: Explaining metta to non-Buddhists

Postby thecap » Wed Feb 18, 2009 11:31 pm

Hi zavk

What's wrong with "wishing someone well"?

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clw_uk
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Re: Explaining metta to non-Buddhists

Postby clw_uk » Wed Feb 18, 2009 11:34 pm

Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

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Re: Explaining metta to non-Buddhists

Postby jcsuperstar » Wed Feb 18, 2009 11:47 pm

just compair it to praying that the person be well, most people understand prayer, and then theres the whole power of positive thinking new age mumbo jumbo, i think it would be hard in fact to find someone who didnt understand metta.
สัพเพ สัตตา สุขีตา โหนตุ

the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat

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zavk
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Re: Explaining metta to non-Buddhists

Postby zavk » Wed Feb 18, 2009 11:53 pm

Hi thecap,

Yes, that would be a respond. In fact I have explained metta in this way to people.

But for a non-Buddhist this might not be a satisfactory respond, given how much emphasis is placed on metta in the tradition. I mean there are several discourses and teachings devoted to metta.

In light of how much emphasis is given to metta and how much I have felt the positive effects of metta myself, I don't wish to simply reduce it to just another 'good wish'. I think this presents a risk of over-simplifying things and thus stripping the dhamma of its deeper implications. Say for example, I can explain my meditation practice as a means of 'balancing my mind', but to simply speak of it in those terms is to risk reducing dhamma practice to just another strategy for coping with the stresses of life. I don't think we Buddhists would want to do that. If we simply explain metta as a 'good wish', what if someone retorts, 'How is that different from wishful, infantile 'New-Age' thinking?'

So in terms of metta, when pressed for a fuller response, how can we explain it in a more 'robust' fashion? Is there a way to convey what we as practitioners feel about metta? Or are we brushing up against a certain limit when we attempt to do this?

Metta,
zavk
With metta,
zavk

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clw_uk
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Re: Explaining metta to non-Buddhists

Postby clw_uk » Wed Feb 18, 2009 11:58 pm

I would state that first its wishing some one well

then if pressed further i would ask do they consider kindness a happy feeling or negative feeling (of course its a good feeling)

Then i would say it allows one to develop kindness to all so it increases positive feelings and how many times you experience it so it makes one happier in life

It also lets one become more understanding of others, so when people are abusive to you, you know how to raise metta so you dont experience anger or hate and since anger and hate are unpleasent, it again makes one happier
Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

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mikenz66
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Re: Explaining metta to non-Buddhists

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Feb 19, 2009 12:06 am

Hi zavk,

I see metta meditation as purely developing my own mind (as Craig says). I don't expect it to help anyone else directly (of course if I become a better person that helps others indirectly). At one level it's just one of the possible concentration objects, but developing those feelings has a usefulness beyond just meditative absorption because it helps our interactions with others.

Hmm, that's a bit technical for non-Buddhists, but before we explain it to non-Buddhists we'd better agree amongst ourselves. :group:

Metta
Mike

thecap
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Re: Explaining metta to non-Buddhists

Postby thecap » Thu Feb 19, 2009 12:29 am


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zavk
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Re: Explaining metta to non-Buddhists

Postby zavk » Thu Feb 19, 2009 12:55 am

With metta,
zavk

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AdvaitaJ
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Re: Explaining metta to non-Buddhists

Postby AdvaitaJ » Thu Feb 19, 2009 1:44 am

The birds have vanished down the sky. Now the last cloud drains away.
We sit together, the mountain and me, until only the mountain remains.
Li Bai

thecap
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Re: Explaining metta to non-Buddhists

Postby thecap » Thu Feb 19, 2009 2:01 pm

Hi zavk, AdvaitaJ

...Let alone mind-training and esoteric theories. At the very least, "sending" metta to a certain person would make that person not feel separated and alone with his or her own suffering self (if it is honest 'right intention' anyway, then the equivalent 'right action' would follow whenever required). That is real energy in and as information transferred to a person. And that's enough reason for me "to metta" someone. :meditate:


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