Thursday, January 29, 2009

Doing Metta Differently

We were discussing meditation, something that he obviously took very seriously. ‘Do you do metta bhavana sometimes?’ I asked. ‘Yes, I do it all the time’ he replied. ‘You do it in the standard way I suppose?’ ‘No, I never do it like that’ he said and I looked at him inquiringly. ‘Well, as I understand it Bhante, bhavana means ‘to develop’ so I do metta by doing it, by acting with metta. I have found that acting with kindness and thoughtfulness strengthens my metta more than anything else.’ Now I really focused on what he was saying. ‘That sounds interesting’ I said, ‘describe what you mean.’ To understand something of what follows you have to know that there is a shortage of taxis in Kuala Lumpur. As a result, many ordinary drivers use their cars as taxis. People wanting to get to Petraling Jaya for example, will congregate at certain places and any drivers going that way may pick them up and take them in that direction. The fee they get helps cover their fuel costs. It is illegal but it is commonly done.
My friend described what he meant. ‘Two weeks ago my wife asked me to pick her up at the supermarket at a our usual place and time. I arrived a little early, parked on the side of the road with the engine running and waited. As I sat there I noticed an elderly woman come out of a doctor’s clinic just up the road from me. She hobbled to the side of the road and began trying to hail a taxi. I looked at her for a moment and then said to myself, “If she’s still there when my wife comes I’m going to take her wherever she wants to go.” I few moments later my wife came, I told her what I intended to do, she agreed and I drove up to the old lady, opened the back door and bid her get it. I asked her where she wanted to go, which happened to be some way out of our way and we drove off. When we got there the lady got out and asked me how much she owed me. I said, “Nothing. It's okay.” She looked around fugitively for a moment and said, “Its alright, no one’s looking. How much?” I told her that I wasn’t acting as a private taxi and that I took her home simply because I wanted to help her. When she realized that what I was saying was true she was very surprised, she thanked me profusely and then my wife and I drove home. That’s how I practice metta.’
Sometimes it would be easy to get the impression that Theravadin practice atrophied centuries ago. But every now and then you meet people who are able to practice Dhamma in more thoughtful and creative ways. Hearing my friend’s way of ‘doing’ metta was more than a pleasant surprise, it was moving and inspiring too. And I could see that it was ‘working’ as well. He was soft-spoken, modest, unassuming and centered. Later, I gave some thought to the implications of what he told me. My friends act of kindness may well have encouraged the old lady he had helped to be less selfish, less cynical, more thankful and kindly. I could imagine that she had told her family about it and that it had inspired them to be more kindly and thoughtful towards others. Certainly it inspired me. Perhaps this could be seen as another way of 'radiating' metta.

1 comment:

Andy said...

Dear Venerable Sir,

A good story it's nice to know some people care. Thanks for sharing it with us.

With Metta