Cultivating Loving Kindness

            Most of us wish to some extent to become more loving and compassionate people. Compassion is a virtue that is to be developed and cultivated through patient and sincere effort. It is important not just to have compassion for our family and friends but also to have compassion for those towards whom we feel negativity. Universal love is a concept that has been advocated by many spiritual teachers throughout history including Jesus Christ, The Buddha, and Lao Tzu, to name but a few. In the Metta Sutta, The Buddha’s Discourse on Loving Kindness, it is said, “Just as a mother protects her child, her only child, with her very life, even so with a boundless heart of love let one cherish all living beings.”

            Metta-Bhavana is a beautiful meditation practice that is used to develop universal love and compassion towards all beings. Metta-Bhavana when translated from Pali literally means ‘cultivating loving kindness.’ To begin practicing Metta-Bhavana find a quiet place where you can sit with your eyes closed. Begin by lightly observing the breath. Observe several breaths as they enter and exit the nostrils. Now visualize yourself in a happy state and mentally repeat several times ‘May I be happy’. When doing this we are sending love to and wishing goodwill upon ourselves. This principle of starting the practice by sending love and energy to one’s self is foundational to Metta-Bhavana. For, how can a person who does not love themselves love anyone else?

            Next, send goodwill and love towards someone who is very dear to you, usually a close family member. A parent, a child, a sibling, or spouse is a usual place for the Metta practice to flow. Visualize this person in a happy state and mentally repeat several times ‘May (name of the person) be happy’. After sending love and goodwill to this person for several moments allow the Metta to flow to the next person, usually again a very close family member. Send this love and goodwill to many people who are dear to you.

            The next step is to send these same loving thoughts to a person towards whom you are more or less emotionally neutral. This person could be the mail carrier or the librarian or anybody towards whom you do not have either great feelings of affinity or animosity. Visualize this person in a happy state and mentally repeat several times ‘May (name of the person) be happy’. Continue in this manner with several such emotionally neutral people.

            After sending positive vibrations to these people towards whom you are emotionally neutral the next step is to send these same loving wishes and thoughts to people towards whom you feel negative emotions such as anger, hate, or jealousy. Visualize one such person and mentally repeat several times ‘May (name of the person) be happy’. Continue with several such people. By sending the same thoughts of love and benevolence towards people for whom one feels negativity, the Metta practitioner develops a very deep well of compassion and universal love. One should then send positive energy to the meditation teacher who has given this wonderful practice of Metta-Bhavana to the practitioner and then one’s own self again, bringing the process full circle. Finally you can mentally repeat several times ‘May All Beings Be Happy’. Lightly observe the breath several more times to finish your round of practice.

“Discourse on Loving Kindness”. Naljor Prison Dharma Service. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 May.2011.