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Lions Roar : July 2012
These different ways of expressing metta show why goodwill is often a more skillful attitude than overt expressions of love, and for three reasons. The first is that goodwill is an attitude you can express for everyone without fear of being hypocritical or unrealistic. If the people around you haven’t been acting lovably, it’s good to remind yourself that although you don’t condone their behavior—you don’t even have to like them—you still wish them well. The second reason is that goodwill is a more skillful feeling to have toward those who would react unskillfully to your love. There are probably people you’ve harmed in the past who would rather not have anything to do with you ever again, so the intimacy of love would actually be a source of pain for them, rather than joy. There are also people who, when they see that you want to express love, would be quick to take advantage of it. In these cases, a more distant sense of goodwill—that you promise yourself never to harm those people or those beings—would be better for everyone involved. The third reason is that goodwill acts as a check on your behav- ior toward those you love to keep it from becoming oppressive. It reminds you that people ultimately will become truly happy not as a result of your caring for them but as a result of their own skillful actions, and that the happiness of self-reliance is greater than any happiness coming from dependency. If you truly feel goodwill for yourself and others, you won’t let your desire for intimacy render you insensitive to what would actually be the most skillful way to promote true happiness for all. In this way goodwill protects you from the unskillful excesses of both your ill will and your love—and protects everyone around you as well. Meditation: Metta Practice At the start of the day, take time to spread thoughts of goodwill to yourself and others. Remind yourself of what goodwill is—a wish for true happiness—and that, in spreading thoughts of goodwill, you’re wishing that you and all others will develop the causes for true happiness. You establish the intention to further true happiness in any way you can, within your own mind and in your dealings with others. Of course, not everyone will act in line with your wish, which is why it’s important also to develop thoughts of equanimity to cover the cases where people refuse to act in the interests of true happiness. That way you won’t suffer so much when people act unskillfully, and you can stay focused on the cases where you can be of help. Begin by stating in your mind the standard formula for expressing goodwill for yourself: May I be happy. May I be free from stress and pain. May I be free from animosity, free from trouble, free from oppression. May I look after myself with ease. Then spread similar thoughts to others, in ever-widening cir- cles—people close to your heart, people you like, people you’re neu- tral about, and people you don’t like. In each case, say to yourself, May you be happy. May you be free from stress and pain. May you be free from animosity, free from trouble, free from oppression. May you look after yourself with ease. Think of this wish as spreading out in all directions, out to infinity. It helps to enlarge the mind. To make this a heart-changing practice, ask yourself—when you’re secure in your goodwill for yourself—whether there’s any- one for whom you can’t sincerely spread thoughts of goodwill. If a particular person comes to mind, ask yourself what would be gained by this person’s suffering. Most of the cruelty in the world comes from people who are suffering and fearful. Only rarely do people who have been acting unskillfully react skillfully to their suffering and change their ways. All too often they do just the opposite. They want to make others suffer even more. So the world would be a better place if, instead of trying to sort out who’s right and who’s wrong, we could all follow the path to true happiness by being generous and virtuous, and by training the mind. With these thoughts in mind, see if you can express goodwill for such a person: May you learn the error of your ways, learn the way to true happiness, and look after yourself with ease. In expressing this thought, you’re not necessarily wishing to love or have ongoing contact with this person. You’re simply making the determination not to seek revenge against those who have acted harmfully, or those whom you have harmed. This is a gift both to yourself and to those around you. Conclude the session by spreading goodwill for all beings you’ll meet during the day, and then all beings everywhere. But also remind yourself that all of those beings will experience happiness or sorrow in line with their actions. This is how you develop equanimity as a protection for your metta. Repeat this practice before going to bed. ♦