This is the First in a five part series. Here are the links to all parts:
This series is a fairly comprehensive treatise on Metta, both what the Buddha taught about it, and putting it into practice in ourlives. There are a variety of methods but only two practiced come close to what the Buddha taught. The method I wanted to describe today is one I use most often, it is part of my daily practice and connects with me most. What I am showing you here is my version of this practice, the great thing about metta is that you can play with it to find what works for you, you can make it your own.
(Just a quick word on translation of Metta.. it is most often translated as loving-kindness, which is an old translation and to myself and many others does not really encapsulate what is meant by metta. I personally prefer boundless or limitless goodwill, as translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, which to me fits best, Goodwill being defined as – friendly, helpful, or cooperative feelings or attitude. This is not about loving all beings, or even necessarily liking them, this is about good will. )
The Pali term that best describes the method I will be describing is metta-cetovimutti, Translated as the liberation of mind through limitless goodwill.This method was taught to me here at Bhavana as “exalted metta”. Here is the sutta reference, I’ve also attached the pictures here for visualization help.
“And what, householder, is the exalted deliverance of mind? Here a bhikkhu abides resolved upon an area the size of the root of one tree, pervading it as exalted: this is called the exalted deliverance of mind. 1181 Here a bhikkhu abides resolved upon an area the size of the roots of two or three trees, pervading it as exalted: this too is called the exalted deliverance of mind. Here a bhikkhu abides resolved upon an area the size of one village, pervading it as exalted…[ 147]… an area the size of two or three villages… an area the size of one major kingdom… an area the size of two or three major kingdoms… an area the size of the earth bounded by the ocean, pervading it as exalted: this too is called the exalted deliverance of mind. – MN 127
So first things first, as with all proper metta, you need to begin with yourself. You cannot possibly hope to have limitless goodwill for all beings if you do not have it for yourself first. I like to use the simile of the oxygen mask. If you’ve ever been on a plane and listened to the safety speech, you know that the attendant always says if you are traveling with children always put YOUR OWN mask on first before assisting other passengers, Metta is just like that.
So you begin by developing thoughts and feelings of goodwill towards yourself, building up a mind state of good will. You can use words, visualizations, self talk, whatever works for you. The important thing is not the words and visualizations, but the mental state itself, the words and visualizations help get you to that state. The more you practice the easier it is to find that mental state and that “feeling” of metta, even sometimes without needing the words and visuals to get you there.
Here is an example of a set of words I’ve developed for my own use:
May (I/we/all beings) find happines
May (I/we/all beings) find Peace
May (I/we/all beings) Live in friendship with(all beings/each other)
May (I/we/all beings) find release
(for self talk I’ll often say things to myself like “ it’s ok jay, you are doing the best you can, you are doing a good thing by doing your practice, etc. focusing on positive thoughts about yourself and giving yourself a little pep talk. This is something I use not just in metta but even when I’m struggling and during many other times.)
I also imagine the metta being a sort of energy that fills me up, it’s color is purple, not for any reason other then it’s the color I thought fit best. This energy created permeates me as I am giving metta to myself. Now however, once I have that feeling of metta for myself, it’s time to launch that metta ever outwards.
I visualize the metta exploding out from me in the shape of a sphere, almost like some magic spell might look. This sphere grows ever larger, with me at it’s center.
Now here is where it gets good. This sphere gradually gets larger so that it encompasses the whole of the building you are in(or if outside the general property), then larger to encompass all beings in your state, ever larger encompassing all beings in your country, then all beings on the planet. Sometimes I have visualizations where images of a large variety of beings flicker through my awareness, especially at the point where I’ve reached the level of earth.
At this point Earth is there, as in the image above, totally encompassed in that purple sphere of metta. I often take a pause here, before heading out into the universe, and so I will take a quick one and explain that you can use words for each level in addition or even instead of visualizations. This is said just like the word phrasing above, starting with “may all” for each group.
May (all beings/all of us) in/on ( this state/country/planet/universe etc):
-Live in friendship with(all beings/each other)
So now It’s time to branch out. I begin the visualization of the purple metta sphere expanding ever outwards as the earth gets smaller and smaller and then disappears as stars turn into the milky way. You can pause at this point to visualize the whole milky way, with it’s hundred billion stars, encompassed in the metta sphere, you can say the words if you wish.
It’s time to move on again, the milky way gets ever smaller and other galaxies come into view which are also getting smaller millions, billions, hundreds of billions, soon you are looking at the universe(the purple web is essentially a “picture” of the universe put forth by astronomy). At the pause you are with the universe, encompassing all of it whole with your limitless goodwill, all beings everywhere in the universe, in any form of existence, you can say the words once more.
But wait.. we aren’t done here just yet. Being an astronomy buff I take it to the next level. The visualization continues to expand with the metta sphere as the universe itself begins to grow smaller… suddenly it’s encompased in a sphere, and as you expand out you see others, dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions of universes. You are now in the multiverse. it is here where that release of mind reaches it’s peak. You are expanding the metta spehere, expanding your limitless good will, beyond the limits of our current experience. You are now encompassing all beings in any form of existence, in any universe or plane of existence, anywhere, and everywhere.
Every single living being that exists, you offer your goodwill, your friendship, your feelings of camaraderie, for all fellow beings who share existence with you… ALL of US, come into existence, live for a time, then pass away, all of us who have physical forms are children of the stars, ie we are made up of material that came from the heart of an exploding star. I’m not talking about a sort of “universal mind” or “universal one-ness”, the Buddha never taught that, but a camaraderie born of siblingship, of being in the same boat(samsara) as it were.
That is basic exalted metta as taught at Bhavana and personalized by me. I do this process while reciting the metta sutta, while looking up at the stars, when I wake up, and when I go to bed. Remember the words ands visualizations are not set in stone, you find what works best for you to develop the feeling of metta. I often describe the feeling as that feeling you get sitting around the table with close family and friends, a feeling of safety, acceptance, friendship, with no emnity or fear.
Metta is not about whether others like you or hate you or care about you. There is nothing magical about metta, you are not sending healing or peaceful waves at people expecting them to “get” the positive thoughts etc. Metta is about developing your own mind to be free of ill-will and negativity, and that is always worth it.
“Happy indeed we live, friendly amidst the hostile. Amidst hostile men we dwell free from hatred. Dhp 15”
To close, I think this Metta practice is perfectly captured in one of my favorite poems “Outwitted” by Edwin Markham:
“He drew a circle that shut me out — Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But Love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle that took him in!”