Metta Meditation from Loving-Kindness to Fellow-Feeling

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. – Whitman, “Song of Myself”

                Four Cardinal Virtues of Buddhism are Metta ‘Loving-Kindness’, Karuna ‘Compassion’, Mudita ‘Empathetic Joy’, and Upekkha ‘Equanimity’.  As with all Buddhist virtues, these are to be applied to oneself as well as to others.  But one, Metta, seems to have acquired pride of place in that special meditational techniques are devoted to its cultivation : we are enjoined to be benevolent to ourselves, then to others, and finally to the whole universe.

          Like other forms of Buddhist meditation, Metta meditation may be carried out alone or in company.  Inspired by Metta’s specific attention to The Other, of late I have considered whether when I’m meditating in a group I can somehow take account of the group I’m in ; and I have tried to do that by becoming aware of everything outside as well as inside me.  That includes, besides the array of my own thoughts, feelings, and sensations, the occasional sounds from elsewhere (birdsong perhaps, or bells from a nearby church) and sounds from my fellow meditators (breathing, coughing, moving about in one’s chair).  If, as sometimes happens, I open my eyes, I see the behaviour that evokes the sounds. 

To what end ?   

                I hope in doing so to reduce the barrier between Me and Not-Me so as to Accept The Universe with Upekkha ‘Equanimity’ or even affection, and to experience not only general Loving-Kindness but also more immediate Fellow-Feeling not just for me but for everyone and everything else.  Thus I may find it easier to live in that universe, of which I am a part.

                But as I become with every passing year more aware of my own death, the practice above reminds me that when my inner mental and physical ménage has ceased, its outer counterpart, which I have tried to accept on an equal footing with my own, will continue.  Life will go on even if my life does not.  I find that strangely but significantly reassuring. 

                Dare I hope that as a part of Metta meditation my attempt at awareness of both internal and external experience will contribute to both Ars Vivendi ‘the Art of Living’ and Ars Moriendi ‘the Art of Dying’ and will help me not only to live well but also to die well ?

— essay contributed and copyright retained by Robert Ilson