Samatha Bhavana – The Cultivation of Tranquillity
Metta bhavana is one of the 40 themes for samatha bhavana listed in the Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga).
Samatha means tranquillity.
Bhavana means cultivation.
That is, the cultivation of loving kindness is one way by which we can attain tranquillity.
Tranquillity or Samatha refers:
firstly – to tranquillity freed of defilements. Truly the defilements of greed, hatred, delusion, jealousy, etc. are torturous and disturbing to the mind. The mind purified of these can truly be said to be peaceful.
secondly – to unification with or concentration of the mind on its object. It is because the mind that wanders to manifold objects is scattered, weak and tends to be restless. The still, fixed and concentrated purity gives strength and stability to tranquillity.
thirdly – to the removal of less peaceful states of mind which furthers and deepens the state of tranquillity. This is done when moving from the lower absorptions (jhana) to the higher ones. For example, while going from the first to second absorption, initial application (vitakka) has to be abandoned.
This book talks of the rupa jhanas in fivefold (as in the abhidhamma) rather than fourfold (as in the Suttas).
Bhavana refers to the repeated cultivation of these peaceful states, so that it lasts longer and deeper. The wholesome state of mind here in this case will of course be the mind of loving kindness. The depth of concentration reached is the fourth form absorption (four rupajhana) in the fivefold classification. The objects of this mind may vary. In fact one can extend it to the unlimited number of beings. For this reason it is also called an immeasurable (appamanna).
In the development of the mind, one has to be holistic. The mind is involved with every aspect of life, and so every aspect ought to be considered. A good understanding of the teachings of the Buddha is important and with respect to meditation practice in particular.
The preliminary preparations given in the “Path of Purification” have appeared often in manuals and writings on meditation. It can also be applied to metta bhavana as well. We shall go through them briefly with reference to our subject.
1. Purity of morals:
This is the restraint from immoral acts, particularly of body and speech. All unwholesome states oppose wholesome states and so it is one initial level of purification. Those done out of the root of anger e.g. killing and slaughtering would directly indicate a failure of metta. Those done out of greed and ignorance would be an indirect but nevertheless still an opposing force. The first is the direct enemy and the second the close enemy. We are often more unwary of the second.
The four aspects of this are:
I. observance of precepts – e.g. five, eight for laity.
II. guarding of the senses – e.g. mindfulness when seeing, hearing, etc.
III. purity of livelihood.
IV. proper use of requisites – for monks.
2. Cutting off impediments:
The impediments mean anything that can obstruct and hinder one’s practice. Ten impediments often quoted are:
I. unsuitable dwelling
IV. class of students
V. building work
X. supernormal powers
Though these are not necessarily unwholesome, they can take away valuable time meant for the practice. They can also be a source of attachments, anger or other defilements, to which a beginner is especially vulnerable.
Therefore, they are best abandoned as much as possible. For a layperson it would be difficult to abandon all.
With special inference in the case of metta bhavana would be those impediments concerning people (no. II, IV, VII). Here it may seem conflicting because one may ask – “Can you abandon them when you are to have loving kindness?” We have to bear in mind that to really have strong metta for others, we have to establish ourselves firmly first. For example we need really strong and powerful metta and patience to be able to take a lot of nonsense from others. And so solitude and training has to come first. There will be time for all that later.
Another matter concerns psychic powers. To maintain them needs concentration itself. And so it would not be an impediment in metta bhavana. It seems to occur as an impediment more for vipassana only.
In samatha meditations the environment is at best very quiet and comfortable as it aids in the calming of the mind. A natural environment of trees and streams also adds to the peace and natural settling down of the mind. Fresh air and freedom from pests provide safety and health, remove anxiety, whilst cleanliness and orderliness are also to be noted as they help bring about concentration. Another factor is suitable companionship: such as fellow strivers with little or no anger, those who do not irritate or are not restless would make ideal companions if one should need them. Better will be those who have abundant metta or are accomplished in metta.
3. Suitable place:
The Anguttara Nikaya says that a suitable environment ought to have the following:
I. convenience – coming and going
II. quiet – peace by day and night
III. freedom from dangers
IV. well-furnished in requirements
V. presence of a guide
4. Competent guide:
As in other forms of meditation, a good guide is an important factor for learning. It is best if we find one who is learned, well-restrained and accomplished in meditations. In this case it would be one accomplished in metta bhavana or the brahma vihara.
Then there is also the skill needed to teach and communicate.
5. Suitable subject of meditation:
The subject here is of course loving kindness (metta). Usually the practice of the four divine abidings (brahma vihara) are taken together. They all have a being/beings as the object, or we may say that they are all a positive mental relationship for one or a group of beings.
This form of meditation is especially suitable for those who intend to overcome anger or anger-related problems (e.g. bad temper, jealousy, cruelty, fear, worry and anxiety).
It is also very practical as it creates good relationship between and among people. This makes life and work in society easy and happy. This meditation is also generally suitable for beginners for it brings quick results. It has been said, for one with metta, the mind calms quickly. It is also fairly safe without much complication.
Hence metta is one of the tranquillity meditations recommended for beginners.
6. Severing minor impediments:
This finishes the minor bits of work to be done i.e. tying up all loose ends which may cause some flurry or an unsettled state of mind.
7. Getting detailed or specific instructions on the meditation subject:
Meditation, the development of individual mind, requires specific skills and direct practical experience. As such, although there are general implications, one will still require specific instructions that suit the individual’s temperament and situation for maximum effectiveness.
Motivation is an important factor for the accomplishment of any task. For the successful cultivation of loving kindness one has to have a lot of patience to persevere and overcome all sorts of difficulties.
Therefore the initial stage involves reflections on the following:
I. benefits of patience, and
II. benefits of loving kindness, and
III. the dangers of anger.
Such reflections can also be done as often as possible to serve as a frequent reminder and motivation.
Reflection on Patience
I. Patience means being able to accept a situation without flurry, anxiety and anger.
II. When one is patient, one avoids a lot of unnecessary trouble.
III. When one is patient, one is able to get a lot of good opportunities lost to the impatient.
IV. When one is patient, one is able to go far in one’s achievements, for there will always be some difficulties in any great undertakings.
V. The patient man also overcomes a lot of anger in order to work with metta and other good virtues successfully.
We may also reflect on incidents in the lives of the Buddha and his disciples, how they overcame difficulties to achieve greatness with their patience.
One such story is the perfection of patience when the Buddha was still a Bodhisatta. Even when tortured with his hands and legs cut off he showed no anger. He merely asked the King who had ordered it done – “Do you think my patience is in my hands?” Finally the King had his heart cut out. Even then he showed no anger and was patient. He was called the bearer/practiser of patience – Khantivadi.
Similarly we can also reflect on the Benefits of Loving-kindness.
Benefits of Loving-kindness
1. Happily She/He Sleeps.
2. Happily She/He Wakes.
3. Dreams No Bad Dreams.
These first 3 benefits involve sleeping peacefully, and should not be underestimated. Sleep is a restorative process and plays an important part in our lives. If we do not get proper sleep our body and mind in the day will be badly affected and life will become miserable, as can be seen in the case of insomniacs.
For one who practises loving kindness his mind will bear no ill-will towards beings. His mind is also calm and filled with joy. These are conditions for easy and peaceful sleeping and when dreams do arise, the good states previous to sleep will have a good influence on these dreams.
After such good sleep, on waking up one would also be fit enough to take on the chores of daily life in a happy manner. This in turn makes all one meets happier.
In Buddhist psychology, the state of deep sleep is the life continuum consciousness, a state of mind without any thinking process. It is a result of kamma and acts as the mind door. When thought processes arise, the mind shifts from a passive to active state. Dreaming is also an active state that occurs in the mind. There are many reasons for dreams, of which four are quoted below:
I. Thinking in the day carried forward even after one has cut off the awareness of one’s surroundings.
II. Thoughts that arise through imbalance of elements in the body e.g. discomfort and illness. These strong sensations stir up thoughts.
III. Spirits or deceased relatives trying to make contact.
Dreams are often uncontrollable as they occur after normal awareness is cut off. How they arise is affected by our own basic nature and habits. One who is used to having evil thoughts in the day will carry them forward into his dreams.
Similarly one with good thoughts will have good dreams.
4. Loved by Human Beings.
5. Loved by Non-human Beings.
We cannot avoid encountering other people or beings. Even a forest hermit may meet with wild animals! So it is best for all to tune into a favourable relationship. Metta is such a relationship that will foster welfare and benefit for each other. This makes a happy person, persons, families, communities, country, world and worlds. In this way one can avoid a lot of suffering.
6. Devas Protect One.
Devas are beings that exist in heavenly dimensions. Although we may not be able to see them they are known to exert influence on people’s lives. For those who are virtuous and with loving kindness for beings and devas, they may render help and protection.
7. Fire, Poison or Weapons will not be experienced by that Person.
Metta is a protective mental force and its tendency is to bring about beneficial states and put away harmful conditions. Fire, poison and weapons often associated with harmfulness are likewise put aside. This force is present to some extent when one has metta in one’s heart. The stronger the metta, the stronger it can be. But when this force is absent, the armour of metta is likewise absent. The story of the Boddhisatta perfecting metta is a good example.
8. The Mind Calms Down Easily.
As happiness is the near cause of concentration, it is obvious why metta has this benefit. Therefore it is a subject of concentration which can calm down the mind easily even for beginners. This is especially true in those of angry temperament and those who undergo a lot of stress in work. Besides, it is also quite safe to do so after brief instructions.
9. The Complexion of the Face becomes Clear.
A happy face has a happy heart. It is pleasant to everyone. That’s why you are advised to smile even if you don’t feel happy. However in Buddhism, sincerity is also necessary otherwise it can be taken as hypocritical. Therefore metta serves as the best cosmetic for men and women, and for a good cause with good motives!
A good complexion is also a sign of good health. As a pure state of mind that brings benefits, it will also create beneficial substances in the body promoting good health. Conversely, how anger or other evil states of mind can cause illnesses such as gastritis and other psychosomatic illnesses is clearly known.
10. Death Takes Place Without Confusion.
When death is to take place, it is very important to keep the mind in a pure state as it has a strong influence on the ripening of the good kamma that will decide the nature of the next existence.
One with metta will have good kammas that will bring about peaceful death far from violence. His good kamma ripens as if good friends and relatives come from afar to greet him. It will bring about favourable and pleasant signs that will bring him to a happy rebirth.
11. If it goes no further (ie, the fruits of Arahatta – Enlightenment) the person goes to the Brahama world.
The four paths and fruitions are only attained through vipassana but metta can serve as a strong base of concentration. If this concentration has reached up to the absorptions (jhana) then it can bring rebirth in the brahma realms. If access concentration is reached it can give rise to existence in deva or human realms. Concentrated states are strong in kammic forces and being so are more likely to ripen over others.
Dangers of Anger
The converse of the benefits of metta would be the dangers of anger. In brief one would quote the opposite of loving kindness. One sleeps and wakes unhappily and dreams bad dreams. Humans, devas dislike him. Hounded he will be by enemies and demons. His life is likely to meet with violent dangers. His complexion is ugly and he suffers ill health. When death comes he dies confused and reaches the woeful states.
Anger being harmful, violent and aggressive would cause much harm to oneself and others by the committing of evil deeds through the body (e.g. killing, destroying, etc.), speech (cursing, slandering, lying, etc.) and mind. Displeasure or unhappiness of mind will always be there when there is anger. How can one be happy? More sadness, fear and terror will follow as a result of deeds done. In short, one does things which one will be sorry for.
One should see the terror of these states. They can be avoided but positive and persistent effort must be made. It is too easy to be lax and make excuses for harmful acts that once done, cannot be undone. Then suffering is sure to follow. The reflection of the dangers of anger can help us to overcome anger and develop metta.