Metta Bhavana is a meditation technique with origins dating back to ancient India and is a central practice within Theravada Buddhism.“Metta” is a word in Pali, the language of early Buddhist teachings, which is commonly translated as “unconditional love” or “loving-kindness.” “Bhavana,” also in Pali, translates as “cultivation” or “development.” Therefore, Metta Bhavana refers to the cultivation or development of loving-kindness or unconditional love.
The origins of Metta Bhavana are in the teachings of Gautama Buddha, who, according to Buddhist scriptures, promoted the practice of loving-kindness towards all beings. This teaching was recorded in various scriptures and sutras, including the Karaniya Metta Sutta, one of the best known and most quoted texts in the Pali canon, which contains the Buddha’s instructions on how to practice Metta Bhavana.
The Buddha spoke of Metta as one of the “Four Sublime Abodes” (also known as Brahma-Vihara), along with compassion (Karuna), altruistic joy(Mudita) and equanimity (Upekkha). These four states are taught to be the ideal mental attitude for all situations and towards all beings.
The meaning of Metta Bhavana is varied and profound. At the most superficial level, it is the practice of directing love and kindness to oneself and others. However, it goes beyond a simple act of benevolence. In essence, Metta Bhavana is a path towards deep understanding of the interconnectedness of all beings and liberation from ego and judgment.
Metta Bhavana involves a personal and spiritual transformation, a shift in perspective that recognizes the shared humanity and vulnerability of all beings. Instead of seeing others as different or separate from ourselves, Metta meditation teaches us to see the fundamental similarity and interconnectedness of all.
It is a practice that not only helps us improve our relationships with others, but also allows us to look at ourselves with more kindness and understanding. Through Metta Bhavana, we learn to be kinder to ourselves, to accept ourselves as we are, and to be more compassionate and patient.
Furthermore, in Metta meditation, unconditional love is seen as a path to liberation from mental afflictions, including hatred, aversion, envy and resentment. By actively cultivating Metta, one can dissolve these negative states of mind and experience greater peace and happiness.
How to practice Metta Bhavana
Practicing Metta meditation is not as complicated as it may first appear. Although it has its roots in ancient Buddhist teachings, it is not necessary to be a Buddhist to practice and benefit from Metta Bhavana. In essence, it is a practice of love and compassion that everyone can learn and apply in their daily lives.
Preparing for meditation
Before beginning meditation, it is important to prepare properly. First, find a quiet place where you can sit without being interrupted for a period of time. This place does not necessarily have to be quiet, but it should be a place that is comfortable for you and where you are at peace.
Choose a meditation posture that allows you to remain alert and relaxed at the same time. You can sit on the floor, on a meditation cushion, or in a chair. The posture itself is not as important as your ability to keep your back straight and remain comfortable during meditation.
After finding a suitable place and a comfortable posture, it is helpful to spend a few minutes focusing your attention on your breathing. This allows you to settle and concentrate, preparing you for the practice of Metta Bhavana.
The Five Steps of Metta Bhavana
Metta Bhavana is practiced in five stages, each of which involves sending metta, or love and kindness, to different people.
- Sending Metta to oneself: The first step is to send Metta to oneself. This may be challenging for some people, but it is an important step. You can think of something you like about yourself or a time when you felt good. Then mentally repeat phrases like “May I be well. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I live with ease.
- Send Metta to a friend or loved one: The second step involves thinking of a friend or loved one. Try to evoke a sense of love and affection for this person and then repeat the same metta phrases for them.
- Send Metta to a neutral person: In the third step, think of someone neutral toward whom you do not have particularly strong feelings, either positive or negative. It could be a neighbor, a co-worker, or even a stranger you see often. Repeat the metta phrases for this person.
- Send Metta to a difficult person: The fourth step can be the most challenging. Here, you try to send Metta to someone with whom you have difficulty or conflict. This may require patience and persistence, but it is an essential part of Metta meditation.
- Sending Metta to all beings: In the last step, you try to expand the feeling of love and kindness to include all beings, without distinction. This includes all people, animals, and life forms, no matter who they are or how they have treated you.
Benefits of Metta meditation
Metta meditation, like any form of meditation, offers a variety of both physical and mental benefits. Beyond that, the specific practice of Metta Bhavana can have profound and transformative impacts on our relationship with ourselves and others. Here are some of the most prominent benefits of practicing Metta Bhavana in our lives:
- Improved mental health: Cultivating a sense of loving-kindness towards self and others allows us to learn to manage our emotions more effectively and to free ourselves from negative thought patterns. This translates into reduced symptoms of stress and anxiety.
- Increased happiness and well-being: When we focus on positive feelings of love and compassion, we can cultivate a more positive and joyful attitude towards life.
- Improved personal relationships: If we learn to see others with kindness and compassion, we can improve our interactions and relationships with others. This can lead to greater understanding and harmony in our personal and professional relationships.
- Developing empathy and compassion: By practicing sending love and kindness to a variety of people, including those with whom we have difficulty, we can learn to understand and appreciate the experiences of others in a deeper way.
- Self-compassion and self-acceptance: This practice can help cultivate greater self-compassion and self-acceptance, allowing us to treat our own struggles and difficulties with kindness and understanding.
- Reduced negativity and judgment: By cultivating a sense of unconditional love and compassion, we can learn to see ourselves and others with a more loving and accepting gaze, reducing the tendency to negatively judge ourselves and others
- Improved physical health: By reducing stress and anxiety, Metta meditation can contribute to better cardiovascular health, improved sleep quality and a stronger immune system.
Cultivating Metta in our daily lives
The practice of Metta Bhavana is not limited only to moments of sitting meditation. Although this is an essential aspect, the true purpose of cultivating Metta is to take it beyond the meditation hall and apply it to our daily lives. Metta Bhavana is a philosophy of life, a path to understanding and compassion that can transform our relationship with ourselves and others.
Metta Bhavana in our personal relationships
The most obvious place where we can apply Metta Bhavana is in our relationships. Too often, our interactions with others can be influenced by judgments, expectations, resentments or fears. However, by practicing Metta Bhavana, we can begin to change our perspective.
For example, when we encounter someone who challenges or angers us, instead of reacting defensively or with anger, we can try to view that person with Metta, remembering that, like us, that person also wishes to be happy and avoid suffering. This shift in perspective can have a significant impact on the way we interact with others, allowing us to respond with compassion and understanding rather than reacting impulsively.
Metta Bhavana in our dealings with ourselves
Not only can we apply Metta Bhavana in our relationships with others, but also in our relationship with ourselves. Many people have a tendency to be critical or hard on themselves. However, by cultivating Metta, we can learn to treat ourselves with more kindness and compassion.
For example, when we make a mistake or face a failure, instead of criticizing ourselves harshly, we can remember to practice Metta. We can remember that we all make mistakes, which are part of growing and learning. We can treat our difficulties and failures with kindness and understanding, rather than with judgment or criticism.
Metta Bhavana in our daily interactions
In addition to our personal relationships and our dealings with ourselves, we can also cultivate unconditional love in our daily interactions. Every day, we encounter a multitude of people, from the cashier at the supermarket to the bus driver. These brief, seemingly insignificant interactions can become opportunities to practice Metta.
We can make a conscious effort to be kind and considerate to the people we encounter in our daily lives, remembering that each of them is a human being with his or her own struggles and joys. Even something as simple as a smile or a kind gesture can be a way of practicing Metta and even these small gestures can have a huge impact on the life of the person who receives them.
Metta Bhavana as a path to a more compassionate world
Beyond our personal relationships and daily interactions, Metta Bhavana can also be a pathway to a more compassionate and loving world. In a world that is often filled with division and conflict, the practice of Metta can be a powerful antidote.
By cultivating a sense of love and compassion for all beings, we can begin to see beyond the differences that often separate us. We can begin to recognize the shared humanity that unites us all, regardless of our race, religion, gender, or background.
Karaniya Metta Sutta
Below is a translation of the discourse on Metta or loving-kindness that Buddha gave to his disciples found in the Karaniya Metta Sutta:
1- This is what you should do For one who is knowledgeable of goodness Having glimpsed the state of perfect peace, May they be capable, honest and upright, Gentle in speech, meek and not proud. 2- Content and easy to be maintained, With few duties, and simple in life. Calm in their senses, domineering and modest, without greed of followers 3- Moreover, let them not do the least thing Which the wise would later reprove. Let them cultivate thought: That all may be well and safe, That all beings may be happy. 4- Whatever living creatures may be, Without exception, weak or strong, Long, huge or medium-sized, Or short, tiny or bulky 5- Be they visible or invisible, And those living far or near, Those born and those seeking birth, May all beings be happy. 6- Let no one deceive another Nor despise any being in any state; Let no one wish evil to others With resentment or hatred. 7- As with her own life A mother protects her child, her only child, from pain May all-embracing thoughts for all beings. 8- Cultivate a boundless heart of goodwill For all throughout the cosmos, In all its height, depth and breadth Love that is undisturbed And beyond hatred or enmity 9- Standing, walking, sitting or lying down, as long as you are awake, Pursue this consciousness with your strength: It is considered the Divine Abode - here and here and now. 10- Without clinging to wrong opinions, A pure heart, with clarity of vision, freed from all sense desires, is never born again in this world.