Introduction to Loving-Kindness Meditation

loving-kindness-metta-meditationThe Metta Bhavana is a meditation for developing loving-kindness.

“Bhavana” means “cultivation” or “development,” and “Metta” is a word that means “love,” “friendliness,” or “loving kindness.” So this is a meditation practice where we actively cultivate some very positive emotional states towards others, as well as to ourselves.

This meditation practice helps us to bring more harmony into our relationships with others, so that we experience less conflicts, resolve existing difficulties, and deepen our connections with people we already get on with.

This meditation helps us to overcome anger, resentment, and hurt.

It helps us to empathize more, and to be more considerate, kind, and forgiving. We can also learn to appreciate others more, concentrating more on their positive qualities and less on their faults. We learn to be more patient.

In this meditation practice, we also cultivate Metta towards ourselves, so that we experience less internal conflict, and learn to appreciate ourselves more.

In the Metta Bhavana practice we’re cultivating love, or friendliness, or loving-kindness.

Eventually we want to become like an emotional bonfire: a steady blaze of emotional warmth that will embrace any sentient being that we become aware of. This is an attainable goal for every human being. All it takes is time and some persistent effort.

The practice is in five stages. We cultivate Metta for:

Ourselves

A good friend

A “neutral” person – someone we don’t have any strong feelings for

A “difficult” person – someone we have conflicts with or feelings of ill will towards

All sentient beings (ambitious, huh!)

You may notice that there’s a progression in the stages. It’s easiest for us to cultivate loving kindness for ourselves and for our friends. It’s a bit more difficult to do this for people we don’t know well. And it really goes against the grain to cultivate loving kindness for someone we’re in conflict with. Lastly, we cultivate loving-kindness for everyone in the world: i.e. all friends, people we don’t know, and people we’re in conflict with – plus ourselves of course.

The idea of cultivating emotions in meditation might strike some of us as being a bit odd: after all, don’t emotions “just happen”? It often seems like they well up inside of ourselves unbidden, and come and go like the weather.

A lot of the language we use to talk about emotions suggests a lack of control. For example, we “fall” in love, or we are “overcome” with anger, or we feel “depressed” (who’s doing the depressing), or we feel “overburdened” with stress, or people “make” us annoyed.

From a Buddhist point of view it is not the case that emotions “just happen”. Emotions are habits, and are actively created. It seems like they have a life of their own because we aren’t conscious of exactly how we create them. If we can bring more awareness into our emotional life then we can cultivate the emotions we want to experience (those that make us and others happy), and discourage the arising of those we don’t want (those that make us unhappy and generate conflict with others).

Buddhist meditation encourages us to take responsibility for our emotional states.

We cultivate emotions all the time. An example of how we unconsciously generate emotions is this: imagine you’re with a group of people, and you get to talking about all the things that are wrong with the world – hatred, war, intolerance, child-abuse, pollution etc. As the conversation goes on, and we get more and more involved, what happens? The chances are that we get angry, or depressed, or feel self-righteous. By focusing on things that anger or depress you (without creatively trying to see what you can actually do about these things), you cultivate these emotions.

Imagine if you did that with things that encouraged a sense of love and well-being? That’s what the Metta Bhavana practice is about. It’s a meditation practice in which we consciously set up the conditions for the arising of positive emotion.

The Metta Prayer

The Buddha gave a beautiful teaching on the development of lovingkindness called the Metta Sutta (also known as the Karaniya Metta Sutta). I’ve adapted the words of the sutta to formulate them as an aspiration that can be repeated in a prayer-like way.

In order that I may be skilled in discerning what is good, in order that I may understand the path to peace,

Let me be able, upright, and straightforward, of good speech, gentle, and free from pride;

Let me be contented, easily satisfied, having few duties, living simply, of controlled senses, prudent, without pride and without attachment to nation, race, or other groups.

Let me not do the slightest thing for which the wise might rebuke me. Instead let me think:

May all beings be well and safe, may they be at ease.

Whatever living beings there may be, whether moving or standing still, without exception, whether large, great, middling, or small, whether tiny or substantial,

Whether seen or unseen, whether living near or far,

Born or unborn; may all beings be happy.

Let none deceive or despise another anywhere. Let none wish harm to another, in anger or in hate.”

Just as a mother would guard her child, her only child, with her own life, even so let me cultivate a boundless mind for all beings in the world.

Let me cultivate a boundless love for all beings in the world, above, below, and across, unhindered, without ill will or enmity.

Standing, walking, seated, or lying down, free from torpor, let me as far as possible fix my attention on this recollection. This, they say, is the divine life right here.

Translated and adapted by Bodhipaksa from the Pali Metta Sutta. http://www.wildmind.org/

© Copyright 2011  Allison Stuart Kaplan  www.Askinyourface.com LLC

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Comments

  1. Beautiful; I read this several times.

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