Metta Meditation

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Metta is an ancient Buddhist word for love, meaning here: universal good-will, universal friendliness, loving-kindness - a kindness that we can extend to all beings. See the Metta Sutta, a famous teaching from the Buddha.

A wish for the welfare of the many:

May the Supreme Abiding
be realised in the hearts of all, intending thus:

Above, below, outwards and unbounded,
may all beings throughout the universe,
without exception,
be well, and free from harm;

may all beings have happiness,
and the causes of happiness,
may they be free from sorrow,
and the causes of sorrow;

Enjoying well-being, may they be free:
free from all which limits their vision of Suchness.

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The Supreme Abiding of Universal Love

“Let thoughts of loving-kindness pervade the whole world, above and below, outwards and unbounded, free from any hatred or ill-will. 
      Whether standing or walking, sitting or lying down, during all one’s waking hours, tend this mind of goodwill, which is called the state of sublime abiding.” (The Buddha, Sutta Nipata 150-151)

Metta meditation opens the heart; develops meditative concentration; and introduces us to our true nature.

A specific strength of ‘metta practice’ – universal friendless - is that it waters the seeds of wholeness in us. We have accumulated throughout beginningless time the seeds of spiritual fulfilment. Through actions of body, speech and mind which involved generosity, patience, care, honesty, simplicity, and so on, we have – perhaps even unbeknown to ourselves – accumulated a ‘store’ of positive qualities that have the potential to ripen into spiritual flowering. This practice of loving-kindness – ‘metta’ – waters these seeds. So important was the orientation of universal good-will, that the Buddha emphasised it regularly.

No being is without some past virtue. We have planted so many seeds capable of giving birth to a stable happiness, and yet we can – lost in our day-to-day habit-mind - forget that we have this background; we can forget to nurture this potential through being lovingly mindful in the present, this potential which has been generated by our own past acts of body, speech and mind. Over time, metta-cultivation develops many qualities in us, but it particularly nurtures a positive outlook, because it opens the heart.

While metta practice develops concentration in the same way that other meditations do, metta also develops spaciousness of the heart-mind, and in directing the heart toward universal considerations, it addresses the deeper needs of our nature, inclining us toward our innate nobility. The full development of loving-kindness brings us into alignment with our fundamental nature, so that freed from all limitations, we are “not born again into this world.” This traditional phrase means we realise the Unborn nature of all things, the Unbound. Metta is that powerful, and that is why the Buddha said:

“You should train yourselves thus: ‘We will develop and cultivate the liberation of mind by love, make it our vehicle, make it our foundation, stabilise it, exercise ourselves in it, and perfect it fully.’ Thus you should train yourselves.” (Samyutta Nikaya, IX, 20)

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A Metta Meditation:

Sit in a standard meditation posture. Take your time with repeating the following phrases. Keep 10% of your attention for your posture and breathing, and, as usual, when your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the task at hand.

Establish awareness of breathing, and then direct good-will as follows:

"Above me -
May all beings without exception, as far as space and time extend:
Be safe and well.
May they have happiness, and have the causes of happiness.
May they be free from sorrow and the causes of sorrow.
May they realise the Real, the Deathless, true peace and true love."

"Below me -
May all beings without exception, as far as space and time extend:
Be safe and well.
May they have happiness, and have the causes of happiness.
May they be free from sorrow and the causes of sorrow.
May they realise the Real, the Deathless, true peace, and true love."

Repeat the above loving wishes:
"To my left -"
"To my right -"
"Before me -"
"Behind me -"

Then, in all directions, thus:

"In all these six directions and at all points in between - in every direction -
May all beings without exception, as far as space and time extend:
Be safe and well.
May they have happiness, and have the causes of happiness.
May they be free from sorrow and the causes of sorrow.
May they realise the Real, the Deathless, true peace, and true love."

Then:

"May I be safe and well.
May I have happiness, and have the causes of happiness.
May I be free from sorrow and the causes of sorrow.
May I realise the Real, the Deathless, true peace, and true love."

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Metta Sutta

The Buddha's Words on Loving-Kindness

This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech.
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied.
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skilful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.

Wishing in gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born,
May all beings be at ease!

Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings:
Radiating kindness over the entire world
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again [into a womb].

Translation by the Sangha (Buddhist community) of Amaravati.
However, so as not to reflect a life-denying attitude in this beautiful translation, I've changed the last line - which had read 'not born again into this world.' I changed it to more accurately reflect the original Pali word {jātuggabbhaseyya = conceived in a womb). You might want to read the Bhikkhu Buddhadasa's essay for a helpful, liberating view of 'rebirth' and 'cessation of rebirth.'

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