Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Loving kindness (metta) meditation

Loving kindness or metta in the Pali is one of the four noble virtues, along with compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity.  Although each of these virtues can be practiced as meditations, metta meditation is by far the more commonly practiced.  Loving kindness meditation is distinct from mindfulness meditation because it is a tranquility meditation in which specific objects are the focus.

In doing metta mediation, you focus on a person or being and wish them well.  The scripted words are as simple as "May X be happy, healthy, and peaceful."  The important thing is the intention, not the feeling of loving kindness itself.  In other words, don't try to force the feeling but do try to generate a genuine intention.  The feeling of loving kindness may or may not arise but do not worry about that.  The object of loving kindness should be held in mind while generating the intention.  A visual image or a felt sense of that person is best.   The usual sequence is to direct loving kindness towards yourself, first of all, and then go on to an admired person, such as a teacher or benefactor; a friend or loved one; an acquaintance about whom you have neither strong negative or positive feelings; and, finally, a difficult person or an enemy.  There are certain cautions.  If you direct loving kindness towards a loved one, it should not be mixed with sexual feelings; better to avoid that "hot" someone and choose someone with whom you have a more platonic relationship.  You should not direct loving kindness toward a dead person since grief will likely arise.  Directing loving kindness to a person with whom you are having significant difficulties can be quite challenging; this practice should probably be practiced only when you have had success with the other objects of loving kindness.  The most difficult thing for many is directing loving kindness towards themselves.  This can be for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes people have feelings of self-loathing that are difficult to overcome.  Sometimes people feel that it is unseemly to direct loving kindness towards themselves and think it selfish or proud.  Often the simple problem is that, while it is relatively easy to conjure up an image of another person or have a felt sense of someone else,  it hard to do this with yourself.  Ven. Khippapanno recommends that you have a recent photo of yourself and look at it while directing loving kindness to yourself and then see if you can retain the image when you close your eyes and direct loving kindness to the image.  You can do this repeatedly until you can form the image easily.  

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