Metta: the best glue in human relationships

Below we find a teaching given by Sayadaw U Pandita on the last day of a 60 day retreat, January 29, 2015, as a part of the so called Victory Ceremony. (Translation into English: Sayalay Ma Vajiranani. Transcription and editing: Guus Went.)

The Venerable Sayadaw started his talk mentioning he had nothing special to say. However, nearly six years later, November 2020, I find the Sayadaws message given here special enough to share. It goes 180 degrees against identity thinking, against always giving yourself the central position, and against the more and more growing ‘cancel culture’: finding faults with others and blaming them for it. Please read and come to know for yourself.

At this 60 day retreat a few local yogi’s and foreign yogi’s have practiced. And when they practice according to the instructions, then the virtue of the Dhamma, that it bears and elevates those who practice according to the Dhamma, this virtue becomes apparent. And to the extent the yogi’s practice, their life becomes elevated. And yogi’s also become related by the blood of the Dhamma. We become connected in this way through practice, becoming Dhamma relatives.

Initially Sayadawgyi mentioned three types of relationship with the yogi’s, as Asian relatives, as world relatives and as relatives in samsara. So there are these three wordly ways of being related, for Westerners just two: wordly relatives and samsaric relatives. If in addition to this we become related by the blood of the Dhamma, then one understands what is truly beneficial, what is truly to one’s welfare. Each side has metta. So the benefit that people can experience from doing this retreat, from the practice, is the ability to feel true loving kindness, true metta.

Sayadawgyi will speak about how the Buddha explained the word metta. It is explained to be a moist element. It wants others to be well, it wants them to be happy, and fulfilled in all ways. This is the element of metta. And dosa, anger, on the other hand, does not want others to have benefit, or to prosper. The mind that is connected with dosa is dry and brittle, and for such people relationships with their family, with relatives, with friends, in these problems occur, because there is no moist element. So people are not able to stay together, not able to be united. But with metta it is easy to stay together.

If you want to glue two pieces of paper together, you can put glue on one piece of paper and stick it to the other piece of paper. But the bond will not be very strong, because the air can get in and make the glue dry, so it does not stick very well. But if you put glue on each piece of paper and then put it together with some pressure, then these two pieces of paper can become like one sheet of paper, they stay together very well, the bond is good.

Metta is first of all explained as a moist, sticky element. It is not the stickiness of craving and clinging, it is not a selfish grabbing on and holding on no matter what. Metta is what understands what is beneficial and prosperous for the other person and it involves relating in a suitable way.

For humans to have mutual metta, most people think of this as wanting someone being able to get an education, wanting someone their education to be complete, wanting them their knowledge to become complete, wanting a person to become fulfilled regarding having enough to wear, housing, clothing, food, wanting people to be fulfilled, wanting the other person to be fulfilled in this way.

So in the world people just think about metta in this way, wanting these types of conditions. But the Buddha said that we have enemies both within and without, we have internal enemies and external enemies. Or, in another way of looking at it, we have enemies that are near to us and enemies that are far away. And metta wants people to be free, wants others to be free of these enemies.

Internal enemies are the wanting, just wanting something, and then greed for something and then extreme greed, where our greed leads to transgressive behaviour. Metta wants others to be free of this greed. And then there is ordinary anger, just disliking, dissatisfaction, moderate anger, and then extreme anger, leading to acts of killing or harming or envy, and jealousy and out of that telling lies.

Not having any knowledge about what is beneficial or not beneficial, and also not having knowledge about what is suitable and what is not – without this knowledge people do things that do not benefit them, that are not suitable, and thus get into trouble. Metta wants beings to have the type of knowledge that will help them not to get into trouble. Metta wants beings to be happy. To have a happiness that is related to developing special knowledge. The Buddha said that this is true metta.

When one is about to do something, or to say something or plan something, the knowledge, the ability to weigh whether what one is about to do, say or plan, is beneficial or not, is very important. This is first of all. This knowledge is very important. And just as one would not like to experience unjust acts done to one, so too others do not like it. This ability to put oneself in another person’s place and to understand how they feel is of the nature of karuna, compassion.

With metta and karuna, the wish for others’ welfare, the wish for others not to suffer on one hand, or with moral shame and moral dread on the other, then one will find it very easy to avoid doing physical or verbal behaviour that harms others. One will find it very easy to keep one’s mentality good and not to harm others. So with metta one won’t want to cause others any harm, and also with karuna one doesn’t want others to suffer.

To the extent that based on this one avoids harming others, they prosper, and one does too. When metta and karuna that are infused with knowledge, that are together with knowledge, then if people have this type of metta for others, for each other, if  this type of metta together with karuna and knowledge is mutual, then nobody will be looking out, nobody will want things just for their own benefit, there won’t be this selfishness in relationships. Instead meaningful relationships will arise.

Those who have the knowledge like that, to weigh what is beneficial and not, what is suitable and not, their ability to put themselves into another’s position and understand how another would feel, becomes very good. And one understands that one wouldn’t like to be killed, one would not like to have one’s possessions stolen. And just as I don’t like it, no one else does either. So when this feeling of understanding how other people feel becomes strong, then with regard to other living beings one will have the desire for their welfare. Especially on a mental level, the wish to work for another’s welfare will arise. Not only mentally, but it can manifest physically and verbally as well.

First of all metta is wanting others to be happy and peaceful, beings to be happy and peaceful. And especially wanting beings to be moral, to be able to keep the precepts, so that they will be free of their inner enemies as well as dangers. Metta has the characteristic of wanting what is good for another. This is the substance of metta. And when this is strong, then the feeling will become manifest in actions and speech. One will take the step of carrying out actions and speaking in a way that shows one’s wish for others’ welfare. This is how metta functions. It functions to bring about what is for other people’s welfare, so it is working to bring this about. Wanting what is good for another and working to bring this about.

Like that, when there is the true wish, not just pretending, but the true metta, on a physical, verbal and mental level, then old resentments, not just ordinary anger, that grudges, that have been held due to do things that didn’t go right between two people or a group, resentment and bearing grudges, these things dissolve when there is this feeling of metta that is manifest, physically, verbally and mentally. And this means to say that old enemies become friends through metta. This is how metta manifests.

When one has a mind, a mental attitude of metta, and when one carries out metta, not only mentally, but physically and verbally, so that it is not pretend, but true, if this comes about, then resentments dissolve and people become true friends. Quarrels dissolve when anger subsides. So this true and pure friendly feeling should be established. It should be cultivated and should be developed, it is very good to have this.

So for metta to become strong enough, that it becomes manifest, physically, verbally and mentally, and so that quarrels and resentments die down, the closest cause for metta to arise is seeing what is good about another person. If we look at what is bad about another person, if we look at what we dislike, then we will just continue to hate. So it is said that the nearest cause for metta to arise is seeing the good side.

No one in the world is a hundred procent good. And no one is all bad either. Sometimes what one does may be good, or what they say might be good, or their mental attitude might be good. Sometimes people are good in two ways, sometimes good in all three ways. But there should be one thing that one can find, even if the actions one does aren’t good, maybe what a person says or maybe their mentality is good. So one has to try to find this good side of another person, and not focus on the bad side. So there should be a strong enough good point to make one be able to develop the quality of metta.

So this metta comes from seeing another’s good side. So once one really can see how another person is good, then metta is sure to arise. And then from there one will work, as the feeling of metta grows, one will work for another person’s welfare. And one will want their welfare and then, wanting anothers welfare, one will act and speak in that way. And doing this, quarrels and resentments dissolve. So this is true metta. Metta as it is commonly thought of by most people is really quite meaningless.

When metta becomes strong enough to cause hatred to subside, resentment that one had, then this metta is strong, and patience comes together with metta. To the extent that there is patience, one will be able to forgive, to endure if one is hurt by others, and to forgive. So one won’t want to take out any revenge. So when anger subsides in one, then one doesn’t carry out acts in order to harm others, no acts of cruelty. And when greed subsides, lobha, then one won’t turn to stealing other people’s possessions, one won’t turn to harming others sexually because of one’s lust, and one won’t lie for one’s own benefit. And when one is without knowledge, then one would do things that are unbeneficial and as a result one would turn to harming others. But with knowledge of what is benefical and not, suitable and not suitable, this important knowledge makes it very easy for one to have an attitude of metta.

So with this one’s enemies, one’s internal enemies of lobha, dosa and moha, they are all been put down, they are all been overcome, they are subsiding, and they aren’t able to revolt again against one. So one commits no actions to harm anybody else, because all this lobha, dosa, moha has died down. Then there are no dangers that come to one’s doorstep. If one commits wrong, harms others, then one will blame oneself, others will blame one, one could be punished, and there is the danger of future life times that are bad because of the bad intention involved. But these dangers don’t arise when one’s internal enemies are quelled.

So when we recite the phrase Avera hontu, the true meaning of this is: May beings be free of the internal enemies and the dangers that arise due to them.

If one practices, keeps the five precepts that is the practice of humanity, the practice of the world, then if these precepts are fulfilled, the internal enemy is quelled, and therefore no dangers arise. So how will one feel at that time? One will feel happy and peaceful. To the extend that the five precepts are kept, the internal enemies are quelled and dangers therefore don’t arise. One is happy and peaceful. This is better than the happiness that one gains through getting an education, being able to make a good living, getting and having enough to wear, to eat, a good place to live and so on. This brings physical and mental well being. So this is what comes from having a mind of metta.

And in addition: what else do we need to be happy? Well, we have to take care of ourselves in a daily way. We have to eat, and then we have to expel the waste, we have to bathe ourselves, we have to wash our clothes, we have to do all sort of things just to maintain ourselves on a daily basis. So what we also wish when we want others’ welfare is that they be able to take care of themselves easily. If one has a mind of wanting other people’s welfare, then the internal enemies subside.

Sayadawgyi recited a gatha. We ‘ll do it in English, what Sayadawgyi just recited. First of all the characteristic of metta is that it wants what is good for another, so that’s the first line.

Wanting what’s good for another,
Working to bring that about,
Quarrels dissolve when anger subsides
It comes from seeing another’s good side.

Let’s all plant metta in our hearts.
Let’s cultivate metta in our hearts.
Encourage metta in our hearts.

This is one of the most important tasks a person can do. Because to have metta, it is something that we must do, we can’t not do. And we have to do it ourselves. No one can do it for us. And doing so we have to do it in time and on time. And when we do it like this, it brings great benefit and the enemies are quelled.

So we recite every day in Pali: Sabbe satta avera hontu, May all beings be free of the internal and external enemies.

That means may all beings be able to keep the five precepts, so that no fearful dangers will arise. And when this is done we recite this in Pali every day:

Anigha hontu
Abyapajja hontu. 

Because one is able to keep the five precepts one gains physical well being, and mental well being. And this is what we recite.

Sukhi attanam pariharantu,
May all beings be able to take care of themselves happily and comfortably.

So today Sayadawgyi has spoken about the characteristic of metta and how to develop it. This is not something that is just for Buddhists. Other religions too should have metta, should learn how to develop metta. People who have no religion also should have this attitude of metta. Bacause if one can’t even have this much metta, then one is not truly human. One should have enough metta to be able to keep the five precepts.

So if one has practiced and has gained some flavor of the Dhamma, then at this time one remembers those ones one loves. And one wants them too to experience the happiness of the Dhamma, one wants them too to be free of suffering, to not get into trouble.

So the roots of metta are this practice of Satipatthana when we come to it through practice like this and Sayadawgyi hopes that you all may become people who are able to establish an individual world of peace for yourself to make the world around you peaceful and to bring peace to the outer world at large.