QUESTION: Other traditions talk a lot about generating metta for our friends, acquaintances and enemies. How would we talk about this in the Pureland tradition?
SHORT ANSWER: Nembutsu is gratitude for Buddha's metta toward all beings.
LONGER ANSWER: The metta practice was originally given by Shakyamuni to some young Brahmins who wanted to know how to dwell closer to Brahma. He taught them to suffuse the four directions with 'an awareness imbued with goodwill'. In Pureland, our basic practice is awareness of the goodwill of all the Buddhas, and especially Amitabha Buddha. We imagine that Buddha is continuously benefitting all beings in all directions. Those beings might or might not be appreciating such blessings, but the Dharma rain is still continuous falling, as it says in the Lotus Sutra 'parable of the herbs'. If we are Pureland Buddhists, we are likely to be happy about that. Furthermore, the light of Buddha is reflected in those beings and we ourselves are thus benefitted. So we are grateful for that too.
It is not we ourselves who are going to create love. Love is already in the world. As long as we do not get in the way, it reflects in us perfectly, and when we do get in the way, then it still reflects in us, if imperfectly. Actually, real love is, therefore, perfect inner stillness. To love is to not manipulate. Buddhas are like that. We, of course, are just ordinary beings so we are rarely so still. Often enough we are trembling with fear or desire, but if we put our attention on the Buddha we will realise that he is rather good at calming us down. The Buddha light is radiant in all directions, supporting all beings each in their appropriate way. Knowing this can help us to relax at a deeper level and not be so frightened any more, because we do not need to take responsibility for everything. If we allow the Buddhas to do their work, and not try to do it for them, we can live in happiness and our practice, whatever it may be, will then be a ritual of gratitude and appreciation.
Does this mean all we have to do is believe that the Buddhas will look after us and all things, but if so do we need to do anything?
Yes, we need to play our part, but our part is responsive, not assertive for the most part. Life is there to be lived and learnt from. The sense that the Buddha's are everywhere helping should encourage us to go forth and be active. Faith overcomes hesitation. When we think that we have to do everything by our own power and effort then we can easily be daunted and want guarantees before we start. If, however, we trust that we shall be helped as we go along, we are much more ready to venture forth. The Buddha taught 'going forth' and going forth requires faith.
This applies particularly in the arena of helping others. The person who tries to sort out the life of another tends only to make matters worse, but the person who allows space and feels acceptance and gentle appreciation will often see the other start to flourish in unexpected ways, ways that are, perhaps, remote from the helper's model of what progress should be, but which, when one looked at more carefully, can be seen to be exactly what the person in question really needed. That person has been helped by the Buddhas who are wiser than we.
Western psychology sometimes tries to explain this by talking of 'facilitation' and 'creating therapeutic conditions' and relying upon a 'self-actualising tendency', say. This last is also a rather mysterious, metaphysical concept. Buddhism proposes something similar, but does not locate the active power within the 'self' either of the helper or the helpee. Nonetheless, we have our part to play in creating the space for all this to happen. Often the way to create space is, of course, to quieten down and exercise some self-restraint, but to do this, one has to have faith that it is going to be alright, that help will come from unexpected quarters in unexpected ways. Then one can just do one's bit and trust the great process that is bigger than any of us.
Thank you Dharmavidya. We humans can easily become obsessed with doing and achieving (ask me I am an expert!). I can see the Buddhas smile at our foolishness. I agree with your observation, love is already here. Nothing needs to be added, by grace we receive love. What I found in my own experience is I have build walls (coping defences for self preservation) that kept me from love and there is often something I have to let go off in myself to let love in. As Rumi says:
Yes, and one will never find them all :-)