Buddhist Metta-tation, Friendship Beyond Thought, Language Optional…

The truest love is metta, friendship, without all the burdens of possession. That’s Buddhist love, of course, without all the weeping, wailing, and the gnashing of teeth. The Pali word metta often gets written up as ‘lovingkindness’ by latter-day Buddhists, mostly American, who want the passion that term implies, but the Buddha likely intended nothing of the sort. That’s a Christian term, too, from the Hebrew chesed, with a heavy dose of devotion implied, but the Buddha seemed to intend none of that, and the word’s presence in many other Asian languages of the time reflects none of it, either.

So ‘lovingkindness’ would seem to come from a totally different line of descent by genome. Culture is not genome, though, of course, though they often parallel one another, and the ‘Judeo-Christian’ tradition seems to reflect that. So, we Westerners tend to be emotion junkies, even when that emotion is not necessarily a pleasant one. We are implored to embrace suffering, by that logic, even though suffering implies pain, and the heavy dose of sadness that often brings. The fact that the Pali word dukkha means ‘suffering’ and the related word dukhee means ‘sadness’ in modern Hindi would seem to reflect that range of intent.

Now I don’t know about you, but I prefer to mitigate my pain, suffering, and sadness, too, if not cure it altogether, or at least make it cease, which is the goal of Buddhist nirvana, of course. But that is an extreme not easy to accomplish, and a term too often associated with death, for me to make it my lifetime goal. So I am quite content to ‘merely’ reduce my suffering, as if that were not enough. It is.

It is plenty, on a sliding scale right down to zero, or near there anyway, which reminds me of another Buddhist concept, shunyata (pardon my lack of alphabet garnishings to make the word look all Sanskrit, haha), from the word for ‘zero,’ shunya, so zero-ness, by strict definition, or void-ness, anything but ‘emptiness, as usually translated, since that is confused with Western psychological emptiness, so not good, and usually quite sad, no reason to live, which brings us right back to that pesky word dukkha, which can mean ‘suffering’ or ‘sad,’ depending on the Pali or the Hindi, anything but ‘stress,’ a la Americana.

So, we are the prisoners of our respective languages, and our respective cultures, and that presents challenges when trying to adapt and adopt a foreign philosophy like Buddhism into the Western psychological landscape and come up with something more than ‘Buddhist flavored Christianity.’ Because really they are almost opposites in every way: traditional East and West, Buddhism and Christianity, yin and yang, they are, this in spite of the fact that two of the major proponents of each were philosophers Indian and Greek.

Thus, they not only flourished at roughly the same time, c. 4-500BCE, had ancestors sharing campfires only maybe 2000 years prior, and yet they knew nothing of each other, not until Alexander the Great’s forays back east. The Trojan War, in fact, temporally midway between the two c. 1200BCE could even be seen as the first great clash between East and West, even though that tale of two cities was set only a couple hundred miles apart! We are nothing if not a young species, sophomoric at best, unless ‘freshmanic’ is a word.

For some reason the traditional East had no difficulty in adopting and adapting Western ways, in order to compete commercially with the west, and even politically democratic in some cases, e.g. Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, but we Westerners haven’t been so lucky in adopting traditionally Eastern ways to adapt to Earth’s new conditions. We talk the talk—namaste, emptiness, and non-duality—BUT: we talk too much. Buddhism is not about talk. It is about practice. And in that way it is different from philosophy.

In traditional Theravada countries ‘practice’ means only one thing—meditation, and lots of it. If you go to a traditional silent retreat in any of those Asian countries, you will do little or nothing else. I was in fact chewed out quite thoroughly once in Yangon, Myanmar, for reading, ‘dharma’ books, mind you. Is there an expression, “Just shut up and meditate?” Maybe there should be. And nobody much cares about what ‘kind’ of meditation you do, either, if there even is such a thing.

One thing Theravada Buddhist meditation is NOT is guided. If you want to meditate like the Buddha meditated, then you do it silently. The goal, in fact, is to remove all the clutter and chatter in out brains, not simply add more. Alan Watts talks about that and so did Carlos Castaneda’s Yaqui shaman Don Juan when he talked about ‘ceasing the internal dialogue.’ And that is exactly the term used by the neuroscientist who wanted to do brain scans of me while meditating. “Do you know what I mean?” he asked. “Haha,” I answered. “Don’t get me started.”

There is no better reason for meditation, if only for a half hour, but to return to that primordial paleo (proto?) consciousness that we all have enjoyed before the advent of language, either personally or socially and culturally. Language began in the world about 50,000 years ago. Consciousness began long before that. Language is not necessary. Laughter is necessary. Because otherwise the pain is simply too much to bear, sometimes, and the suffering gets lost in the shuffle of competing narratives…