In the Metta Sutta (The Loving-Kindness Discourse), the Buddha lists fifteen conditions which are wholesome, are creating peacefulness within, and lead us to loving-kindness. These conditions are all part and parcel of our makeup. We all have them within us. And all we can attend to is their purification and their growth—like a garden in which flowers and weeds grow, and we need to make a choice. What would I like: Flowers? Or weeds?
Sometimes it’s not so easy to distinguish between flowers and weeds. In Australia, a lot of the weeds look like flowers. But some of them are very poisonous. So within our own heart, we need to distinguish between the flowers and the weeds. And if we do that, we can probably remember these conditions and attend to them within ourselves. This attention to ourselves is all that counts.
One of these conditions—and it’s an interesting one for most people—is to not get caught up in too much bustle. How many committees do I belong to? How busy am I? Do I think I have no time for meditation because I’m so busy?
When we think we have no time for meditation, we should immediately consider whether we have time for eating. If we have any time in our daily activities for eating—keeping the body together—we necessarily need to have time to keep the mind together. We spend a lot of time on purchasing, preparing, cooking, and eating our food and cleaning up afterward—not to mention the time someone had to spend growing that food, which most of us aren’t even concerned with. In former times, we needed to be concerned with that too. So it’s not just a matter of cooking for an hour in the morning and an hour at night, unless we go out and buy a pizza. It’s usually a lot of time. And we wouldn’t miss it. We’ve got to eat. Well, by the same token, we’ve got to meditate.
If we’re caught up in too much bustle, then the thought “I haven’t got the time for meditation” arises.
Hopefully we have recognized that mind and body are two. We are well versed in looking after the body; we’ve been taught from the time we were small, when they taught us how to go to the toilet. So we know how to look after the body. Do we know how to look after the mind? Do we know how to make the mind healthy and well, expansive, malleable, flexible, just like a healthy body? Can we do that? Meditation and the inner journey is the only thing that can aid us in this.
If we’re caught up in too much bustle, then the thought “I haven’t got the time for meditation” arises. It’s of course a thought which has no grounding in fact, because for that which is important, we always have time. Being caught up in too much bustle brings with it a distracted mind. We have to think of too many things. We have to think of the demands of our job; we have to think of the demands of maybe the piece of land that we like to keep in order; we have to think of the demands of the people we see in the evenings; we have to think of so many different things that the mind cannot really become one-pointed in meditation. So, if there’s too much going on, if we try to distract ourselves too much, it’s very important to investigate—Why am I doing that? Which dukkha (suffering) am I trying to get out of today? What’s bothering me? It’s the only reason for being busy.
There’s no need to be busy. We should of course fulfill our obligations and responsibilities. The Buddha always gave guidelines in that direction. But to be overly busy cannot possibly bring peacefulness. It cannot bring contentment. It cannot bring a heart full of love; it cannot bring a heart that can actually bring the mind to meditation. So we should check our activities and see which ones are totally unnecessary. And we should see whether, with the activities that we do, we are again not only trying to escape our own dukkha but also trying to prove something to ourselves and others—that we are somebody. The more we try to prove that we are somebody, the less we have a chance to become nobody. And that’s what nirvana is all about. It doesn’t sound appealing to some people, because they haven’t had enough dukkha yet. When we’ve had enough dukkha with the somebody, we can actually appreciate the fact that there’s only one way to get out of dukkha, and that’s being nobody.
If our activities take us anywhere, we want them to take us out of dukkha. If we want them to prove something—who we are or what we are—we will see that not all of them are necessary. Some will be, obviously. It’s impossible to live in this body and in this world without having some activity, and we should have some activity. But is all of it necessary from morning to night? Which activities aren’t necessary? Which ones are strictly for those two reasons: getting out of dukkha, and proving we are somebody? And if we find some of those, can we drop them? We can then have more time for the inner journey.
We have the wealth of absolute truth, of immeasurable love and compassion—the whole wealth of the universe within us. It’s just waiting to be discovered. But within the hustle and bustle of morning-to-evening activity, we’ll never manage to find it. It’s like a golden treasure that is lying within us, that we can actually touch upon through the quiet mind. Anyone can do it, but they’ve got to become quiet. And we’ve got to stop trying to be something special. Only then can we get at it, and then, having found it, we can share it. That’s what the Buddha did. He shared it for forty-five years. With a few thousand people. And today we’re sharing it with five hundred million. That’s the value of enlightenment.
Whatever we do out of compassion is well done. This should be our checkpoint.
So we have that treasure. But if we really get busy, we have no way of unlocking that treasure chest. Unlocking it takes time, and it takes the quiet mind, the contented mind, the satisfied mind. It needs the mind which knows that there is something to be found far beyond anything at all that we can ever find in the world. And then we will make an attempt at checking out what is really necessary to do.
Whatever we do out of compassion is well done. And this should be our checkpoint: what am I doing out of compassion, and what am I doing in order to assert that I am really here and to let as many people know about it as possible, and what am I doing in order to get out of my dukkha to keep busy? But whatever I do out of compassion, that is what we should pursue.
From The Path to Peace: A Buddhist Guide to Cultivating Loving-Kindness by Ayya Khema, edited by Leigh Brasington © 2022 by Buddha-Haus. Reprinted in arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc.