An Overview of Loving-kindness Meditation
Loving-kindness meditation can be brought in to support the practice of 'bare attention' to help keep the mind open and sweet. It provides the essential balance to support your insight meditation practice.
It is a fact of life that many people are troubled by difficult emotional states in the pressured societies we live in, but do little in terms of developing skills to deal with them. Yet even when the mind goes sour it is within most people's capacity to arouse positive feelings to sweeten it. Loving-kindness is a meditation practice taught by the Buddha to develop the mental habit of selfless or altruistic love. In the Dhammapada can be found the saying: "Hatred cannot coexist with loving-kindness, and dissipates if supplanted with thoughts based on loving-kindness."
Loving-kindness is a meditation practice, which brings about positive attitudinal changes as it systematically develops the quality of 'loving-acceptance'. It acts, as it were, as a form of self-psychotherapy, a way of healing the troubled mind to free it from its pain and confusion. Of all Buddhist meditations, loving-kindness has the immediate benefit of sweetening and changing old habituated negative patterns of mind.
To put it into its context, Loving-kindness is the first of a series of meditations that produce four qualities of love: Friendliness (metta), Compassion (karuna), Appreciative Joy (mudita) and 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 empathises 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. This series of meditations comes to maturity as 'on-looking equanimity'. This 'engaged equanimity' must be cultivated within the context of this series of meditations, or there is a risk of it manifesting as its near enemy, indifference or aloofness. So, ultimately you remain kindly disposed and caring toward everybody with an equal spread of loving feelings and acceptance in all situations and relationships.
How to do it . . .
The practice always begins with developing a loving acceptance of yourself. If resistance is experienced then it indicates that feelings of unworthiness are present. No matter, this means there is work to be done, as the practice itself is designed to overcome any feelings of self-doubt or negativity. Then you are ready to systematically develop loving-kindness towards others.
Four Types of Persons to develop loving-kindness towards:
a respected, beloved person - such as a spiritual teacher;
Starting with yourself, then systematically sending loving-kindness from person to person in the above order will have the effect of breaking down the barriers between the four types of people and yourself. This will have the effect of breaking down the divisions within your own mind, the source of much of the conflict we experience. Just a word of caution if you are practicing intensively. It is best if you choose a member of the same sex or, if you have a sexual bias to your own sex, a person of the opposite sex. This is because of the risk that the near enemy of loving-kindness, lust, can be aroused. Try different people to practice on, as some people do not easily fit into the above categories, but do try to keep to the prescribed order.
Ways of arousing feelings of loving-kindness:
1. Visualisation - Bring up a mental picture. See yourself or the person the feeling is directed at smiling back at you or just being joyous.
1. By reflection - Reflect on the positive qualities of a person and the acts of kindness they have done. And to yourself, making an affirmation, a positive statement about yourself, using your own words.
3. Auditory - This is the simplest way but probably the most effective. Repeat an internalized mantra or phrase such as 'loving-kindness'.
The visualisations, reflections and the repetition of loving-kindness are devices to help you arouse positive feelings of loving-kindness. You can use all of them or one that works best for you. When the positive feeling arise, switch from the devices to the feeling, as it is the feeling that is the primary focus. Keep the mind fixed on the feeling, if it strays bring it back to the device, or if the feelings weaken or are lost then return to the device, i.e. use the visualisation to bring back or strengthen the feeling.
The second stage is Directional Pervasion where you systematically project the aroused feeling of loving-kindness to all points of the compass: north, south, east and west, up and down, and all around. This directional pervasion will be enhanced by bringing to mind loving friends and like-minded communities you know in the cities, towns and countries around the world.
Non-specific Pervasion tends to spontaneously happen as the practice matures. It is not discriminating. It has no specific object and involves just naturally radiating feelings of universal love. When it arises the practice has then come to maturity in that it has changed particular, preferential love, which is an attached love, to an all-embracing unconditional love!
Loving-kindness is a heart meditation and should not to be seen as just a formal sitting practice removed from everyday life. So take your good vibes outside into the streets, at home, at work and into your relationships. Applying the practice to daily life is a matter of directing a friendly attitude and having openness toward everybody you relate to, without discrimination.
There are as many different ways of doing it as there are levels of intensity in the practice. This introduction is intended to help you familiarize yourself with the basic technique, so that you can become established in the practice before going on, if you wish, to the deeper, systematic practice - to the level of meditative absorption.
Venerable Sujiva's clear and comprehensive presentation in BuddhaNet of Metta Bhavana (which is the Pali term for the cultivation of loving-kindness) is a step-by-step explanation of the systematic practice. This section, based on the Visuddhimagga, The Path of Purification, is for meditators who are prepared to develop loving-kindness meditation to its fullest and thereby experience the deeper aspects of the practice.
A benefit of developing the five absorption factors of concentration through the systematic practice is that it will counteract the Five Mental Hindrances of the meditator: Sensuality; that is, all forms of Ill Will, Mental inertia; Restlessness and Skeptical Doubt. When the meditator achieves full concentration, five absorption factors are present: the first two are casual factors: Applied thought and Sustained thought, followed by three effects: Rapture, Ease-of-mind and One-pointedness or unification of mind. The five absorption factors have a one-to-one correspondence to the five mental hindrances, or obstacles, to the meditator: Applied thought, by arousing energy and effort, overcomes the hindrance of sloth and torpor; Sustained thought, by steadying the mind, overcomes skeptical doubt which has the characteristic of wavering; Rapture with its uplifting effervescence, prevails over feelings of ill-will; Ease-of-mind, by relieving accumulated stress, counteracts restlessness or agitation of mind; while One-pointedness restrains the mind's wanderings in the sense-fields to inhibit sensuality. The benefit of achieving deep concentration with this positive mind set is that it will tend to imprint the new positive conditioning while overriding the old negative patterns. In this way, old negative habits are changed, thereby freeing one to form new, positive ways of relating.
We also have, in BuddhaNet's Loving-Kindness Meditation section, inspiring instructions by Gregory Kramer of the Metta Foundation on teaching loving-kindness to children within the family context. Gregory gives practical advice to parents on how to bring the practice of loving-kindness within the home. In this way, we can hope that loving-kindness meditation will become a natural part of the Buddhist family's daily practice, and that one day it will be adopted universally as a practice to uplift human hearts.
May you be happy hearted!