Metta Bhavana

Venerable Sujiva
Beginning Practice of Loving-Kindness

There is no one posture in which you cannot send thoughts of metta. In intensive metta exercises, one radiates loving kindness all the time in whatever position one is in – standing, walking, sitting and (if not sleepy) lying down.

Usually sitting is alternated with walking. Gradually the sitting is lengthened.

When radiating metta while walking one does not really pay attention to the sensations or phenomena involved with the process of walking meditation as in vipassana. One just radiates as one walks along. As the concentration becomes more intense, slowing down would be only natural. At times one may just stand still and radiate. When the flow of metta ceases one will have to stop to arouse it again. The active nature of walking is involved with the energy faculty and hence helps keep up the arousing and sustaining of the flow of metta, i.e. the 1st and 2nd jhana factors – initial and sustained application (vitakka, vicara). A suggested period for walking is 1 hour. It also serves as an exercise for physical health.

The best posture is sitting in the full lotus with both legs crossed, soles facing upwards. The back is straight and hands on the lap with palms on top of each other, facing upwards.

Because most people are not able to withstand the strain at the ankles, most may adopt half lotus, one leg crossed above the other. There are other variations like the Burmese method where both legs are folded, but not pressing one on each other. There are sitting sideways postures and so on.

Generally the posture has to be balanced, back straight and legs folded in. This helps to keep an alert mind whilst keeping the body fairly comfortable. In Samatha meditation this is very essential especially at the start, after which one ought not to shift one’s posture but remain still for long periods.

We can try to do it by relaxing from head to toe or toe to head, part by part, from externally, the skin, to internally, the bones and organs. Next we must make a resolution to put away all matters for the period of meditation. All matters must be put aside! Now is the time for meditation. Nothing else matters! If one is decisive enough most thoughts can be put away. Then we can make sure the mind is relaxed and peaceful. We also maintain an awareness or mindfulness or else it will fall to sloth.

After sitting in the desired posture, one ought to remain still with utmost relaxation to the point until the physical body is as if dead and not a single strain is felt. The body is as if it is not there at all. Then one may proceed to giving metta to oneself. When it is being done, try to do so very gently or else strain or restlessness may arise as well. Each thought aroused is as if it is a very small, subtle, soft bubble or mist suffusing out of the mind. In such a way we can preserve and increase the tranquillity.

Sometimes people think that giving metta to oneself is selfish. That is because they misunderstand what is being done and the mental state involved.
Actually it is a sincere and unselfish wish to progress onwards in the spiritual path. That is, to be happier and healthier to practise better because one can give up anger and all the unwholesome states of mind with this practice.

One thus makes these wishes or aspirations one after another and lets them sink deep into the mind, creating far-reaching effects. One recites not just the words in the mind but rather sincerely makes the wish, understanding fully the meaning or idea.

They are:
May I be free from enmity
(Avero homi)
May I be free from mental suffering
(abyapajjho homi)
May I be free from physical suffering
(anigho homi)
May I take care of myself happily
(sukhiattanam pariharami)

This is done for the first 5 minutes (of the sitting) which should last at least an hour. It serves several purposes.

I. Setting onself right.
One has to do this and this means having a pure objective that involves one’s life in all its aspects. This would involve right livelihood, morality and so on. If this is not done, there is bound to be conflict during or outside meditation.

II. Motivation.
After seeing the need for oneself to be truly happy one can then understand better the need for others to be happy. It will serve to motivate and ease the outflow of metta for others.

III. Serves as preliminary concentration.
It is easier to arouse this sincere wish for oneself than for others. It makes an easier start to gain some degree of concentration which can develop to deeper levels as the practice progresses.
After this one can proceed to radiate metta to another person.

Selecting An Individual

According to their relationship to one at the time of starting meditation, individuals may be classified into 5 categories:

1. extremely intimate (atipiya)
2. lovable (piya)
3. indifferent (majjhata)
4. unpleasant (apiya)
5. inimical/hostile (veri)

In selecting an individual as an initial object of metta bhavana, one is advised to choose the 2nd, a lovable individual because metta can arise easily. The 1st may arouse attachment, the 3rd may pose some difficulties and the 4th and 5th may arouse anger instead. One is also advised against giving it to the opposite sex as it may arouse lust. What if she is his own mother or he, her father? Usually it is not preferred for the unstable mind may wander to another of the opposite sex. The other individual not recommended is the deceased. It does not produce deep concentration as the person is no longer present and is already in a different state.

Therefore the lovable individual should be alive and of the same sex as one. “Lovable” means he (or she) inspires metta in you the moment you think of him. He would most likely be one with a lot of metta himself besides many other virtues like morality, concentration, wisdom, patience, humility and so on. It is someone whom you think of or meet with a lot of respect and friendliness. Someone whom you can call a true friend. If you have known him for some time and had spent many moments and events together with little or no misunderstandings, it would be better. Then you can call up all the good that he has done for you as well as the happy events in the past to arouse metta.
When you have chosen the individual then this shall be the soil and source from which your metta shall set its roots deep and spread far elsewhere.

Arousing of Metta

The near cause of metta is the lovable person or being. Therefore we have to see the favourable aspect of the person or being.

One way is to think of his or her virtues or good qualities. We can perhaps enumerate them, e.g. he is
1. compassionate – V1
2. understanding – V2
3. etc. – V3

The more we have of these the better. The mere thought of one will inspire metta. We may use this sparingly so that it will last us a long time.

For example, when we think about v1, metta arises. Every time it dies down, we can use v1 to stir it up again. After some time v1 may not be effective (for the time being), then we use v2 to arouse metta. We will then continue to use v2 to arouse metta. When it loses effectiveness we can return to v1 again. One can go on arousing metta with v1 and v2 until both do not seem to work. Then we proceed to v3.

The other way is to see the lovableness of the person and thus to arouse metta is to recall the events one has associated with him or her that would inspire metta. It may be the help given, gifts offered or just kind, gentle words. One would naturally have to avoid recalling unpleasant moments. We can again enumerate the events:

Event 1. gifts given at birthday – E1
2. help in time of stress – E2
3. counselling in career – E3
4. etc. – E4

We may apply the principle on the use of virtues to ensure ease of arousing metta.

When metta arises it has got to be sincere and come from the depth of one’s heart. It should be encouraged to flow abundantly and freely without inhibition. There is nothing wrong with giving metta to anyone, only it is to be given in a suitable manner with wisdom and guarded against attachment.

When metta arises one enables and urges it on with the use of 4 aspirations.
1. May he/she be free from enmity/danger
2. May he/she be free from mental suffering
3. May he/she be free from physical suffering
4. May he/she take care of himself/herself happily

The principle is that when we make each aspiration we do so with metta. This would arouse more metta to keep it flowing on. It is also important that we understand the meaning of these aspirations clearly and sincerely mean it. Before the metta from the first one dies down, we make it continue on by using the next. When we have used the 4th aspiration we start again with the first. This can go on indefinitely.

The second point is that when one aspiration, e.g., “May he be free from enmity”, is very effective and can produce strong metta which can last a long time, then we can let this flow go on as long as possible, in which case it would continue to deepen.

However, if the aspiration is not very effective, we may skip it or pass through it quickly.

A third point here is that there is a more positive aspect of each aspiration which can be borne in mind. If one intends to emphasise a more positive aspect it can be used with much effectiveness looking into the meaning of each aspiration.

Enmity may refer to enmity within (e.g. defilement) and without us. A more positive aspect will be “May he have a lot of loving kindness”. Therefore we may also use the wish “May he be safe”. Enmity may also mean any dangerous and harmful elements within (e.g. defilements, bad kammic results ripening) or without (e.g. catastrophes, accident etc.)

Mental suffering refers to mental anguish, sorrow, frustrations, fears, despair, irritation and all types of defilements that are present to no end, as well as the unsatisfactoriness of conditioned existence. “May he/she be peaceful and happy” is a positive wish for this second aspiration.

Physical suffering will include all forms of physical discomfort, illness, ailments and incompleteness. It is possible that the wish can be put as “May he/she be healthy and strong”.

This means that we wish him (or her) to be able to carry out all the activities in his life or maintenance of life such as waking up, eating, caring for his livelihood, looking after his children, wife, house, while resting, carrying out his spiritual activities and even having peaceful sleep.

The last of those aspirations is by itself positive. The negative variant can be “May he not have any trouble, problems, obstacles in taking care of himself”.
I have tried this on myself and others and it does have a different effect psychologically, stronger towards well-wishing than negative phrasing which tends towards compassion and cancellation of suffering. This is therefore one part that is worth consideration. A possible alternative would be to use both, which would increase the aspirations from 4 to 8.

Here we also notice that too many aspirations for the beginner may not be beneficial to concentration. Hence we stick to just 4 aspirations.
Another modification can be considered if a further specification of the wish is required, such as “May he be free from the deadly disease of cancer which is afflicting him”, or maybe even a single wish for a son that he may be able to do well in his studies.

These are more specific and therefore not applicable all the time and to everyone. Nevertheless, it is a wholesome wish of metta and, when made with strong and deep concentration, will have its effects.

At the beginning, the flow is not smooth and does not last long. One has to guard against just merely reciting the aspiration without feeling. One has to guard against indiscriminate and uncontrolled thinking (which leads to restlessness) while trying to arouse metta. One also has to guard against frustration if metta does not arise. Therefore it is very important that mindfulness is present when these hindrances arise.