Great Expectations

We may judge ourselves as lacking in positive qualities, and wonder why we can’t feel kindly towards others (and ourselves) when we do the metta or loving kindness practice.  So, we can’t dredge up feelings of love for a person from another political party? Maybe that’s okay. Perhaps we are just using unrealistic standards.

Here’s a quote from the Nissāraṇīya Sutta  (AN 6:13) discussing the difficulties of developing feelings of loving kindness:

“There is the case where a monk might say, ‘Although goodwill has been developed, pursued, handed the reins, taken as a basis, steadied, consolidated, and well-undertaken by me as my awareness-release, still ill will keeps overpowering my mind.’ He should be told, ‘Don’t say that. You shouldn’t speak in that way. Don’t misrepresent the Blessed One, for it’s not right to misrepresent the Blessed One, and the Blessed One wouldn’t say that. It’s impossible, there is no way that—when goodwill has been developed, pursued, handed the reins, taken as a basis, steadied, consolidated, and well-undertaken as an awareness-release—ill will would still keep overpowering the mind. That possibility doesn’t exist, for this is the escape from ill will: goodwill as an awareness-release.’

Before you panic over that piece, we can try to investigate what’s being said.

Perhaps one way of dealing with the development of goodwill (possibly a better translation of lovingkindness or metta) is to re-think the whole process.  If these thoughts of ill-will keep arising, making you a tad uncomfortable, you might lower your expectations. Perfection is elusive. If you can’t “do” lovingkindness or goodwill the way you think you should, maybe just sit with it and watch what’s actually going on.

The first thing is to not get angry and judgemental about your unskillful thoughts. You may be working through some useful stuff. Jason Siff says in Thoughts Are Not the Enemy: “The way for thinking to quiet down is through allowing and tolerating it. But that may not happen by trying to allow it and trying to tolerate it.”

Perhaps the ill-will will grow, in which case you might want to sift through your thoughts and notice some kindly thoughts arising of their own volition and see if that helps. Or, you may just get worn out by the thoughts of ill-will and wander off into something more calming. You might fall asleep. If that happens, the difficult thoughts will disappear (for now) and you would be able to report to the Buddha that you haven’t “overpowered your mind” with ill-will.

 

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