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Loving-Kindness Meditations

BY: Bodhipaksa



The Metta Bhavana, or Development of Lovingkindness, practice is one of the most ancient forms of Buddhist practice, one that has been passed down in an unbroken line for over 2,500 years.

We’re often taught as children that we should love others. Religious teachings say, for example, that we should “love others as ourselves.” But how do we learn to love others? And what happens if we don’t particularly like, never mind love, ourselves? The development of lovingkindness meditation practice is the practical means by which we learn to cultivate love for ourselves and others.

The practice helps us to actively cultivate positive emotional states towards ourselves and others, so that we become more patient, kind, accepting, and compassionate.

It’s part of a series of four practices which lead to the arising of:

  • lovingkindness

  • compassion (empathizing with others’ suffering)

  • empathetic joy (rejoicing in others’ wellbeing and joy)

  • and equanimity (patient acceptance of both joy and suffering, both our own and others’).

The metta bhavana is the foundation practice for this series of meditations.

The practice, leading as it does to the realization of compassion, is central to Buddhism, to the extent that the Dalai Lama has said “My religion is kindness.” While this statement may appear almost platitudinous, it’s actually indicative of something profound about spiritual practice.


How to get started


1) Read the introduction to lovingkindness
2) Learn techniques for cultivating lovingkindness
3) Start cultivating lovingkindness


Much of our unhappiness comes from the desire to be happy at the expense of others. It’s really very ironic that in grasping after happiness in this way we end up causing ourselves pain. It’s like sticking your hand into what you think is a cool stream in order to find relief on a hot day, only to discover that the water is boiling.

Buddhist theory teaches, and practice demonstrates, that happiness comes from empathizing with others and from seeing their wellbeing and their suffering as being important as our own.

It’s not that we set aside our own needs entirely and become martyrs in the popular sense of the word, but that we recognize that one of our needs is to help others meet their own needs. In meeting our need to help others meet their needs we find that we become happier: a layer of self-induced (and selfishness-induced) suffering starts to dissolve.

Realizing this and working it out in our lives through the practice of kindness is a major part of Buddhist practice. In fact we could say, as the Dalai Lama implies, that developing a sense of connectedness with others and overcoming selfishness is the essence of the spiritual path.


1) Introduction to lovingkindness meditation


The Metta Bhavana is a meditation for developing lovingkindness.

“Bhavana” means “cultivation” or “development,” and “Metta” is a word that means “love,” “friendliness,” or “lovingkindness.” 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. This is a particularly important aspect of the practice. It’s traditionally held that we all cherish ourselves, and that what we need to do is to expand our love from ourselves to others. For example in the Buddhist text, The Udana, we read:

Searching all directions
with one’s awareness,
one finds no one dearer
than oneself.
In the same way, others
are fiercely dear to themselves.
So one should not hurt others
if one loves oneself.

And yet many of us in the west have been brought up to hate ourselves. We don’t thoroughly hate ourselves, of course. In fact we tend to treat ourselves very well! But we do tend to keep up an undercurrent of negative self-talk. And to the extent to which we hate ourselves, we’re unable to relate healthily to others.

Lovingkindness practice helps us to feel more positive, accepting, kind, and patient toward ourselves, in order that we can be more compassionate and loving toward others.


2) Ways of Cultivating Metta – Introduction


Sometimes when people are beginning to learn lovingkindness meditation they think that lovingkindness is something that’s to be manufactured. And so they make lots of effort to try to generate some emotion, as if they’re trying very hard to wring some emotion from the heart.

And sometimes, if you make a lot of internal effort, you can become somewhat excited and convince yourself that you’re developing lovingkindness. But more often a sense of disappointment and even despondency sets in, because you don’t get the expected result. So this isn’t a very useful approach.

You can’t actually make emotions happen — all you can do is set up the conditions for them to arise and then see what happens. Love can’t be manufactured through meditation. It can’t be squeezed out of our being.

It’s a bit like growing seeds. You can’t make a seed grow. All you can do is provide warmth, water, and soil, and then be patient.

In cultivating feelings of loving kindness we’re encouraging ourselves to wish others well. So how do we set up the conditions for doing this?

Emotional Awareness Exercise



The first thing is to become aware of how we actually are feeling just now. This is essential groundwork.

Try this exercise:

Sit quietly, and bring your awareness into your body
As best you can, relax each muscle as you bring awareness to it
Bring your awareness to your heart area, and see what emotions are present, smile, and watch what happens
If you’re not sure what you’re feeling, pay attention to the kind of thoughts you’re having. Are they anxious? Critical? Self-critical? Depressive? Joyful? Your thoughts can give you a clue to how you’re feeling.
If you’re not sure about how you’re feeling, see if you can notice how you feel about not being sure about how you feel! Sometimes that makes it clearer.
Remember: whatever emotions you are feeling (good, bad, or even neutral) are fine. You can work with those emotions, and you can only start from where you are
See if you can be kind to yourself. Be patient as you attempt to find out how you’re feeling.
Don’t try to find out what you’re feeling. Rather than a frantic search, think more of relaxing into an awareness of what’s already there.
Gently bring yourself back to the outside world


3) Stage 1 – Cultivating metta toward yourself


“Friendship with ones self is all important, because without it one cannot be friends with anyone else in the world.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

Roosevelt expresses a psychological truth that the Buddhist tradition has espoused for two and a half millennia — that our attitude towards ourself conditions our attitude towards others. It’s for that reason that in the development of lovingkindness meditation practice we begin by cultivating metta first for ourselves.

“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.”
– His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Before starting this practice, you will need to read (if you haven’t already) the sections on posture and ways of cultivating metta.

Once you’ve read them what will follow will make a lot more sense.

You can listen to an MP3 guided meditation that will lead you through this stage of the practice by clicking on the player below:

Audio Player

Stage One

In the first stage of the practice, set up your posture and deepen your awareness of your body.

Then become aware of how you are feeling. What emotions are present? You don’t necessarily have to label them, just be aware they are there.

These emotions will be your focus during the practice. Keep your attention focused on your emotions throughout the practice. If you get distracted, come back to your body, and then to your emotions.

To work with your emotions, use a word or phrase, or a memory, or your imagination. As you work with your particular method, be aware of what effect it is having on your emotions, which are your focus.

Stage 2 – Cultivating metta towards a good friend

Stage 3 – Cultivating metta towards a “neutral person”

Stage 4 – Cultivating metta towards a “difficult person”

Stage 5 – Cultivating metta toward all sentient beings



Walking Lovingkindness Meditation


It was a traditional practice at the time of the Buddha for monks and nuns to practice the Development of Lovingkindness (metta bhavana)meditation as they walked around. They would do this while walking through town, begging food. They’d radiate well-wishing in every direction as they walked along the streets and through the marketplace.

Monks would also radiate Lovingkindness towards wild animals as they walked through the forests and jungles. India at that time was heavily forested, and attacks by snakes and other wild animals were common. It was considered that this practice was a good protection against snake attacks!

Even if you’re not at risk from cobras, you might still want to try practicing radiating lovingkindness as you do walking meditation. It can be a beautiful feeling to radiate love as you walk past people. You can start doing walking meditation in the usual way, deepening your awareness of your body, feelings, emotions, and objects of consciousness.

Then you can keep your focus on your emotions or on your heart-center, and wish everyone well. You can imagine that you have a sun in your heart, and that you are radiating warmth and light in every direction as you walk. Or you can repeat the phrase “May all beings be well, may all beings be happy, may all beings be free from suffering.”

This may also be an appropriate point to talk about what you do if you’re practicing walking meditation and you see someone you know. My suggestion is that you deal with the situation as you feel appropriate. If it’s possible, and appropriate, for you just to say “hi” and keep on going, then do that.

If it seems appropriate to stop and talk to the other person, then you can interrupt the walking meditation, but try to bring the qualities of awareness that you have developed in the practice into your conversation. You might want just to stop for a moment and say something like: “Hi there! I’d really like to stop and talk, but I’m practicing my walking meditation just now. Can I call you later?”

What you have to watch out for is on the one hand being rude through clinging to the idea that you are doing something so special that it can’t be interrupted, and on the other hand using an encounter with another person to avoid the practice. We call this “being precious” about your practice. Sometimes also we act out of guilt. We feel we”have to” stop and talk to this person because we feel guilty about spending time working on ourselves. This is something we should work hard to overcome.

If you do happen to stop and talk to someone, then resume your walking meditation practice afterwards, and at the beginning spend a few moments evaluating what your motives were in stopping. There is always something to learn from these encounters.

You can adapt the practice of walking metta bhavana to activities such as riding a bus or train, or driving a car. Rather than have your mind spacing out, you can direct thoughts of loving kindness toward your fellow passengers and to other drivers, pedestrians, etc. This kind of activity can powerfully enrich our emotional experience and leave us feeling much happier. Rather than idly daydream, and have nothing to show for it, we can find ourselves more at peace with the world and ourselves.

There are various guided meditations on loving kindness available in their online store.









BY: Bodhipaksa


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