Napa Valley Insight Meditation Message Board › Benefits of Metta: reading for Oct 29th NVMG
At our next meeting (Oct 29) we will finish the third chapter of Sharon Salzberg's book, "Loving-kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness." If you do not yet have a copy of the chapter, you can download it by clicking on the link below:
In the second half of the chapter, Sharon describes the 11 benefits of practicing metta as characterized by the Buddha. Some of these benefits evoke metaphysical properties. For example, “Devas will protect you” is one of the benefits. Devas can be thought of as being “non-human beings who share the characteristics of being more powerful, longer-lived, and, in general, living more contentedly than the average human being.” Kind of like a happy spirit. There is, however, a more humanistic definition of the word Deva ascribed to the Buddha, which is a moral person. Thus, perhaps this benefit means that practicing metta helps foster greater ethical and moral behavior. Such wholesome qualities protect us in the sense that they help endear a greater sense of love and compassion for ourselves.
At the end of the chapter, Sharon invites us to reflect on what we see as the benefits of metta practice. Perhaps you will find that some (or all) of the traditional benefits discussed in the chapter resonate with you, or perhaps you will come up with your own list of benefits that speak to your belief about the power of love. The purpose of this reflection is to bring us greater joy and confidence, so there are no wrong answers. Just see what comes up for you.
In Buddhism, metta practice is seen as a way to cultivated wise intention, part of the eight fold path leading to the liberation of suffering. We can overcome negative and unwholesome thought patterns by bringing awareness to our intention to foster greater goodwill, compassion and kindness towards ourselves and others. This gives rise to thought patterns that lead us take wholesome actions in the world. A traditional refrain on the power of intention can be stated as follows.
Intention manifests as thoughts;
Thoughts lead to actions;
Actions develop into habit;
And habit hardens into character.
So watch our intention and its ways with care,
And let it spring from love,
Born out of concern for all beings.
Neuroscience tells us that setting an intention ‘primes’ our nervous system to be on the lookout for whatever will support our intentions. In his book “The Mindful Brain”, Daniel Siegel talks about the effect paying “attention to intention” has on our brain and how this affects our experience of our surroundings. He writes, “Intentions create an integrated state of priming, a gearing up of our neural system to be in the mode of that specific intention: we can be readying to receive, to sense, to focus, to behave in a certain manner.” In other words, when we pay attention to our intentions, we are more likely to notice and connect with the relevant actions, opportunities and people that will make our intentions come to fruition.
As we pay attention to our intention to cultivate greater goodwill and compassion, we are training our brains to connect with the wholesome thoughts that can bring us greater happiness. We are also creating the conditions that allow us to let go of unwholesome thoughts grounded in greed, hate and delusion that bring greater suffering. That is the power of intention. That is the power of metta.