“If there is love, there is hope that one may have real families, real brotherhood, real equanimity, real peace. If the love within your mind is lost and you see other beings as enemies, then no matter how much knowledge or education or material comfort you have, only suffering and confusion will ensue.”
- H.H. Dalai Lama
Metta meditation is a foundational practice in some Buddhist traditions. The word Metta is referenced in several different Suttas or discourses; it is often associated with the Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism. Metta is considered one of the Four Immeasurables or Brahma Viharas which include: Loving-kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity. It is said to help facilitate awakening, open-heartedness and the spirit of generosity as well as support the development of meditative concentration.
In English, Metta is translated as loving-kindness. According to the Buddha’s teachings, this loving-kindness has two aspects, one negative and one positive. The negative aspect is the absence of hatred and hostility. For this negative aspect to be generated there must be the positive aspect of loving-kindness. To not be hateful or harmful to others is a good thing but to actually do good and cultivate love and compassion is even more beneficial.
As the late Venerable Ashin Thittila shared on Buddhist Metta,
“Out of the four Brahma Viharas – this Metta – which is one of them, is good enough to create anything noble, anything grand to make peace and happiness at home, in society and in the world. Metta – pure loving-kindness – embraces all beings everywhere, either on earth or in the skies or Heaven. It also embraces all beings high or low, without measure because the poor people, lowly people, evil people, ignorant people are most in need of it. Because in them it has died out for lack of warmth or friendliness – this Metta becomes with them like a weak stream running in a desert. This Metta includes loving unloving good and bad people.”
Metta is in fact a very deep form of love. And, although words are used in the practice, it can be difficult to describe the essence or energy of Metta. It is caring for others in a way that releases our attachment and self-interest. It is a boundless warm-hearted feeling that goes beyond our differences. It is often likened to a mother’s love for a child and in the Metta Sutta, the Buddha states:
Just as with her own life
A mother shields from hurt
Her own son, her only child,
Let all-embracing thoughts
For all beings be yours.
Cultivate an all-embracing mind of love
For all throughout the universe,
In all its height, depth and breadth —
Love that is untroubled
And beyond hatred or enmity.
As you stand, walk, sit or lie,
So long as you are awake,
Pursue this awareness with your might:
It is deemed the Divine State here.
Metta supports the development of one’s generosity and kindness to all beings without exception. It also creates a foundation that is based on cultivating love and compassion for ourselves; in Buddhism, this is seen as the center from which we need to begin to send out loving-kindness and compassion to other beings and the world. Unless we ourselves possess Metta within, we cannot share, radiate or send Metta to others. So, Metta is really about generating the essence of loving-kindness and compassion in ourselves so that we may become an embodiment of those energies in the world. And again, this includes being loving to ourselves and also not being harsh, angry or hateful with ourselves. Through practice, these two aspects of Metta can become a powerful catalyst for transformation in our lives and in the world.
Metta practice includes working with different categories of beings which allows for both the cultivation of loving-kindness as well as the opportunity to see where our resistance and inner work lies. The categories include: oneself, a beneficiary or mentor, a close friend or family member, a neutral person, a difficult person and all beings, which can include various groups such as all women, animals, addicts as well as all beings without exception.
This is a brief introduction to practicing Metta for oneself:
To begin, take a few moments to quiet your mind and focus your attention on the experience of loving-kindness. Imagine yourself sitting inside a circle of loving beings, either people in your life, loved ones, animals, friends or those you feel embody love such as Mother Theresa, Buddha, Jesus, Quan Yin, etc. This is your personal circle of loving-kindness, so make it work for you. Don’t include anyone whose presence you question or who you may have mixed feeling about. Later, you can include them in your practice. Once you have your circle created, just imagine as you sit in the center that you are receiving love from all those surrounding you. Allow the love in your heart, mind, body and spirit to expand. When a feeling of full-heartedness arises, you will then begin by offering Metta to yourself using by reciting the following phrases silently or aloud:
May I be happy.
May I be peaceful.
May I be free from suffering.
May I have ease of well-being.
Take some time to explore this first stage of Metta practice. As we mentioned, creating a foundation for loving ourselves is at the heart of Metta.
For those who wish to explore this practice more fully, I will be offering daily posts and guided practices here on the Heart of Awakening as part of May is for Metta 2012: 31 Days of Loving-kindness Practice from May 1st to May 31st.
I am looking forward to sharing this journey and would love to hear from you about your experiences and reflections.