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Monthly Archives: August 2020

Ten Directions

Ten Directions
Metta Letter by cjrobson

We all aspire to be more loving, to have more compassion and goodwill for all humanity. It is actually a really easy thing to declare that we have love for all people, that we wish everyone well.

Of course the difficulty comes when we move from the general to the specific. We can claim to love all the children of the world, yet harbor angry thoughts for the child kicking our airplane seat from behind us. We can declare our wish for the well-being of all people and yet wish ruin on that politician we cannot abide. Going from the generic to the specific is always the hard part. As Linus famously observes in Schulz’s Peanuts, “I love mankind – it’s people I can’t stand.”

This is the reason that in the practice of Metta Bhavana (cultivation of lovingkindness) we explicitly start with the specific. We start by practicing the generation of love and goodwill to four specific people. Our self, a (specific) friend, a (specific) neutral person and a (specific) enemy. It is only by working with the specific that we can understand the limits and edges of our ability to love. If you start with the general, with ‘all people,’ it is easy to convince yourself that you do truly love all beings. But ‘all beings’ includes all those specific people, the ones that give you trouble. That’s why the traditional form of Metta Bhavana is the way it is, and why it is such a powerful practice. Making the statement that you love all beings can be a platitude – working with all of the specifics can be a lifelong practice.

At the end of the traditional form of Metta meditation we do move from the specific and out to all beings. This part is traditionally known as the ‘sending to the ten directions.’ The ten directions here are the classical eight compass points, plus upward and downward. The point is to take what we have practiced for the specific people and apply the same to all beings – while still acknowledging that ‘all being’ includes billions of specific people and many trillions of specific creatures. All of whom are individuals. All of whom we wish to be well, happy and free from suffering.

Having practiced in this way we then continue to live our lives. And guess what? The people you will meet this week are part of ‘the ten directions.’ The saint, the politician, the criminal, the victim – all those you see or read about are part of those you covered in the ten directions. And so the specific becomes general, which becomes specific again in our lives.

Recognizing this cycle of specific – general – specific in our lives is one of the most powerful points of awakening any of us can have, and it is core to the practice of Metta Bhavana. I have linked on our website a fully-guided Metta Bhavana meditation, with some emphasis on sending to the ten directions. You can of course listen to it at any time, but a few of us have committed to listen together starting at 7pm PT on Sunday August 9th. You are welcome to join with us then if you wish.

Wishing each one of you to be well and happy,

Chris.

 
 
 

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