Does offering metta meditation actually affect other people? Let our pets decide … !
Metta meditation, or ‘loving kindness’ meditation is a staple of Buddhism. One arouses the feeling unconditional loving kindness in any way that is expedient, and then ‘offers’ it outwards towards all world beings.
Insight meditation (vipassana, yoniso manasikara) makes you wise, but Metta makes you happy!
The psychodynamics are clear – if you think a particular mind state is good and true and right, then you should try to cultivate it. So is loving kindness, an unconditional well-wishing for oneself and others, a good thing?
One rule of the psyche is that what you do often, arises easily in the mind. The phrase in Buddhism is
To what a man thinks and ponders often,
there is a leaning (bias) in his mind
or as the classic poem puts it:
Sow a thought, reap a habit
sow a habit, reap a character
sow a character, reap a destiny
But all people spend too much time in greed, hate and delusion (lobha, dosa, moha) – you spend your thoughts on trying to get what you want, get rid of things you don’t want, or on mindless things that have no value.
So we sit down and take some time to deliberately practise metta meditation. Don’t worry if it ‘works’ or not – if you can’t summon the feeling, then imagine the feeling. Or just pretend you have the feeling. Or wish that you had the feeling. The intention is important, and if you keep working it, at certain times you will find it springs to mind. At the very least you start to see how uncompassionate and uncaring your mind can be.
You can also call certain people into mind to offer the loving kindness. For instance, if you are trying to arouse the feeling, you can call to mind your parents, teachers, or even pets. Anything will do.
At other times you are directing the feeling that you have generated towards people who have hurt or abused you. It is important not to start thinking of the things that person has done – because then you start to add conditions. Metta is unconditional. One trick here is to reflect that if the person was free from suffering, they would not have hurt or abused you.
A third occasion we might offer special metta is when someone is sick or suffering, either physically or spiritually. It’s a nice practise, and at the very least, it will make you yourself feel a bit better, and feel like you have ‘done’ something, however small.
But do these other people receive anything? It’s not like you can phone them up and ask –
“just now, did you feel something?”
Here are two short (ish) videos from Rupert Sheldrake – he is a biologist famous for his book A New Science of Life, and for giving a talk on TED that was so ‘controversial’ it was pulled from their website (still available on youtube however). Sheldrake is quite unique in that he dwells out on the fringes of New Agey pseudoscience, but is himself quite a rigorous scientist. His research always employs scientific research rigours.
One of his pet projects (get it?), is psychic cats and dogs (now you got it)
We don’t really need to think of animals as ‘psychic’ in an intelligent way. They don’t understand taxation, vaccination or democracy. But huamn reared animals do have a sympathetic dynamic with their owners. Your dog can tell you are angry at it. Your cat knows it has to wait till you leave before it attacks the Christmas tree. So far so good. Common operant conditioning (the tech name for learning) can explain that.
So if they are indeed psychic, then their communication needs only to be on that level – it’s not like they can understand proper language. It is simply that they pick up on emotions and intentions.
Koko the Gorilla for insatance, has some 1000 words it can use in sign language, and 2000 more vocal queues that she understands. Is she really using symbolic speech though? That is debated. Possibly she just learns that certain actions elicit certain rewards. Exactly what it means to understand ‘language’ is hotly debated to this day.
So we can’t expect animals to really understand speech, let alone put together a sentence. Or can we?
Sheldrake is quite rigourous in the application of scientific methodology. But if you are entertaining the possibility of these things, then there are many other instances of animal/human communication.
In summary the following youtube shows animal whisperer Anna Breytenback communicating with a Black Panther. Since there is little science involved here, we should take a sceptical stance – is this simply fiction, is it a case of selective film-making, is it a kind of ‘cold reading‘ of the animal or its keepers? (you can find many youtubes of professed charlatans demonstrating cold reading methods)
So we have a couple of questions.
- If animals can pick up things psychically, can humans do so too?
- Are human minds too busy or coarse to have psychic abilities?
- If we offer metta to someone, do they benefit on any level, even if they do not consciously recognise it? (after all there is much research showing that seemingly irrelevant inputs can affect your behaviour – such as holding a warm cup of tea can affect your judgement of a job applicant etc.. there are many instances of such unconscious bias)
- What then of great saints and sages – do we pick up something from their presence? Do we need to be close them physically or emotionally to benefit?
- Is all this simply animist beliefs, that have no place with rational people?