In June 2009 Sayadaw Vivekananda gave a talk on the first part of the Metta Sutta where the Buddha lists 14 Qualities a person should possess who wishes to attain the state of peace. Below is an excerpt from that talk on the quality of gentleness of mind.
It is useful to remind meditators to take a friendly attitude toward themselves and their meditation practices. Often we get tough on ourselves, thinking our meditation experiences are not up to the mark. Or we may think we shouldn’t be having unwholesome mental states and scold ourselves for this. The Buddha disagreed with this harsh attitude and instead said that one should be gentle – the fifth of the 14 qualities, ‘mudu‘ in Pali.
If a person were to cherish mental states like wrong view, pride and conceit, that person might hold a view such as “I’m the most important thing in the world.” If a person held that view and on top of that were highly conceited, this would create rigidity of the mind rather than gentleness. What mental qualities and activities would make for gentleness of the mind? We might name wholesome states and activities such as kindness, compassion, patience and humility.
As neuroscientists are discovering, the mind can be changed and shaped. What happens to the mind depends on us. The Buddha says that as meditators we should have a mind that is gentle – a mind that is soft and pliable. In fact, there is even a mental state known in the Abhidhamma as malleability (muduta in Pali). This malleability dissolves rigidity in the mental body and consciousness and manifests as non-resistance. This mudutu is opposed to defilements like wrong view and conceit, which create rigidity of the mind.
When we practice and try to understand the Dhamma, the mind needs to be in congruence with the Dhamma, which is not rigid but is extremely subtle. We cannot attempt to gain the Dhamma with a rigid mind, which is tense and rough through unwholesome states. We need instead a mind that is malleable, brought about by wholesome mental states such as faith, wholesome intentions and other qualities mentioned above.
A soft and malleable mind also needs to be sharp, cherishing the meditation practice and holding it in high esteem. The Buddha’s teachings are very much characterized by causality, so if we wish to attain a state of peace, the necessary conditions need to be present. The gentleness of the mind is one of these conditions. If it is possible to turn something as hard as iron ore into a really flexible thin blade of stainless steel, it should be equally possible to turn a hard and rigid mind into a mind that is sharp and yet also gentle and malleable.