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M11a Metta Bhavana Introduction and Basic Tools

by Kamalashila

Metta Bhavana - Introduction and Basic Tools

by Kamalashila

Audio available at: http://www.freebuddhistaudio.com/audio/details?num=M11a

General Advice on Meditation

On this tape I’m going to introduce you to the second meditation practice, and this is
called the “Metta Bhavana,” which means, “The Development of Friendliness.”

I’ve just got one or two general pieces of advice, before we start.

First of all, if you’ve decided to give meditation a try, why not do it properly? Why
not give your practice the best conditions for success? I expect it’s obvious that you
need as much peace and quiet as you can get to meditate undisturbed. But it would
also help very much if you practice at least once every day. And, if possible, that
should be at the same time every day. It doesn’t matter when exactly you do it. It’s
just that if you’re regular, progress in meditation will come much more easily.

To see if meditation is right for you, I suggest giving yourself a month to experiment
with it. After that, you can review any progress that you’ve made. And then, if you
decide that you’d like to take up meditation seriously, you’ll need some personal
guidance. This tape can’t tell you everything you need to know. So then is the time to
find out about Buddhist meditation classes in your area. It isn’t just that you need to
learn more from an experienced teacher. It’s also important that you find support and
encouragement by getting to know other people who meditate.

The other general piece of advice is to learn to become more aware, both in
meditation and outside it. When you’re meditating, of course, be aware of what you’re
trying to do. Keep reminding yourself that you’re focusing on the breathing or
developing friendliness, but also be aware of what is happening inside you. Notice
your feelings. Notice your emotions. Notice your thoughts. And notice your body. Be
aware of how you are holding yourself, how you are moving and what you are
actually doing physically. If you can be aware in all these ways outside meditation
too, you’ll find that you’re much better prepared for when you sit and meditate.

Introducing the Metta Bhavana

So, now I’ll introduce the second meditation.

As I said, it’s called the Metta Bhavana. “Metta” means “friendliness” or “loving-
kindness,” and “Bhavana” means something like “developing” or “creating.” So this
is the meditation that develops qualities like friendliness and kindness towards others.
And, if you think about it, these are very, very important human qualities. The
Buddha was an extremely wise man, to say the least. But as well as being a wise man,
he wasn’t irritable and grumpy, as sometimes very clever or intelligent people can be.
In fact, he was known to have been very generous, warm and friendly. When he
taught, he would always adapt his instruction to the temperament and spiritual needs
of the person he was speaking to. And, in Buddhism, this quality of friendliness is
considered at least as important as concentration for our spiritual development. In

1 fact, for many of us it may be even more important. I’m sure you know from
experience that if you’re in a grumpy, irritable mood, your understanding is narrow
and limited, but when you’re in a good state of mind, it’s easy to listen. It’s easy to
consider things objectively. It’s easy to understand. And it’s also easier to actually
feel kind and friendly. Meditating on loving-kindness is a way you can actively
cultivate healthier emotional states of mind.

Something that’s very interesting about this meditation is the way it starts. Right in
the beginning, right at the very first stage, we’re asked to develop loving-kindness
towards ourselves. It’s as though the practice is telling us that, if we want to befriend
others, we must first learn to befriend ourselves.

The Structure of the Meditation and the First Stage: Metta for Oneself

At this point, I’m going to give quite a detailed description of each stage of the
meditation, so don’t expect to take it all in at once. The Metta Bhavana is more
complex than the Mindfulness of Breathing. So I’m giving you all this information to
refer to later. When I’ve given this detailed description, I’ll lead you through the
practice itself. What you’re doing throughout this meditation is developing metta, or
loving-kindness, and you do that in five stages. You first develop metta towards
yourself. Then you develop it, in turn, towards a good friend, someone who is
emotionally neutral to you, and towards someone you find difficult. Then you imagine
all these people together, developing metta towards them equally. And finally, you
radiate the metta outwards to include everyone in the whole world.

Now, to do all that, you need to be well prepared. So, when you sit down, you spend a
little time settling down, collecting your thoughts and getting in contact with whatever
you happen to feel at the moment. And in Stage One this is very important, at this
stage when you’re concentrating on yourself. So be aware of any emotions you feel.
Maybe you feel joyful. Maybe you feel rather sad. Or maybe you couldn’t describe
what you feel in words. And that doesn’t matter. In fact, don’t even try. Just
experience whatever’s there. You may not feel anything at all, just a blank. Again, it
doesn’t really matter. Just feel blank - that’s how you feel. While you’re experiencing
whatever it is that you feel, generate friendliness and kindness toward yourself, and
keep your attention as constantly as you can on that feeling.

General Points on Developing Metta

Now, before we go on to Stage Two, there are a few points that might be helpful in
actually developing kindness and friendliness.

When the experience you have at first is pleasant and enjoyable, you’re going to find
it easy to feel kind and friendly. But when it’s painful or just blank, there’s probably
more of a tendency to react negatively. But remind yourself that these reactions are
really just habits. They’re habits that you can change. So watch out for these
reactions. Be patient, and whatever the circumstances, keep developing the metta as
best you can.

And the metta might be rather weak at first. And that doesn’t matter. Don’t be put off,
because it’s more difficult when you’re starting from cold. Metta Bhavana is like

2 trying to get a flame from a smouldering ember. You need to use your imagination to
coax some new positive feeling into existence. It might help if you say to yourself,
“May I be happy and well,” or something like that – any phrase that calls up a positive
emotion quite genuinely. And don’t just repeat any words that you might choose.
Don’t just repeat them automatically. Consider their meaning, and allow yourself time
to actually respond to what you say.

And yet another approach is to recollect a time when you were very happy, recapture
in your imagination what that was like. Or you can consider all the potential which
you have as a human being. You can reflect that you could actually realize this
potential with the right kind of effort. So, if you find this inspiring, reflect in that way.
And what if you don’t find it inspiring? Well, you can just try something else.
Experiment. Experiment in whatever way you like. Maybe it would help to reflect on
a mental image. What about a flower? Say, a beautiful pink rose opening its petals?
Or you could imagine a bright summer’s day. So, do you get the idea? I’m saying
that you can explore and use any method you find helpful. These are just a few ideas
that I found helpful in getting some positive emotion flowing.

And, as you gradually contact the quality of metta, concentrate on that quality with
your whole heart and your whole mind. The more you concentrate on any thought or
feeling, the stronger it gets. So, once you’ve contacted any degree of metta, focus
upon it. Put your energy behind it, and over time it’ll get stronger.

The Second Stage: Metta Towards a Friend

So, now we reach the second stage. We shift our focus of attention and develop metta
towards a friend. The actual person you choose for this stage can affect the quality of
the practice. So, as a general rule, don’t choose someone for whom you might have,
as it were, parental feelings. By that, I mean they shouldn’t be too much older or too
much younger than you are. And it’s also a lot more straightforward if you don’t
choose someone for whom you might have sexual feelings. Now, this is actually a
good friend of yours. So, developing the metta ought to be easy. In imagining them,
you might have a visual image of their face. Or it might simply be a feeling about
them, or a general impression of them, that you concentrate on. It could even be a
memory of a happy meeting in the past.

Now, as you concentrate on them, experience the way that you’re responding ...

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