Insight Meditation Houston

Metta Suttas 10/07/19

Metta (or Loving Kindness) is one of four Brahma Viharas (or Divine Abodes), along with Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, and Equanimity. We practice cultivating these virtues in order to open and balance the heart. Metta is a mental state more than a feeling or a reaction. Practicing loving-kindness purifies the mind, releasing fears and doubts. Over time, we develop unconditional friendliness and let go of negative judgments about ourselves and others. 

To cultivate that friendliness, we begin with metta for ourselves. At the start of a chapter called “Developing the Kind Heart,” Mark Coleman quotes Robert Brault: “Stay out of the court of self-judgment, for there is no presumption of innocence.” Unless we are mindfully attentive, the inner critic can become a tyrant, bombarding us with negative self-talk. If we believe its messages, we focus on our shortcomings and minimize our good qualities and actions. 

Coleman points out that with kind awareness, we can identify when inner judgments arise and make a choice not to engage with them but to release them. Consciousness of how negative thoughts hurt the heart can motivate us to protect and care for ourselves. We may need to mobilize a fierce strength to refuse to listen to harshly self-critical messages. Sense a firm, loving voice that says, “No!” 

Once there is a healthy space or distance from the wounds caused by internalized judgments, we can examine whether such criticisms are useful or even accurate. From a more spacious perspective, we can cultivate a positive and appreciative attitude towards ourselves, recalling our good qualities and strengths. The metta practice of wishing ourselves well is an antidote to self-judgment. We can replace each self-criticism with a phrase of loving-kindness. The process of treating ourselves kindly allows us to bring more kindness to others.  

On many occasions, the Buddha taught about the importance of developing loving-kindness. There is a distinction between the current Western focus on individual psychological benefits of metta practice and the Buddha’s broader emphasis on using the practice to promote community harmony and to liberate the heart-mind. Yet the underlying goal of freeing the heart to love more fully remains the same. 

“The Shorter Discourse in Gosinga” highlights the Buddha’s dialogue with three venerable monks on retreat: “I hope … that you are all living in concord, with mutual appreciation, without disputing, blending like milk and water, viewing each other with kindly eyes.” When one disciple assures him that indeed they are living harmoniously, the Buddha asks, “But, Anaruddha, how do you live thus?” The monk’s response is echoed by his Dharma friends and satisfies the Buddha: “Venerable sir, as to that, I think thus: ‘It is a gain for me, it is a great gain for me, that I am living with such companions in the holy life.’ I maintain bodily acts of loving-kindness towards those venerable ones both openly and privately. I maintain verbal acts of loving-kindness towards them both openly and privately. I maintain mental acts of loving-kindness towards them both openly and privately….” Consider how it would be to treat others in our lay sangha with this degree of loving-kindness. 

In another sutta (It 27, 19-21), the Buddha refers to how loving kindness can build merit for an auspicious rebirth. Whether or not we take literally the idea of being reborn after death, metta practice can lead to the birth of moments that are free from hatred and resentment. 

“Monks,” he says, “whatever grounds there are for making merit productive of a future birth, all these do not equal a sixteenth part of the liberation of the mind by loving-kindness. The liberation of mind by loving-kindness surpasses them and shines forth, bright and brilliant.

“Just as the radiance of all the stars does not equal a sixteenth part of the moon’s radiance, but the moon’s radiance surpasses them and shines forth, bright and brilliant, even so, whatever grounds there are for making merit productive of a future birth, all these do not equal a sixteenth part of the liberation of mind by loving-kindness….

“Just as in the last month of the rainy season, in the autumn, when the sky is clear and free of clouds, the sun, on ascending, dispels the darkness of space and shines forth, bright and brilliant, even so, whatever grounds there are for making merit productive of a future birth, all these do not equal a sixteenth part of the liberation of mind by loving-kindness….

“And just as in the night, at the moment of dawn, the morning star shines forth, bright and brilliant, even so, whatever grounds there are for making merit productive of a future birth, all these do not equal a sixteenth part of the liberation of mind by loving-kindness. The liberation of mind by loving-kindness surpasses them and shines forth, bright and brilliant.”

In another sutta, the Buddha responds to a student who asks about the path to the brahma world, which was considered to be one of the exalted spheres of rebirth (MN 99, Subha Sutta). 

“What, student, is the path to the company of Brahma? Here a monk dwells pervading one quarter with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth, so above, below, around, and everywhere, and to all as to himself, he dwells pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill will. When the liberation of mind by loving-kindness is developed in this way, no limiting action remains there, none persists there. 

“Just as a vigorous trumpeter could make himself heard without difficulty in the four quarters, so too, when the liberation of mind by loving-kindness is developed in this way, no limiting action remains there, none persists there. This is the path to the company of Brahma.” A metaphor for “the company of Brahma” might be harmonious relationships that result from a mind that is gradually so imbued with loving-kindness that caring actions follow naturally. 

Now let’s practice a guided metta meditation, starting with wishing ourselves well:

Sit comfortably with eyes closed. Breathe into the area of the heart. 

Be aware of warmth and pulsation in that part of the body.

Notice if any judgments are arising.

If so, what is the tone and message of the voice within? 

If the voice feels unhealthy or unhelpful, let it go. 

Resolve to treat yourself with kindness and tenderness.

Imagine yourself as an innocent child.

Direct the following Metta phrases towards your inner child:

May I be peaceful and happy. 

May I be healthy in body and mind.

May I release judgments and be at ease. 

May I love and accept myself just as I am. 

Repeat these phrases several times sensing their meaning resonating in the heart.

Then, exhale deeply and let go of the image of yourself as a child. 

Return to sensing the heart with its warmth and pulsation.

Now expand the practice to include someone you love. 

Either visualize the face or sense the presence of this dear one, while you repeat the metta phrases:

May you be peaceful and happy.

May you be healthy in body and mind.

May you release judgments and be at ease.

May you love and accept yourself just as you are.

Exhale deeply and let go of the image or felt sense of this beloved person. 

Return to sensing the heart with its warmth and pulsation.

Now expand the practice to include someone neutral, a person you do not know very well, perhaps someone who is new to the sangha. We move beyond our chosen familiar circle to remember that all beings are worthy of love. 

Either visualize or sense the presence of this neutral person, while you repeat the 

metta phrases:

May you be peaceful and happy.

May you be healthy in body and mind.

May you release judgments and be at ease.

May you love and accept yourself just as you are.

Exhale deeply and let go of the image or felt sense of the neutral person. 

Return to sensing the heart with its warmth and pulsation.

Now expand the practice to include someone difficult, a person with whom you have unresolved issues or even conflicts. Practice first with someone who is mildly annoying until you feel ready to include someone more challenging. Recall that many factors contributed to this person’s behavior towards you. Discordant words and actions often stem from inner suffering. We can wish that even people who are difficult might have less suffering. Either visualize or sense the presence of this person, while you repeat the metta phrases:

May you be peaceful and happy.

May you be healthy in body and mind.

May you release judgments and be at ease.

May you love and accept yourself just as you are.

Exhale deeply and let go of the image or felt sense of the difficult person. 

Return to sensing the heart with its warmth and pulsation.

Now expand the practice to include all beings everywhere, far and wide. 

This time we will use more general metta phrases, as the Buddha recommended:

May all beings be peaceful and happy.

May all beings be healthy and strong

May all beings be safe and secure.

May all beings be at ease.