Spiritual Theme

At 2021 Spiritual Talk – Zachary Smith of SF Zen Center gave the closing talk in Nicasio.
Keeping practice alive and engaged from moment to moment

2022 Theme: Metta LovingKindness

Over the Next Four Years with the support of our Teacher’s, Nuns, Monks, and Lay Leaders we will embark on an exploration of the 4 Brahma Viharas or Radiant Abodes. These are essential qualities of our Heart that are said to be innate and the essence of our true nature. When we are free and at peace, we naturally express these boundless qualities of Heart. While they come naturally and freely when we are liberated, they can also be cultivated systematically over time so that they become our inclination and our disposition.

The Four Bhrahma Viharas are:

Metta – LovingKindness – 2022 Theme
Karuna – Compassion – 2023 Theme
Mudita – Sympathetic Joy – 2024 Theme
Upekkha – Equanimity – 2025 Theme

An idea for the Spiritual Theme over the next 4 Years came to me on a ride last Fall. With the World in need of Transformation, and as we encounter unprecedented uncertainty, I asked myself how the Dharma could meet this moment most skillfully?  Many aspects of the Dharma are equipped and germane, but as I spontaneously began chanting the Brahma Viharas it became clear that they were calling out for deeper exploration. The Brahma Viharas are essential qualities and capacities that would be wise to cultivate and strengthen as we face a World going through transformations of Culture, Environment, Biology and Spirit.  It is our heartfelt intention to provide Teachings and Practices leading up to, and on the Pilgrimage that will give rise to a lived sense of Metta and a way to embody that heartfelt wisdom.

In Gil Frondsal’s Article on the “Four Faces of Love; The Brahma Viharas.” He begins by explaining:

The heart has four faces. Each sees the world in a different way and speaks with a different purpose. Yet, as each aspect belongs to the same heart, they are inseparable, like the four directions of a compass. This image of a four-faced heart is borrowed from the Buddhist myth of the god Brahma, who had four faces, one for each of the four kinds of unselfish love championed in Buddhism.

Gil lets us know that:

We all have the potential to abide in loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity. When we know how to do this, these capacities become an inner wealth, more valuable than any outer riches.

He Continues by declaring:

When developed, the Brahma Viharas become potent forces through which we protect ourselves and others. They are powerful aids for resolving conflict, promoting healing, and creating social harmony. As strengths they contribute to confidence in all areas of life.

The Brahma Viharas provide us with skillful ways to express our Love and Wisdom. Metta (LovingKindness) is a basic goodwill towards all beings and situations. Karuna (Compassion) is our Love responding to suffering in the world. Mudita (Sympathetic Joy) is our Love appreciating and sharing selflessly in another’s good fortune and happiness. Upekkha (Equanimity) is a way to be Loving in a situation or with a person by allowing it to be as it is. Equanimity has the wisdom of perspective and the courage to be intimately engaged with whatever arises.

This year our Theme and Practices will focus on Metta (LovingKindness). It is important to keep in mind that we can still be aware of compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity as they naturally occur in our lives even as we focus on Metta. They are part of this unbounded integrated heart that has the capacity to meet life with benevolence. When we perceive and experience the Interconnectedness of all existence (a felt sense of oneness), we can Love all things as ourselves. This arises out of the teaching and truth of no-self. On a relative level we are a self with a narrative and unique ways of being in the world. On an absolute level we are unbonded consciousness encountering itself and falling in love over and over again.  A being, and heart free of delusion, hatred, and greed naturally acts and becomes an embodiment of the Qualities of the Brahmaviharas.

It can be useful to look at the original text from the Buddha. Take some time and read the Sutta yourself and see what truths and insights arise in you from your own experience and your own heart.

Metta Sutta translated by Gil Fronsdal

To reach the state of peace
One skilled in the good
Should be
Capable and upright,
Straightforward and easy to speak to,
Gentle and not proud,
Contented and easily supported,
Living lightly and with few duties,
Wise and with senses calmed,
Not arrogant and without greed for supporters,
And should not do the least thing that the wise would criticize.

[One should reflect:]

May all be happy and secure;
May all beings be happy at heart.
All living beings, whether weak or strong,
Tall, large, medium, or short,
Tiny or big,
Seen or unseen,
Near or distant,
Born or to be born,
May they all be happy.
Let no one deceive another
Or despise anyone anywhere;
Let no one through anger or aversion
Wish for others to suffer.”
As a mother would risk her own life
To protect her child, her only child,
So toward all beings should one
Cultivate a boundless heart.
With loving-kindness for the whole world should one
Cultivate a boundless heart,
Above, below, and all around
Without obstruction, without hate and without ill-will.
Standing or walking, sitting or lying down,
Whenever one is awake,
May one stay with this recollection.
This is called a sublime abiding, here and now.
One who is virtuous, endowed with vision,
Not taken by views,
And having overcome all greed for sensual pleasure
Will not be reborn again*

* “This is a code phrase for liberation from becoming reborn moment to moment into another attachment. We can live in Love. We can Live Free” from Gil Fronsdal’s Dharma Talk “Dharmette: Metta Sutta (5 of 5) Breathing Room for the Heart.

A simple yet profound practice has arisen from this Sutta that many of us have encountered as Metta or LovingKindness Practice. We start with ourselves or a benefactor. The idea is to begin where it is sweet, where it is accessible, where LovingKindness and benevolence naturally flow from our heart. For many of us in the West, Lovingkindness practice may initially be a more accessible practice than Insight Meditation because of our challenges with self-esteem, criticism, and unhealthy self-consciousness. Regular Metta practice has the power to incline us towards Kindness as we become more mindful of our suffering and their causes. We  can bring a spirit of Loving-Kindness to the endeavor. So, we begin where it is easy, natural, available. This may be ourselves or it may be someone who we find it easy to Love. The Idea is to use phrases that evoke LovingKindness. We can experiment with phrases that bring us into a felt sense of Metta. Below are some phrases to try:

May I be Happy
May I be Healthy
May I be Safe
May I be Peaceful
May I be free from suffering
May I be filled with Loving Kindness

You can add adjectives such as genuinely, deeply, truly, radiant to deepen the emotional power of the practice. It can be helpful to do 10-15 minutes of your Insight (Mindfulness) practice before beginning your Metta Practice. Then you can spend 3-5 minutes sending LovingKindness to yourself. Once you have sent Metta to yourself then choose a benefactor (someone you love and are close to) and repeat the same phrases you offered to yourself. Say them in your HeartMind slowly and with sincere intention until you feel and emote the qualities. Then you move on to selecting a neutral person in your life. Someone that you encounter in your week but don’t really know. Next you choose someone who is a difficult person in your life. Not the most difficult person right away but someone who you have challenges with. Attempt to send them the same benevolent phrases as you did the other people.

Be prepared that Metta practice can bring about the opposite feelings and that this is OK and normal. When you notice those feelings then continue sending the Metta phrases and bringing Love especially to the difficulty that you are feeling. Eventually it’s possible to send Metta to all sentient beings everywhere. Expand your LovingKindness without bounds to reach the ends of the Universe and to encompass all of reality.

In Jack Korenfiled’s Dharama Talk Episode 31, he states:

“Giving yourself to the freest and most beautiful in your heart, a quality of stillness and respect for all living beings. Meet all with a spirit of respect and friendliness. When there is love there is a kind of silence because we are not in conflict with the world”
“As people get quiet you realize you love things, this is our true nature. The Treasure of LovingKindness is your true nature. Trust it. Live from It. Let it Guide you.”

Lovingkindness Practice can be engaged with as its own practice, in conjunction with your Insight Meditation practice and in “informal” situations of daily life. As we incline our beings towards LovingKindness we can say the benevolent phrases for people we see at a train station, in line at the grocery store, or to people walking by in a park.

LovingKindness can simply be a basic friendliness to yourself, the people you meet, and experience in general. While we are riding during the Buddhist Bicycle Pilgrimage, we can evoke Metta towards our riding experience. Direct it to our bodies, our breathing, the visceral felt experience of moving down the road. We can beam Metta to the people we are riding with, the landscape, animals, and beautiful blue sky. LovingKindness can be systematically and intentionally cultivated through Metta practice, and it can also be uncovered through our Insight Practice. As we become more mindful and awake our natural inclination towards goodness and love are free to arise. Ziggy Marley declares that Love is his religion while the Dalia Lama declares that Kindness is his. Together they are singing and teaching about the unbounded possibilities of Metta. LovingKindness is an essential practice for our liberation and healing. We can incline our beings towards LovingKindness by regularly watering and cultivating the seeds of Metta in our lives. This can become our natural temperament, our root inclination, and a beautiful lens to experience the world through.

From Jack Korenfield’s Lions Roar article 9/2021

“The Buddha said that the awakened heart of loving-kindness and freedom is our birthright as human beings. “If these things were not possible,” he said, “I would not teach them. But because they are possible for you, I offer these teachings of the dharma of awakening”

These teachings can be complex and could take a considerable amount of time to integrate. At the same time, they can be simple and straightforward. This overview of the Brahma Viharas and Metta (LovingKindness) were written with the hope of clearly and humbly articulating the principles for our ongoing application. It was also created as an invitation to our Monastics to dive deeper, explore, and elucidate perspectives from their vantage point as they see the moment calls for.

Our Insight Meditation and LovingKindness practices have the potential to lead us into a lived experience and embodiment of the Dharma. We invite you to Ride, Practice and Cultivate Metta together on our Annual Buddhist Bicycle Pilgrimage this year. As a collective group of Pilgrims with a range of cycling skills, and Buddhist knowledge, we join together to support each other on the spiritual path, trails, and roadways.

With Metta,
Scott Green on behalf of the DharmaWheels Board

2020 Spiritual Talk by Peter C
At 2020 Spiritual Talk – Peter Crimmin of Dharmawheels