Metta: A peaceful weapon of loving-kindness
Discover the true unbound and unconditional love of Metta meditation, a 2500-year-old Buddhist practice. Metta has the power to permeate and transform hearts and minds and forms a peaceful weapon against ill thoughts and feelings.
The legend of Metta
During his life, the Buddha hosted every year a three-month-long retreat for his devoted followers. On one of these occasions, the Buddha sent 60 of his students into the Himalayan forest to practise meditation for weeks. Initially, the spirits who lived in the forest tolerated the visitors as they thought they were travelling through. However, when the students set up camp and did not leave, the spirits felt their beloved forest was being invaded by these strangers and started to rebel by haunting and frightening the meditating students. Overtaken by fear and despair, the students fled the forest.When the students told Buddha about their frightening experience, he answered: “You went without a weapon.” Legend is told that the Buddha armed them with the Karaniya Metta Sutta, also known as Metta Sutta or The Discourse on Loving Kindness.
Our true nature is loving–kindness
The Metta Sutta is a scripture in which the Buddha describes the ethics, practice and embodiment of Metta: loving-kindness. This form of loving-kindness is not limited by ulterior motive, is inclusive and does not discriminate. It is a deep feeling of unconditional love that is felt through our whole being, without any limitations or expectations of an outcome. It simply cultivates unconditional love.
According to the Buddha, our true nature is Metta. The cultivation of this unconditional love disentangles the mind from attachments towards behaviours that harm such as greed, hatred and delusion. He considered these behaviours as the poison to every living being that blocks us from being happy and at peace. If we allow good and loving intentions to flow, we have developed a peaceful weapon against these poisons.
The foundations of Metta
A fundamental part in all of the Buddha’s teachings is Sila, Samadhi and Panna. They are the blueprint of his teachings that help to understand, cultivate and embody the practice of Metta.
Silla: our ethics
Silla speaks to our conscience and refers to our ethics, moralities, virtues and behaviour in the world and with that how we show up to other beings and ourselves. The Buddha explains that our intentions should be respectful and at service of the heart. Harmful thoughts and behaviours interfere with the heart’s intentions.
Samadhi: mental development
Although we all process the seed of loving-kindness within us, we need a practice to help cultivate this. Samadhi cultivates greater feelings of peace, joy and happiness through mindfulness and concentration practices. When the mind gets still, it naturally becomes less discriminating or favourable towards certain thoughts, actions and outcomes. A less-blurred mind can see the effects of Metta more clearly.Metta teaches us to tolerate and accept parts of ourselves and others that otherwise would blur a clear, loving view of ourselves and the surrounding world.
Panna refers to the development of a wisdom that is not based on intellectual knowledge but rather on insights gained through the practice of Metta. It is the embodied wisdom of the practice that helps to change how we eventually will move through the world with a greater understanding and insight of this unconditional loving-kindness.
The Metta effect
The Buddha himself described many benefits of Metta practices such as sleep improvements, better concentration, calmness and feeling less harmed by others. Modern studies have shown that Metta meditations increase positive emotions such as love, joy, contentment, gratitude and hope. Some of these studies observed the positive effects on several health conditions such as migraine headaches, lower back pain, PTSD and event schizophrenia-spectrum disorders. It is believed that Metta meditation activates and strengthens areas of the brain that are responsible for empathy and emotional intelligence.
While the Buddha’s teachings of the Metta Sutta are more than 2500 years old, several practices of Metta meditation have been formed and created based on this scripture. One of these practices is Metta Bhavana. This practice focusses on developing and cultivating loving-kindness in stages. First to yourself, then to others such as a friendly person or a non-likeable person and then finally the larger community.
In this practice, intentions are expressed in phrases such as: “May I (or you, or we) be peaceful,” “May I (or you, or we) be at ease,” “May I (or you, or we) be free from harm and the cause of suffering.”
All well ends well
Buddhas’ students eventually went back to the Himalayan forest, where they chanted words of goodwill and loving-kindness from the Metta Sutta. The spirits in the forest received the intention and understood that there was no harm intended. As a token of their loving-kindness, the spirits protected the students and looked after them.
Feeling Metta — a practice
The following Metta practice encourages you to feel the sensation of love. Observe and experience feeling sensations of love from which you radiate and expand out towards others.
Get into a comfortable position, whether this is sitting on a meditation cushion, on a chair or lying down. Settle yourself by sensing your body and bodily sensations. Explore if you can get a sense of your current mood and emotions. Observe how you are feeling without placing it in any context of your life. Simply observe and feel.
Loving-kindness to yourself (up to five minutes)
Feel into any physical and emotional sensations of the heart and send a feeling of unbounded, unconditional love to yourself. Think of it like an embrace of loving-kindness that includes all the parts that you love about yourself but also the parts that you dislike, reject, judge, hate or ignore. Everything is seen and nothing is dismissed, even thoughts, criticism or doubt. Continue filling your heart with this limitless universal source of love and expand and radiate this feeling into your whole body. Bathe yourself in loving-kindness.
Loving-kindness to someone you love (three-five minutes)
Now start to move your attention towards a living being you know and you find easy to love. This could be any living being such as a pet, a plant, a parent, a child or a friend. Imagine this living being in front of you. Stay neutral by not getting into details, aspects or memories around this living being’s life. From your heart, radiate out the intention of loving-kindness. Wish in this way the same unbounded unconditional and limitless quality of Metta to this being.
Loving-kindness to someone who needs love (3 three-five minutes)
Picture in front of you a living being that is going through a challenging time. Send out the intention of feeling loving-kindness from the heart. Acknowledge the difficulties this being is facing and wish them well by giving presence and sending out the sensation of loving-kindness.
Loving-kindness to someone challenging (three-five minutes)
In our lives, we all deal with living beings that cause us difficulty and inner conflict. Imagine a living being that you find challenging. Approach this being with neutrality, without attachment to the challenge, and send out the feeling of loving-kindness.
Loving-kindness to the broader community (three-five minutes)
Finally, expand your intention of loving-kindness into the world. Radiate it out and include any and every living being.
After this, return back to yourself as you open your senses to the support of the earth, your breath and surrounding sounds.