Lovingkindness [metta]

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Hinderances to metta

In the Buddhist teachings each of the brahma viharas has its “far enemy”, its “near enemy” and its “proximate cause”.

  • The far enemy is the state that’s completely different - clearly opposite. This quality is antithetical to the brahma-vihara.
  • The near enemy tends to be a state that really is different, but it’s close enough that the actual brahma-vihara and its near enemy might easily get confused. The near enemy can masquerade as the state itself.
  • The proximate cause is the nearest arising condition, or the likeliest springboard for this state to arise. It’s not the only cause or condition, but it tends to be a very likely one.

Anger and fear —metta's far enemies

The far of lovingkindness (metta) is anger or fear.

How is anger and hatred an enemy of lovingkindness? The answer may seem pretty straightforward! Now reflect how in your life anger and fear, hatred and aversion, are the enemies of your love.

Hatred can never cease by hatred. Hatred can only cease by love. This is an eternal law.

These states of aversion, by contrast, tear us apart; we burn when we are caught in them. The Buddha described the states of aversion as being of great consequence but easily overcome. They are of great consequence because they easily provoke strong action, leading us to perform unskillful deeds that hurt both ourselves and others. The force of aversion manifests through outflowing such as anger or rage. Such states have a lot of energy; they are powerful and expressive.

We also experience aversion in a held-in way, as in grief, fear, disappointment, and despair. Here aversion's energy is frozen and paralyzing.

Reflect on how these emotions keep you from experiencing and acting from love.

Whether we are directing aversion toward ourselves or others, whether we are containing the aversion within our minds or expressing it toward others, these are the same mind states appearing in different forms.

But even though such states are dangerous, nonetheless the pain of them is obvious, tangible, and easily felt. From beginning to end they bring great pain, so we are naturally moved to let them go.

So why should we bother to look at these?

Because, although we are moved to let them go, we find it difficult!

When we react out of fear and hatred, we do not yet have a deep understanding of the situation
Thich Nhat Hanh

By learning to see and understand all of these painful mind states of anger, fear, grief, disappointment, and guilt as states of aversion, we can learn to be free of them. Being free does not mean that aversion will never come up in your experience. Being free means that you can purify it. You can see it clearly, understand it, and learn not to be ruled by it. And having seen it clearly, which is the function of wisdom, you can also hold it in the vast, transforming field of acceptance.

When we react out of fear and hatred, we do not yet have a deep understanding of the situation
Thich Nhat Hanh


What thoughts, what reaction arise when you begin to read about the suggestion that you forgive? Where does your aversion arise, where is your resistance?

Practicing forgiveness releases you from deeply held aversion for yourself and for others. Forgiveness has the power to ripen forces of purity such as love, and affirms the qualities of patience and compassion. It creates the space for renewal, and a life free from bondage to the past

When you are held prisoner by your own past actions, or the actions of others, your present life cannot be fully lived. The resentment, the partially experienced pain, the unwelcome inheritance you carry from the past, all function to close your heart and thereby narrow your world.

Forgiveness meditation is not intended to force anything, or to pretend to anything, or to forget about ourselves in utter deference to the needs of others. It is, in fact, out of the greatest compassion for ourselves that we create the conditions for an unobstructed love, which can dissolve separation and relieve us of the twin burdens of lacerating guilt and perpetually unresolved outrage.

It is much more difficult to forgive than not to forgive. It is not so easy to access that place inside of us which can forgive, which can love. Remember, to be able to forgive is so deep a letting go that it is a type of dying. We must be able to say, "I am not that person anymore, and you are not that person anymore."

Do you think that to forgive is to excuse? Do you resist condoning actions you consider harmful or inappropriate? Do you resist "letting them off the hook"?

We have lost the realization of the importance of love and a sense of forgiveness. But forgiveness does not mean to
forget about what happened.
Dalai Lama

Forgiveness does not mean condoning a harmful action, or denying injustice or suffering. Do not confuse forgiveness with being passive toward violation or abuse. Forgiveness is an inner relinquishment of guilt or resentment, both of which are devastating to you in the end. As forgiveness grows within, it may take any outward form: you may seek to make amends, demand justice, resolve to be treated better, or simply leave a situation behind us.

Our friends show us what we can do; our enemies show us what we must do.


By taking you to the edge of what you can accept, the practice of forgiveness brings a sense of psychological and spiritual well-being. Being on the edge is challenging, wrenching, and transforming. The process of forgiveness demands courage and a continual remembering of where our deepest happiness lies.

As you do these reflections, many conflicted emotions may arise: shame, anger, a sense of betrayal, confusion, or doubt. This is a process. Try to allow such states to arise without judging them. Recognize them as natural occurrences, and then gently return your attention to the forgiveness reflection.

You do this reflection in three stages: asking forgiveness from those you have harmed; offering forgiveness to those who have harmed you; and offering forgiveness to yourself.

Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and let your breath be natural and uncontrolled. Begin with the recitation (silent or not, as you prefer):"If I have hurt or harmed anyone, knowingly or unknowingly, I ask their forgiveness." If different people, images, or scenarios come up, release the burden of guilt and ask for forgiveness: "I ask your forgiveness."

After some time, offer forgiveness to those who have harmed you. Don't worry if there is not a great rush of loving feeling; this is not meant to be an artificial exercise, but rather a way of honoring the powerful force of intention in our minds. You are paying respects to our ultimate ability to let go and begin again. You are asserting the human heart's capacity to change and grow and love. "If anyone has hurt or harmed me, knowingly or unknowingly, I forgive them." And, as different thoughts or images come to mind, continue the recitation, "I forgive you."

In the end, you turn your attention to forgiving yourself. If there are ways you have harmed yourself, not loved yourself, or not lived up to your own expectations, this is the time to let go of unkindness toward yourself because of what you have done. You can include any inability to forgive others that you may have discovered on your part in the reflection immediately preceding—that is not a reason to be unkind to yourself. "For all of the ways I have hurt or harmed myself, knowingly or unknowingly, I offer forgiveness."

Continue this practice as a part of your daily meditation, and allow the force of intention to work in its own way, in its own time.