Metta And The late Fred Rogers

Fred Rogers died in 2003. When I was growing up, I didn’t think much of, nor (if I recall rightly) did I often watch, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. It seemed to me saccharine, sentimental, lugubrious.

I was wrong.

About a year ago, I saw the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and was moved to tears. Suppose that the documentary is accurate. Then it could be said that Fred Rogers embodied the Second Commandment: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Which is poignant and wise. Or better: poignant because wise.

I want to interpret this commandment in an unorthodox and entirely scripturally unfounded way as saying, in an Advaita key, that one is to love the neighbor (i.e., any neighbor) as thy Self. That is, I don’t think it means: “Act as if you were standing in your neighbor’s shoes. From this standpoint, treat your neighbor accordingly.” Nor do I think it means: “Treat your neighbor as you yourself, if you were in his or her position, would like to be treated.” Nor does it mean: “Act altruistically.”

Instead, it means: “Since Reality is only the Self (brahman), let your present conduct flow directly from seeing that there is absolutely no essential difference between you and the other. Every being is the Self. The other is not ultimately other, therefore, even if the other is relatively other in terms of ‘name and form.'” In other words, let love be the natural and fullest expression of recognizing that here too (but what does the “too” mean?) is the Self.

Which puts me in mind, and heart, of metta, or lovingkindness practice:

  • “May I love myself.”
  • “May I love my significant other.”
  • “May I love my friends, neighbors, and family members.”
  • “May I love he or she who has, to date, been my enemy.”
  • “May I love all sentient beings.”

Pressed far enough, is not metta, or lovingkindness, itself an attempt to show that love itself is naturally expansive? That love itself has no borders or boundaries, no limit to itself? Is it not saying effectually: “Do this practice until you see directly that all everywhere is love?”

Understood this way, Fred Rogers’ song does not refer to positive psychology or to developmental psychology in any strict sense but to metaphysics:

I like you as you are
Without a doubt or question
Or even a suggestion
Cause I like you as you are

This is precisely love. To love is to not have any thought or desire or feeling about things–you–being any different from what you ultimately are. Love knows nothing but love. Therefore, love knows only itself.