Whatever living beings there may be; Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none, The great or the mighty, medium, short or small, The seen and the unseen, Those living near and far away, Those born and to-be-born — May all beings be at ease!“Karaniya Metta Sutta: The Buddha’s Words on Loving-Kindness” (Sn 1.8), translated from the Pali by The Amaravati Sangha. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 2 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/snp/snp.1.08.amar.html .
In the practice of Metta, there is a distinction of the us, the practitioners and the subjects of our Metta. In this verse, we learn about our subject. When practicing Metta, we try our best to be all inclusive without limiting our metta to weak or needy beings. In that sense, a ferocious lion is as deserving of our metta as a tiny rabbit. In our daily social activities, a demanding and unreasonable supervisor is equally deserving of our metta as the helpless intern.
In this manner, the practice of metta is not restricted by our social status or wealth. A pauper can have metta towards a billionaire and a sick patient can have metta towards his doctor. Our metta should embrace all and not discriminate against others. It is important to note that, this is about developing a mind of loving kindness. Having loving kindness towards someone doesn’t mean we need to agree with what they do or think. We can have loving kindness towards a murderer, but that doesn’t mean we agree with his deeds.
Put simply, we want to cultivate a mind that is free from malicious intent and we want to have a loving mind filled with kindness towards all. Besides human beings, Buddhism recognize animals and insects as equally deserving of our kindness. Be it a cockroach or a kitten, we try our best not to have any ill intent towards them. While, we are familiar with the precept to abstain from killing and harming animals or insect, we might not be as familiar about stealing from them. For example, gathering the honey from bees and damaging their hive or removing the tusk from elephant. In olden days, milking the cow was (is?) considered as stealing milk from the calf. Oh, stealing eggs from hen is also discouraged. When we practice loving kindness, we avoid harming others.
The above are beings that can be seen. Unseen beings refers to beings that we are unaware of. For examples, animals and insects living in places that we are unaware of. Deep oceans and underground cavern. When we develop metta for the unseen, our mind “expand” The important “message” is that we need not “know” that being to generate metta towards them. For example, we may not know how exotic deep sea animals look like. But that doesn’t prevent us from generating metta towards them. “May they be well and happy.” That is the expansion of our metta.
Likewise, distance is not an issue. Although we do not live with our relatives and friends, we can also send our metta to them. A genuine good-will that they be well and happy. In that sense, all the aforesaid are considered as unseen because they are outside of our sensory perception.
Another interpretation of unseen beings includes beings living a painful existence in hell, the ghost, the demi-gods (Asura) and the gods. When we practice metta, we include such unseen beings too. When we generate metta towards them, we “expand” our open-mindedness. Personally, I think it is also a form of mind training. If we limit our definition of the world to our sensory perceivable one, then we develop a myopic mind. On the other hand, if we are overly obsessed with the unseen, it can become mentally unhealthy.
When we examine the verse, we discover that Buddhist mind training is positioning our mind to radiate impartially like the Sun. Our loving kindness radiate to all beings, from the lowest to the highest class of existence, from the seen to the unseen. From those who are already born to the unborn. This all-embracing and radiating mind will lead to a state of equanimity. Which is a higher spiritual dimension.
Last but not least, having an all embracing mind does not mean we let the mind wander all over. Buddhist mind training does not contradict each other. In this case having metta does not contradict mindfulness. We do not spend our day imagining beings in hell and wishing them happiness. Neither do we wander what our distant relatives and friends are doing.
In a formal seating, we think and generate loving kindness and expand it outwards. As we expand, outwards, we realized that our subjects becomes fuzzy. This is because we cannot perceive them. This is okay because that state of metta in our mind is there. Our embracing and inclusive mind is there. This is what matters. We position our mind to have metta and be all- embracing. The key word is “a state of mind”. Therefore metta in the mind doesn’t lead to a distracted mind. I think that is an important tip for metta practice.
May all be well and happy