Vol.2 No.2 April, 1992
Words of Dhamma
Aham avero homi, avyāpajjho homi,
May I be free from ill-will; may I be free from cruelty;
Pali verses traditionally recited during the practice of Mettā
The Practice of Mettā Bhāvanā In Vipassana Meditation
- by Vipassana Research Institute
The practice of mettā-bhāvanā (meditation of loving-kindness) is an important adjunct to the technique of Vipassana meditation - indeed, it is its logical outcome. It is a technique whereby we radiate loving-kindness and goodwill toward all beings, deliberately charging the atmosphere around us with the calming, positive vibrations of pure and compassionate love. The Buddha instructed his followers to develop mettā so as to lead more peaceful and harmonious lives and to help others to do so as well. Students of Vipassana should follow that instruction because mettā gives us a way to share with all others the peace and harmony we are developing.
The commentaries state: Mijjati siniyhati 'ti mettā - that which inclines one to a friendly disposition is mettā. It is a sincere wish for the good and welfare of all, devoid of ill-will. Adoso 'ti mettā - "non-aversion is mettā." The chief characteristic of mettā is a benevolent attitude. It culminates in the identification of oneself with all beings, a recognition of the fellowship of all life.
To grasp this concept at least intellectually is easy enough, but it is far harder to develop such an attitude in oneself. To do so, some practice is needed, and so we have the technique of mettā-bhāvanā, the systematic cultivation of goodwill toward others. To be really effective, though, mettā meditation must be practised along with Vipassana meditation. So long as negativities such as aversion dominate the mind, it is futile to formulate conscious thoughts of goodwill, and doing so would be a ritual devoid of inner meaning. However, when negativities are removed by the practice of Vipassana, goodwill naturally wells up in the mind; and emerging from the prison of self-obsession, we begin to concern ourselves with the welfare of others.
For this reason, the technique of mettā-bhāvanā is introduced only at the end of a Vipassana course, after the participants have passed through the process of purification. At such a time meditators often feel a deep wish for the well-being of others, making their practice of mettā truly effective. Though limited time is devoted to it in a course, mettā may be regarded as the culmination of the practice of Vipassana.
Nibbāna can be experienced only by those whose minds are filled with loving-kindness and compassion for all beings. Simply wishing for that state is not enough; we must purify our minds to attain it. We do so by Vipassana meditation; hence the emphasis on this technique during a course.
As we practise, we become aware that the underlying reality of the world and of ourselves consists of arising and passing away every moment. We realize that the process of change continues without our control and regardless of our wishes. Gradually we understand that any attachment to what is ephemeral and insubstantial produces suffering for us. We learn to be detached and to keep the balance of our minds in the face of any experience. Then we begin to experience what real happiness is; not the satisfaction of desire nor the forestalling of fears, but rather liberation from the cycle of desire and fear. As inner serenity develops, we clearly see how others are enmeshed in suffering, and naturally this wish arises, "May they find what we have found: the way out of misery, the path of peace." This is the proper volition for the practice of mettā-bhāvanā.
Mettā is not prayer; nor is it the hope that an outside agency will help. On the contrary, it is a dynamic process producing a supportive atmosphere where others can act to help themselves. Mettā can be omni-directional or directed toward a particular person. In either case, meditators are simply providing an outlet; because the mettā we feel is not 'our' mettā. By eliminating egotism we open our minds and make them conduits for the forces of positivity throughout the universe. The realization that mettā is not produced by us makes its transmission truly selfless.
In order to conduct mettā, the mind must be calm, balanced and free from negativity. This is the type of mind developed in the practice of Vipassana. A meditator knows by experience how anger, antipathy, or ill-will destroys peace and frustrates any efforts to help others. Only as hatred is removed and equanimity is developed can we be happy and wish happiness for others. The words "May all beings be happy" have great force only when uttered from a pure mind. Backed by this purity, they will certainly be effective in fostering the happiness of others.
We must therefore examine ourselves before practising mettā-bhāvanā to check whether we are really capable of transmitting mettā. If we find even a tinge of hatred or aversion in our minds, we should refrain at that time. Otherwise we would transmit that negativity, causing harm to others. However, if mind and body are filled with serenity and well-being, it is natural and appropriate to share this happiness with others: "May you be happy, may you be liberated from the defilements that are the causes of suffering, may all beings be peaceful."
This loving attitude enables us to deal far more skilfully with the vicissitudes of life. Suppose, for example, one encounters a person who is acting out of deliberate ill-will to harm others. The common response-to react with fear and hatred-is self-centredness, does nothing to improve the situation and, in fact, magnifies the negativity. It would be far more helpful to remain calm and balanced, with a feeling of goodwill even for the person who is acting wrongly. This must not be merely an intellectual stance, a veneer over unresolved negativity. Mettā works only when it is the spontaneous overflow of a purified mind.
The serenity gained in Vipassana meditation naturally gives rise to feelings of mettā, and throughout the day this will continue to affect us and our environment in a positive way. Thus, Vipassana ultimately has a dual function: to bring us happiness by purifying our minds, and to help us foster the happiness of others by preparing us to practise mettā. What, after all, is the purpose of freeing ourselves of negativity and egotism unless we share these benefits with others? In a retreat we cut ourselves off from the world temporarily in order to return and share with others what we have gained in solitude. These two aspects of the practice of Vipassana are inseparable.
In these times of violent unrest, widespread malaise and suffering, the need for such a practice as mettā-bhāvanā is clear. If peace and harmony are to reign throughout the world, they must first be established in the minds of all the inhabitants of the world.
Annual Vipassana Conference Dhamma Giri: January 12-16, 1992
The conference began its work with the annual reports from the centres, and updates on the work of the committees. The second third days were devoted to committee work, and the fourth day to meetings of the Research Council. Goenkaji answered Dhamma questions on the evening of the fourth day, and on the fifth day the action plans of the various committees were shared, and Goenkaji addressed the conference.
Reports were presented for each of the 18 centres around the world. In a total of about 320 courses of 10 days or more, 250 at centres and 70 in camps, (plus 60 additional short courses), approximately 21,000 students were served: a growth of 30% over the previous year. Four new centres were established, two in India, one in the USA and one in Thailand. The centres in the UK and California were relocated to larger sites. Land has been acquired for centres in Burma, Sri Lanka and Madras, in India. Many established centres reported improvements in facilities, with two new pagodas coming into use. The continuing growth of Dhamma throughout the world is a challenge and an inspiration to us all.
The broad scope of Dhamma work that has been undertaken in various fields was evident from the reports of the committees. Reports were submitted from committees dealing with Education & Social Change, Business Management and Government Administration, Health, V.R.I. Publications, Pāli Research, Dhamma Literature, Information Exchange (Networking), Tapes and Translations and Revision of Forms.
Especially encouraging from the reports was the success of the children's course program in India. A number of junior assistant teachers have been appointed specifically for these courses and approval was given to expand the children's courses outside of India as well.
Meeting of Assistant Teachers, Dhamma Workers and Trustees
At the AT meetings certain points from the last year were clarified and ATs had the opportunity to discuss any difficulties they may have encountered during the year.
It was decided to provide ATs with a kit of materials such as the AT Code of Conduct, course guidelines, question-answer set, management guides, children's manual and an appropriate set of VRI publications. The kit will also be provided to all centres, together with transcripts of discourses and instructions.
In the meetings of Dhamma workers and trustees in India and Nepal, the guidelines prepared on their role and duties were reviewed and the following decisions taken:
1. There should be frequent meetings between trustees and Dhamma workers.
2. They should practise Vipassana regularly, attend courses and serve courses as laid down in the guidelines.
3. Trustees should take on specific responsibilities in the management of centres.
A meeting of Dhamma workers and trustees from Western centres made the following recommendations:
1. The growth of Dhamma should be in balance with the maintenance of Dhamma. Construction deadlines and Dhamma service workloads should be realistic: they should not lead to exhaustion or prevent Dhamma workers from maintaining their daily group sittings and taking courses.
2. Centres should have formal system whereby ATs monitor students staying on a long-term basis.
3. Centres and trusts should consider developing ways for helping newer Dhamma workers to feel welcome and included in centre activities.
A number of questions were put to Goenkaji relating to the practice of Vipassana, problems with the management of centres, and the meaning of certain terms. Goenkaji explained and gave clarification. A few of those questions and answers are presented below.
At the concluding session, the reports of the various committees were presented.
Goenkaji concluded the proceedings with an inspiring address. A condensed version follows.
Closing Talk by Goenkaji, Annual Meeting, 1992
So much work has been done to help the spread of Dhamma in the last twenty-one years. Yet without wanting to devalue it, the work done is just a very tiny step on a long journey. A tiny step has been taken, but it is a very important step, because it is in the right direction, on the right path. The time has now ripened, and Dhamma is bound to spread, it has started to spread. Everyone should feel very fortunate in having an opportunity to participate in the spread of Dhamma, helping people to come out of their misery.
The work is growing. A great deal of service is needed, and it is good that a large number of people are coming forward to serve. But when somebody comes to serve one must understand that this service is in Dhamma, pure Dhamma. Unless you serve yourself, you can't serve others. A lame person cannot support another lame person. A blind person cannot guide another blind person. The Buddha said, " I guarantee your liberation, but with one condition: that you rid yourself of ego." If someone comes to serve people and does nothing to eradicate his or her own ego, then where is the service? If you want to help people to come out of bondage, out of misery, and you are doing nothing to liberate yourself from bondage and from misery-if you are doing nothing to dissolve your own ego-then certainly this service will not be a Dhamma service. You have to dissolve your ego. There are many other fields where we can gain material benefits. But in Dhamma, leave aside material gain. This is not the place or the field to look for name and fame, for power or for status.
The Buddha said that two types of people are rare. One type is the person who serves, who takes initiative in serving, which means that there is no thought in the mind about anything other than service. Bahujanahitāya, bahujanasukhāya: my service is to help others - more and more people should benefit from it. The second type is the person who has a feeling of gratitude. Develop these two qualities and certainly you are progressing on the path, certainly you are fit to help others.
The organization is growing. But as it grows it is quite possible that differences of opinion will come, personality clashes might start, there may be attachment to personal opinions. One has to be very careful. This is like fire: don't allow the fire to start. But if it has begun, see that it is extinguished immediately. Don't allow it to spread. Always remember Buddha's words:
"Vivādaṃ bhayato disvā,
avivādaṃ ca khemato.
Sammaggā sakhilā hotha."
"Seeing danger in dispute,
security in concord.
Dwell together in amity."
This is the teaching of the Buddha,
the Enlightened one.
This should become a guideline for every Dhamma worker.
Now about research: the words of the Buddha are lost in many countries: we should be grateful to the countries that maintained them in their pristine purity. Now these words of the Buddha have to spread: but only in order to help paṭipatti (the meditation practice.). The pariyatti (the theory), the publication of pariyatti, the research in pariyatti should not become our main aim. Our main aim will always be paṭipatti. If we remain satisfied only by reading the words of the Buddha, but do nothing to take steps on the path he taught, then again we have started harming ourselves. The theoretical aspect of Dhamma, the words of the Buddha are to help us, to encourage us, to guide us, but the main thing will always be to walk on the path step by step. Make use of the words of the Buddha and they will certainly encourage you. I recommend that every student of Vipassana learns at least the basics of the Pāli language, the words spoken by Buddha. I speak from my own experience. Every word of the Enlightened One is so inspiring, provided you continue your practice. You have to make your own research into the truth inside, research about this interaction of mind and matter inside: how out of ignorance one keeps on reacting, how in wisdom one comes out of it. This is how the words of the Buddha can be used for your own liberation.
Suffering is all around, misery is all around. May this wonderful medicine of the Buddha help the suffering people to come out of their illness, to come out of their misery. May the light of Dhamma spread around the world, dispelling the darkness of ignorance.
Questions and Answers
Student: Quite often it is necessary to take strong action but as you say this should be done with mettā and compassion. On such occasions, if mettā and compassion are not generated should one then take no action? If this is done then the wrong doer could be encouraged. What should be done in such situations?
Goenkaji: Never encourage injustice. One has to oppose injustice but with the base of mettā and karuṇā. If you oppose somebody without this base then don't justify it. Understand that this was my defect. Next time any such thing happens I shall try to generate mettā and karuṇā and oppose with that base. If you keep on justifying your mistake you can't rectify yourself.
Student: From the Vipassana Research Institute much Dhamma literature is coming out in English. Please give importance to Hindi. Buddha gave his teaching in the local language. Our view is that all work should be done in Hindi. What is your policy in this regard?
Goenkaji: If Hindi was the language of the entire world then yes, we should work only in Hindi but this is not the case. There are people around the world who speak English. For them the instructions must also be in the English language. So literature in English does not go against the teaching of the Buddha. It is true that we have to work in this country where Hindi is the national language and already quite a bit of literature has come out in Hindi; it is not that we have not done anything in Hindi. Certainly we would like more and more writers in Hindi to come and cooperate and translate things that have already been published in English and write original things with the basis of Buddha's teaching. We would certainly like to encourage them.
Student: Can you talk about the mechanism of transference of merit? If the person receiving the merits didn't have the volition to do the good deed, can they absorb the merits?
Goenkaji: If somebody is thirsty and you offer water but this fellow does not make a cup (with his hands) to take the water-he keeps his hands (open), it falls out-what can be done? There must be some volition on the part of the person to take the share of the merits. If one is not accepting those merits then it is meaningless. Suppose you give mettā to someone and one is not accepting, one is not receptive: you are like a broadcasting station, but this person's receiver is not good enough to receive. It is a waste. But still, one who gives should keep on giving. If one who receives is not capable of receiving it, it is the problem of that person. But if one receives, one is capable of receiving, then certainly it helps.