By Gerald “Strib” Stribling
In the Metta Sutta, Buddhism talks about “loving kindness,” but the term is too much flowers-and-home-baked-cookies for my tastes.
Someone else (I think it was Sylvia Boorstein) suggested instead using the phrase “unbounded friendliness” as a translation of the Pali word metta. That gets us away from, you know, touching and sharing feelings, and other things dudes don’t do.
As a chant, the Metta Sutta begins along the lines of “May I be free from danger. May I be free from mental suffering. May I be free from physical suffering. May I be well and happy always.” As you progress through the chant, your good wishes grow progressively more global. Next comes “May my family be free from danger,” then “May my teachers be free from danger,” on through friends, neighbors, people in your community, your enemies, people who don’t give a crap one way or the other, and finally “May all living beings be free from suffering. May they be free from mental suffering. May they be free from physical suffering. May they be well and happy always.”
The Metta Sutta implies that there is a progression through levels of compassion, since compassion takes in everything from a mother suckling her baby to the Gates Foundation’s efforts to eradicate malaria in sub-Saharan Africa.
But notice where the Sutta begins: with ourselves.
The tie-in with meditation practice should be obvious. Insight Meditation (Vipassana) teaches you to examine and observe your thoughts, to realize that those thoughts cannot hurt you and to discover the delusions and misconceptions you think are truth, but which are really holding you back. The point of this is so that you can dispense with them and discover the real truths about life.
And one of the biggest delusions most people have is that they’re unique and special. That works two ways, as people can under-value themselves as well as over-value themselves. Buddhism talks a lot about losing the self or the ego.
In reality, the the “no-self” or anatta that people find so inscrutable about Buddhism means basically thinking of the needs of others and of the greater good, before thinking about yourself. And most people are pretty much there already; they realize how happy doing for others makes them. Grandma’s Thanksgiving dinner literally drips with love.
The Metta Sutta tells us that if you do not love yourself, then you are delusional (up to and including “bat-shit crazy”). Are you haunted by regrets, or shame, or loss, or even past trauma? They say that if you live in the past you have depression, and if you live in the future, you have anxiety. All that mindfulness crap that everybody seems to be selling nowadays is about living in the now. Living in the now takes mental disciple. Mental discipline comes from meditation.
Meditation is a great way to love yourself. Or to learn to love yourself.
I am not saying that meditation and other-directedness is a cure for anything, but it can be a big part of a multidisciplinary approach to dealing with PTSD, depression, anxiety disorder, phobias—you name it. You cannot achieve any state of metta unless you love yourself first. Then can you move on.
Rid yourself of the delusion of self-loathing, and what do you have left? You have someone who loves themselves, but not in a narcissistic sense. It is more in a sense of being thoughtful about the good you bring to your family, community, workplace and the world. That’s your identity. Meditate on it.
Cut yourself some slack. Life is full enough of suffering without inflicting it on yourself.
Hidden behind delusional thinking is a person you can love.
Editor: Dana Gornall
He wrote Buddhism for Dudes as a not-so-subtle, basic examination of the essence of Buddhist philosophy. It’s short and funny and to the point. “Way too much Buddhist information is too complicated to wade through, and some of it is fairyland voodoo, full of metaphysical improbabilities. Buddhism isn’t a religion, it’s a way to live a happy life. This is not hard stuff to understand.”
Stribling writes a blog called Buddhism for Tough Guys. “There are lots of tough guy Buddhists out there willing to take a bullet for anybody. One of their mottoes is ‘Just because I am a person who loves peace doesn’t mean that I have forgotten how to be violent’.” He once broke up an assault with a little kitchen broom. “It’s my best story,” he says.