Monday, June 22, 2009

The Wisdom of Metta. Again.

I have been discovering once again, as I contemplate the events in Iran, the challenge of practicing metta. It's easy to send wishes of goodwill and compassion to those with whom I agree and sympathize--those seeking to throw off the yoke of oppression; and much harder--though just as important in this practice--to send an equal measure to the oppressor.

And yet the practice is extraordinarily rewarding. It confronts me with the honesty of acknowledging how little I know, how little I understand of these affairs. It confronts me with the disturbing belief that, whilst I abhor violence, the reality is that violence does seem, to some, to be the only answer. The dreadful irony is that, in Iran, both sides seem to think so--those who look around them and see intolerable oppression, and those who believe that the social order must be protected at all costs. I am, of course, naturally inclined to take the side of the oppressed. To breathe, to send goodwill to the oppressors, to wish them happiness runs counter to this instinct. It's a real struggle, in which I am helped only by recalling the wisdom of Thanissaro Bhikkhu: if they, too, found true happiness, the world would be a better place.

I may stand accused of wishy-washiness rather than wisdom, as is, in this crisis, our President Obama. Voices to the right and voices to the left have been clamoring for strength, decisiveness. They have forgotten, perhaps--or choose to ignore--the recent history of American "strength"--which often looks all too much like weakness--and its clearly counter-productive outcomes. Consider Vietnam. Consider Iraq. Consider the numerous smaller adventures in Central and Latin America, where we have put a heavy finger on the right (read anti-socialist) side of self-determination. We have been too often on the wrong side of history.

And the results of eight years of Bush belligerence should not be so easily forgotten. Our last president and his cohort of neo-cons would surely, now, be loudly proclaiming America's condemnation of the "evil" oppressor. We should remember their record, soberly. What the practice of metta teaches, in part, is the humility of having to recognize that "I" am not always right, and that compassion can be a more effective strategy than confrontation. Which does not make it easy.

9 comments:

TaraDharma said...

Excellent post. I have been amazed at times by public statements of the Dali Lama demonstrating metta towards hateful people. Thought, "wow, how'd he GET there?" I remember a post I did a long while ago, when I had practiced metta with George W. Bush and GOT there. It was enormously liberating. But oh the negative comments I got back!

PeterAtLarge said...

THANK YOU for the support on this one, Tara! Liberating, indeed.

mandt said...

On track with you and Tara---except: "To breathe, to send goodwill to the oppressors, to wish them happiness runs counter to this instinct." Back in the plague years when everyone I knew was dying of AIDS and its hideous manifestations the venerable Louise Hayes was preaching that we should love our suffering , love the cancer, lover the HIV. For a long time I practiced metta around that, but then had an epiphany which revealed to me the profound stupidity and bullshit of her position. The answer was activism on a large scale to combat ignorance and suffering. The result was a medical/civil paradigm that gave the world an excellent organizational model with which to deal with the (still) ongoing pandemic. As for Iran, don't waste a moment's thought on tyrants and murdering mullahs. I direct my thoughts to the Koran and hope that faithful Islamic Iranians and their supporters continue to peacefully occupy in huge numbers public spaces. When that fails chant by the millions 'Allahu Akbar' from the dark night of every rooftop. And, more compellingly boycott every radical right wing mosque in the country. Remember Gandhi.....

PeterAtLarge said...

I'm with you on the "plague years." As I understand it, though, metta is directed to people, not to a virus. I would not send love and compassion to the HIV virus, either; just to the people suffering and, alas--with much greater difficulty--to those spreading the sickness. By the same token, the practice of metta would have us send compassion even to those "tyrants and murdering mullahs." Were these men "truly happy", as we wish them in sending metta, they would not be committing these dreadful crimes. A big difference, as I see it, from what you describe as the injunction to "love the suffering, love the cancer, love the HIV." Which, yes, is "profound stupidity and Bullshit." Thanks for the thoughtful response!

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Wonderful post, Peter!

A few years ago, when I released what a problem I was having difficulty "praying for my enemies" -- judging the good guys (in my prejudiced judgement) from the bad guys -- a very unspiritual practice-- I began using this prayer, which seems to me to remove that judgmentalism from the prayers of goodwill, compassion, and blessing:

"May divine Light shine upon _________ for the greatest possible good."

I works for me.

PeterAtLarge said...

That's a fine and gracious prayer, Nick. Thanks!

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Thank you, Peter. The prayer works better than my typing.

mandt said...

You hit the golden spot Nick....peace, MandT

secret agent woman said...

Huh, I just read another post on metta! I struggle with that - once trying to send loving kindness to a boss who was plaguing me. But when I canmanage it, even briefly, it does help.