The Power of Metta
Ven. Karunananda Bhikkhu
The subjective benefit of universal love is evident enough. The enjoyment of well-being, good health, peace of mind, radiant features, and the affection and goodwill of all are indeed great blessings of life accruing from the practice of metta-meditation. But what is even more wonderful is the impact which metta has on the environment and on other beings, including animals and devas, as the Pali scriptures and commentaries illustrate with a number of memorable stories.
Once the Buddha was returning from his alms-round together with his retinue of monks. As they were nearing the prison, in consideration of a handsome bribe from Devadatta, the Buddha’s evil and ambitious cousin, the executioner let loose the fierce elephant Nalagiri, which was used for the execution of criminals. As the intoxicated elephant rushed towards the Buddha trumpeting fearfully, the Buddha projected powerful thoughts of metta towards it. Venerable Ananda, the Buddha’s attendant, was so deeply concerned about the Buddha’s safety that he ran in front of the Buddha to shield him, but the Buddha asked him to stand aside since the projection of love itself was quite sufficient. The impact of the Buddha’s metta-radiation was so immediate and overwhelming that by the time the animal neared the Buddha it was completely tamed as though a drunken wretch had suddenly become sober by the magical power of a spell. The tusker, it is said, bowed down in reverence in the way trained elephants do in a circus.
The Visuddhimagga records the case of one landlord of Pataliputra (modern Patna), Visakha by name. It seems he had heard that the island of Sri Lanka was a veritable garden of Dhamma with its innumerable shrines and stupas adorning the isle. And blessed with a favorable climate, the people were highly righteous, following the Teaching of the Buddha with great fervor and sincerity.
Visakha decided to visit Sri Lanka and spend the rest of his life there as a monk. Accordingly, he made over his great fortune to his wife and children and left home with a single gold coin. He stopped for some time at the port town of Tamralipi (modern Tamluk) waiting for a ship, and during that time engaged himself in business and made a thousand gold coins.
Eventually he reached Sri Lanka and went to the capital city of Anuradhapura. There he went to the famous Mahavihara and asked the abbot’s permission to enter the Sangha. As he was led to the chapter house for the ordination ceremony, the purse containing the thousand gold coins dropped out from under his belt. When asked, “What is it?” he said, “I have a thousand gold coins, sir.” When he was told that a monk cannot possess any money, he said, “I don’t want to possess it but I wanted to distribute it among all who come for this ceremony.” Accordingly he opened his purse and strewed the entire yard of the chapter house, saying, “Let no one who has come to witness Visakha’s ordination depart empty-handed.”
After spending five years with his teacher, he now decided to go to the famous Cittalapabbata forest, where a good number of monks with supernatural powers lived. Accordingly, he went to the jungle-monastery of Cittalapabbata. On his way he came to a fork in the road and stood wondering which way to turn. Since he had been practicing metta-meditation assiduously, he found a certain deva living in the rock there, holding out a hand pointing the road to him. After reaching the Cittalapabbata jungle-monastery, he occupied one of the huts.
Having stayed there for four months, as he was thinking of leaving the next morning, he heard somebody weeping, and when he asked, “Who is that?” the deva living in the manila tree at the end of the walkway said, “Venerable sir, I am Maniliya (i.e., belonging to the manila tree).”
“Why are you weeping?”
“Because you are thinking of going away from here.”
“What good does my living here do you?”
“Venerable sir, so long as you live here, the devas and other non-human beings treat each other with kindness. When you are gone, they will again start their wrangling and quarrels.”
“Well, if my living here makes all of you live at peace, it is good.” And so he stayed on for another four months. It is said that when he again thought of going, again the deity wept. So this Elder stayed on permanently and attained Nibbana there. Such is the impact of metta-bhavana on others, even among invisible beings.
There is also the famous story of the cow. It seems that a cow was giving milk to her calf in a forest. A hunter wanting to kill her flung a spear which, when it struck her body, bounced off like a palm leaf. So mightily powerful is metta — loving-kindness. This is not the case of one who has developed metta-samadhi. It is a simple case of the consciousness of love for the offspring.
Indeed, the power of metta can never be told enough. The commentaries to the Pali Canon are replete with stories, not only of monks, but also of ordinary people who overcame various dangers, including weapons and poison, through the sheer strength of metta — selfless love.
But let not metta be mistaken as a mere sentiment. It is the power of the strong. If the leaders from different walks of life were to give metta a fair trial, no principle or guideline to action would be found to possess greater efficiency or fruitfulness in all spheres.
In everything man is the ultimate unit. If man decides to substitute metta as a policy of action for aggression and ill-will, the world will turn into a veritable abode of peace. For it is only when man shall have peace within himself, and boundless goodwill for others, that peace in the world will become real and enduring.