Berkeley Zen Center

Lecture by Sojun Roshi

This lecture is reprinted from the December 2003 Berkeley Zen Center Newsletter.

One More Thought on Metta

The Metta Sutra opens with a teaching: "This is what should be accomplished by the one who is wise…" Then it introduces a prayer: " May all beings be happy..." Then it offers guidance on how to do this: " Even as a parent at the risk of one's life, one watches over and protects one's only child..."

Many people feel that zazen assumes the role that prayer takes in other religions. Prayer takes many forms, among which are supplication to a deity, and asking for favors of one kind or another. The highest form of prayer is simply recognized as communion with no other motive.

Many people think that Buddhism is not a religion because it doesn't point to a deity. It is widely thought that Buddhism is atheistic. But a-theistic is just the other side of theistic. I think of Buddhism as non- theistic. There have been throughout the history of Buddhism, theistic tendencies in both the early and later schools. In India the Pudgalavadins posited the existence of an immortal soul, which was denied by all the other schools. Then the Mahayana came up with Vairocana, the Dharmakaya Buddha as personifying the primal source, along with the understanding of the Buddha Nature as the all-pervasive primal reality common to all beings. The Pure Land school chants the name of Amida Buddha and offers prayers for salvation, as do other schools. But for Buddhists, none of this adds up to either a deity or a first cause.

A deity provides a focal point. It is the ultimate parent. But, even though there is no recognized deity in Buddhism, it often seems like there is. We like to say that the true human body is the whole universe: one whole being with infinite phenomenal expressions, and we stress the interconnectedness of all beings. So we direct our effort toward harmonization and right conduct because each one of us creates a positive or negative influence on our immediate surroundings and through the power of influence, on the world at large. Many Buddhists believe that there is just one soul: the vast being we call Buddha. And each one of us is a unique expression of that one soul. Our individuality is temporal, but our life of unity is universal. Therefore, when we hurt each other, we hurt ourselves, and when we help each other, we help ourselves.

In this Metta Sutra, or, Meditation on Metta, as it is now being called, we offer this prayer: "May all beings be happy, may they be joyous and live in safety, all living beings whether weak or strong, in high or middle or low realms of existence, small or great, visible or invisible, near or far, born or to be born, may all beings be happy." This prayer for the happiness and well being of all is a truly religious expression. It includes all beings unconditionally. It is on the level. It is an expression of pure faith. There is a Buddhist term, adhisthana, which means something like, the sustaining power of grace, or the assistance of the buddhas and bodhisattvas who meet us face to face through our selfless effort. Dogen uses the phrase, "Imperceptible mutual assistance." In other words, the universe meets us and responds to our effort.

When my son was a little boy, I would read him stories about the ancient world. One was a story about the Vikings and another was about Rome. The Vikings were bloodthirsty. They would take their ships all over their world, pillaging unmercifully. The Romans were somewhat the same. They loved the Coliseum, which was an arena for all the viciousness of human nature. Then the Christians came along and changed the ancient Western world. I think it was a kind of miracle. In that way Buddhism is not different from true Christianity and other religions when they practice indiscriminate loving-kindness.

Even though Dogen Zenji says "Only zazen, " without this effort it's not complete practice. "Only zazen" includes all beings. Whether sitting cross -legged on the cushion or at work in the world, if we are always abiding in Big Mind with all beings, that is "Only zazen." When we include each being as a part of our big self, even though all beings seem to exist independently, the prayer for the welfare of all beings permeates our practice as a way of life.

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Last revised 11/26/03. Copyright 2000 Berkeley Zen Center.
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