In our daily lives we are engaged in manifold activities. When we are less busy we may try to get whatever deep concentration we can reach. At other times when we meet with people or animals, we can mentally have thoughts of metta. These thoughts of metta, even though they may be only thoughts for a start, play a very important part. We know people disagree even on the most insignificant things. Many strained relations and enmity can be dissolved if we can just forgive and overlook the past and start anew. Very often it may be just “tension in the air” which we cannot pinpoint. Metta can create the mental atmosphere conducive to goodwill as well as spark off whatever good speech and actions that follow.
So besides mental action, we also have to express it in words or other forms of communications to others. Speaking gently, with kindness, truthfulness and for the benefit of others are elements of right speech.
Actions of metta are actions such as lending help materially or spiritually, giving medical and nursing attention to the elderly or kindness for animals, courtesy, hospitality, etc.
Therefore metta in daily life is more active and expressive in nature. In families and offices where there is frequent metta shown, it becomes a house or dwelling that is truly happy.
One thing to bear in mind is that according to the situation the other brahma vihara may play a part. This is compassion when there are people suffering and sympathetic joy for those doing very well. And when the things are beyond our control, we have to reflect on kamma to be equanimous. These 3 are complementary to bring about a more stable and appropriate relationship. Even to the same person, it may be appropriate to use one or another at a different time.
As for what will be suitable for the best outcome, we would have to exercise wisdom. So another important part is to exercise metta with wisdom. Otherwise, we may produce results opposite to our expectations. As the saying goes, “The way to hell is paved with good intentions”. A good example is a lot of Dr Quacks giving strange herbal remedies for strange and undiagnosed diseases. They may kill or cure! Metta without wisdom may also land us with countless problems, i.e. people trying to take advantage of us.
So we may take note as to:
(i) when to and when not to use metta.
(ii) If we use it, how much and in what way.
As to ‘in what way’ we can perhaps look into the Sigalovada Sutta where a chart of human relationships is given by the Buddha.
1. PARENT AND CHILD
DUTIES OF PARENTS
I. restrain him from evil
II. support him in doing good
III. teach him some skills
IV. find him a suitable wife
V. hand over his inheritance
DUTIES OF CHILD
I. supports them after having being supported by them
II. performs their duties for them
III. keeps up family tradition
IV. acts worthy of his heritage
V. after their deaths, distributes gifts on their behalf
Clearly the loving kindness relationship between them involves responsibility and gratefulness. Normally metta and compassion do arise spontaneously in parents but gratefulness has to be learned by the child. However if the morality of parents is in question then the child would suffer.
2. TEACHERS AND PUPILS –
DUTIES OF TEACHERS
I. give thorough instructions
II. make sure they have thoroughly learned their lessons
III. give thorough grounding in skills
IV. recommend them their friends and colleagues
V. provide security in all directions
DUTIES OF PUPILS
I. rise to greet them
II. wait on them
III. are attentive
IV. serve them
V. master the skills taught
Here again the loving-kindness relationship is compassion and respectfulness. This occurs more frequently when the question of money is not involved. Otherwise the teachers’ dissatisfaction with their career may interfere with the relationship.
3. HUSBAND AND WIFE
DUTIES OF HUSBAND
I. honouring her
II. not disparaging her
III. being not unfaithful
IV. giving her authority
V. providing her with adornments
DUTIES OF WIFE
I. properly organising her work
II. tending to servants
III. being not unfaithful
IV. protecting stores
V. skilful and diligent in all she has to do
The metta relation here hinges on trust and faithfulness. As you may expect the Indian lady in those days was often considered more as a maid. The Buddhist clause of handing over authority to her demonstrates that her position was more than that. The other aspects of good wives – the motherly, sisterly or friendly aspects – show the favourable relationship the Buddhist looks for.
4. FRIENDS AND COMPANIONS
DUTIES OF FRIENDS
I. buying gifts
II. having kind words
III. looking after one’s welfare
IV. treating one as they would treat themselves
V. keeping their word
DUTIES OF COMPANIONS
I. looking after one when one is unattentive
II. looking after one’s property when one is unattentive
III. being a refuge to one when one is afraid
IV. not deserting one when one is in trouble
V. showing concern for one’s children
The metta relationship here involves sincere care and protection for each other, with mutual self-respect obviously playing a part here.
5. MASTER AND SERVANTS
DUTIES OF MASTER
I. arranging their work according to their strength
II. supplying food and wages
III. looking after them when ill
IV. sharing delicacies with them
V. letting them off work at the right time
Duties of Servants
I. getting up before him
II. going to bed after him
III. taking only what is given
IV. doing their work properly
V. bearers of his praise and good reputation
The metta relationship here hinges on generosity on the master’s part and diligence and trustworthiness on the part of the servant.
6. ASCETICS, BRAHMIN AND LAYMEN
DUTIES OF SPIRITUAL PEOPLE (OR RENOUNCED)
I. restrain him from evil
II. encourage him in good
III. are benevolently compassionate towards him
IV. teach him what he has not heard
V. point out to him the way to heaven
DUTIES OF LAYMEN
I. show kindness in bodily deed
II. show kindness in speech
III. show kindness in thought
IV. keep open house for them
V. supply their bodily needs
The above is more or less like the teacher-and-pupil relationship except here it covers a more spiritual form of education.
An elucidation in these relations would be compassion on the upper hand and humility and obedience on the other. There is then a reciprocation between generosity and diligence. Trust and faithfulness also play a part in the relationship. If the role by one party is not fulfilled, e.g. the servant is lazy, we may expect the relation to suffer. Then it depends largely on the virtue of the other party (e.g. the employer), if his compassion or patience is to last long.
As to how the other virtues play in the workings of metta, we can see it in the Karaniya Metta Sutta itself.