Loving-Kindness Meditation (Metta)

 
Loving-kindness meditation - Metta BhavanaLoving-Kindness Meditation – (mettā bhāvanā) is a meditation practice taught by Gautama Buddha over 2500 years ago to develop a mental habit of selfless and altruistic love.

Loving-Kindness Meditation can be practiced by itself or after Anapana, Vipassana or walking meditations.   In Theravada tradition, loving-kindness is towards all sentient beings, while in Tibetan Buddhist tradition the monks practice ‘tonglen’ whereby one breathes out  (“sends”) happiness and breathes in (‘receives”) suffering. (Wikipedia)

This meditation is used to develop four qualities of love:

  • Metta (Friendliness)
  • Compassion (Caruna)
  • Appreciative Joy (Mudita)
  • Equanimity (Upekkha)

The quality of ‘friendliness’ is expressed as warmth that reaches out and embraces others. When loving-kindness practice matures it naturally overflows into compassion, as one empathizes with other people’s difficulties; on the other hand one needs to be wary of pity, as its near enemy, as it merely mimics the quality of concern without empathy. The positive expression of empathy is an appreciation of other people’s good qualities or good fortune, or appreciative joy, rather than feelings of jealousy towards them.” (Venerable Pannyavaro)

Loving-Kindness Meditation is a meditation where the meditators recite words or phrases to cultivate compassion towards themselves, the loved ones, friends, strangers, enemies and all sentient beings.

Matthieu Ricard, a Tibetan Buddhist monk and scientist, named ‘the happiest man in the world’ in the interview said that positive emotions replace negative destructive emotions.   He says that 40,000 hours of meditation has enabled his brain to produce more positive emotions.

The most ancient Buddhist collection of texts “Pali Canon” defines the following benefits of Loving-Kindness meditation (mettā bhāvanā):

One sleeps easily, wakes easily, dreams no evil dreams. One is dear to human beings, dear to non-human beings. The devas protect one. Neither fire, poison, nor weapons can touch one. One’s mind gains concentration quickly. One’s complexion is bright. One dies unconfused and – if penetrating no higher – is headed for the Brahma worlds” (Wikipedia)

Neuroscientist Richard Davidson, Director of the University’s Waisman Center for Brain Imaging conducted a study with fMRI brain scans of veteran meditators (Tibetan monks with 40,000 hours of practice) and novice meditators.   The study showed that Loving-Kindness Meditation has profound effects on the brain by developing compassion towards unknown people.

Practicing Loving-Kindness Meditation and Compassion also showed that in fMRI the area of the brain responsible for happiness, joy, love, and contentment – lights up indicating deep contentment and happiness of the Tibetan monks in contrast to novice meditators.   Thus, meditating Loving-Kindness and compassion makes the meditator more happier.

Like other meditations, meditators need to practice regularly loving-kindness meditation to cultivate mind achieve compassion.

While you can practice Loving-Kindness meditation – mettā bhāvanā as a separate meditation, S.N. Goenka advises his students to do Metta meditation right after Anapana or Vipassana meditations.   He believes that once you experience and achieve equanimity you are able to effectively send loving-kindness and compassion towards all sentient beings.  From my own experience in Buddhist retreats and at home, the Loving-Kindness Metta is more powerful and sincere when you are indeed having equanimity.  I am also able to get into deep meditative state and do Metta meditation anywhere.

Typically Buddhist teachers suggest starting Loving-Kindness meditation towards themselves first and then gradually towards loved ones, friends, strangers, enemies and all sentient beings.   You can replace “all beings” with myself, etc.  Below is the example of Loving-kindness meditation mantra for all sentient beings.

How to Meditate:
  1. Sit comfortable with loose clothes and ensure that you are fully relaxed.  It is better to do this meditation right after Anapana and/or Vipassana or Walking meditations.
  2. Feel the sensations at the top of your head (the crown chakra) and open up yourself towards all sentient beings.
  3. Feel the sensations or positive loving-kindness energy emanating from your heart chakra (It is a heart meditation) towards all sentient beings.
  4. From the depth of your heart repeat Metta in your mind or out loud (if alone) several times up to 15 minutes or so.  I like Metta shared by Lama Surya Das

May all beings be happy, content and fulfilled,
May all beings be healed and whole,
May all beings have whatever they want and need
May all beings be protected from harm and free from fear,
May all beings be awakened, liberated and free,
May there be peace on earth and the entire universe.”

As you continue practicing Loving-kindness meditation, you will be able to do it anywhere  - on a street, while waiting at the doctor’s office, at a party or school or at work.  You will be able to bring about equanimity and do Loving-Kindness Meditation.  A true test for you is to provide Loving-Kindness and Compassion towards enemies or unlikable person or unpleasant situation.

May you be happy!

With loving-kindness,
Spencer, a.k.a the Urban Monk

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