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“A common misapprehension is to think of Insight and egolessness in abstract, even metaphysical, terms rather than as comprising concretely-lived attitudes and behaviour. But realising the truth of egolessness simply means being truly and deeply unselfish. To contemplate the principle of egolessness as some special principle that is somehow separate from our actual behaviour will leave it as far away as ever. If we find it difficult to realise the ultimate emptiness of the self - the solution is to try to be a little less selfish. The understanding comes after the experience, not before.”
Hearing this quotation from Living with Kindness, I recollected an experience on my ordination retreat at Akashavana: stepping out of the shrine room after a six-elements reflection, I sat down for a moment in the meditation garden. A small, iridescent green bug landed on my arm, and as I looked at it I felt as if I loved it more than anything in the universe. I hadn’t had any particularly extraordinary experience in the shrine-room, no cognitive insights, or realisations of anatman in a way that I would have recognised; but in this moment with the iridescent green bug, I felt profoundly connected with all of life, unidentified and undefended. A few moments later I became conscious of the experience I was having and understood it’s significance in relationship to the practice I had been doing previously, and I had a sense of a deepening faith in the path and the goal. Today I wondered whether in some way this is what Bhante is pointing to. The understanding comes after the experience, not before.
In his presentation this morning, Dhammarati unfolded the ethical foundations of metta described in the Karaniya Metta Sutta – the concretely-lived attitudes and behaviours that support us in our move away from self-reference and towards ‘attha’, or ‘the good’. Following a quote from James Hillman, describing purpose appearing in our life as an “unclear and troubling urge”, Dhammarati likened this urge to our movement towards ‘the good’, and articulated how cultivating the foundational ethical qualities in the Metta Sutta with discretion and skill, supports us in our pursuit of that purpose.
Moving into groups, we reflected on what obstructs the flow of metta in our experience, and which of the qualities that the Buddha names we could attend to and cultivate more – to become more capable, upright, of noble speech, gentle, humble, and so on. The sharing of our reflections was deep, and personal, with each person revealing and offering up the edge of their practice with integrity and transparency. Being with other Order Members in this way is both a challenge and a support, for which I’m deeply grateful. Again, we took these reflections into the Bodhicitta practice in the afternoon, with the intention of letting go into unobstructed, kindly awareness - open to all beings and all experience.
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