So here: I googled for the “cutest kitten picture ever” and as you can imagine I got lots of hits. It was hard to choose just one, but here’s my choice for today.
If you have the sensitivity of three rocks in a river, your instant reaction to that is at least in part that whole “awwww” feeling. In Sanskrit, that feeling of compassionate good will is called maitri, in Pali, metta; for some reason the Pali term has caught on in English, so that’s the term I’m going to use. The point of the Jataka story of Nalagiri is that the Buddha, through his immense metta, was able to calm Nalagiri.
Now look: Jatakas are basically childrens’ stories, and I’m not suggesting that if you meet a charging bull elephant on the road you should expect smiling at him will make him kneel to be scratched. But metta practice, literally practicing that feeling of metta, is an important Buddhist practice, and it has been very important to me personally.
Here’s how the practice of metta is done. You start with yourself; remember that feeling, and then focus on yourself, saying
May I be well,
may I be happy,
may I be free,
may I be peaceful.
Then pick a loved one. Call them to mind, focus on them, saying
May you be well,
may you be happy,
may you be free,
may you be peaceful.
Now pick someone you know who you feel more or less indifferent toward — the checker at the grocery store, the person who was sitting at the next table at lunch yesterday. Bring them to mind, focus on that feeling of metta, and repeat the same four wishes.
This is not a mantra, by the way — there’s no special power assumed to be in the words. In this practice, it’s focusing your mind or your heart on that feeling of metta.