An Overview of Loving-kindness Meditation

May all beings have happiness
and the causes of happiness!

May all beings be free from suffering
and the causes of suffering!

May all beings never be separated
from the supreme joy that is beyond all sorrow!

May all beings abide in equanimity,
free from attachment and aversion!

Going through the Buddhadharma teachings I’ve collected over the years, I came across a “golden oldie” from Buddhanet that I had archived in 2002. Reading it eight years later, I was struck by how helpful the teaching is and how skillful. I offer it here, at Metta Refuge, as further aid to your metta, loving-kindness, practice.

May the hearts of all beings be filled with happiness and peace!

Loving-kindness Meditation

Loving-kindness meditation can be brought in to support the practice of awareness to keep the mind open and sweet. It provides a good balance which compliments insight meditation. Loving-kindness was the taught by the Buddha to develop selfless or altruistic love. Hatred cannot coexist with loving-kindness. It dissipates if we supplant it with thoughts based on loving-kindness.

It is a fact of life that many people are troubled by negative mind states yet do little about developing skills to deal with it. Yet even when the mind goes sour it is within most people’s capacity to arouse feelings of loving-kindness to sweeten it. Loving-kindness, as a meditation practice, specifically retrains the mind to overcome all forms of negativity. It brings about positive attitudinal changes by systematically developing the quality of ‘loving-acceptance’. In this way, it acts as a form of self-psychotherapy, a way of healing the troubled mind to free it from its pain and confusion.

Loving-kindness is practised as the first of a series of meditations that produce four qualities of love: Friendliness (metta), Compassion (karuna), Appreciative Joy (mudita) and Equanimity (upekkha).

The quality of ‘friendliness’ is expressed as warmth that reaches out and embraces others. When loving-kindness matures it naturally overflows into compassion, because it empathizes with people’s difficulties; one needs to be wary of its the near enemy, pity, which merely mimics the quality of concern without empathy.

The positive expression of empathy is an appreciation of other people’s good qualities or good fortune rather than feelings of jealousy towards them, which is the enemy of appreciative joy.

This series of meditations comes to maturity in the state of on-looking equanimity. This equanimity has to be cultivated within the context of this series of meditations or else it tends to manifest as its near enemy, indifference or aloofness. It remains caring and on-looking with an equal spread of feeling and acceptance toward all people, relationships and situations without discrimination.

Systematic Loving-kindness Practice

To receive its full benefits, loving-kindness meditation needs to be developed systematically to the level of meditative absorption or one-pointedness. The aim of the practice is to develop the five absorption factors of concentration: the first two are causal factors — applied thought and sustained thought, followed by three effects — rapture, ease-of-mind and one-pointedness or unification of mind.

The five absorption factors counteract the five mental hindrances or obstacles for the meditator: applied thought, by arousing energy and effort, overcomes the hindrance of sloth and torpor; sustained thought, by steadying the mind, overcomes skeptical doubt which has the characteristic of wavering; rapture, with its uplifting effervescence, prevails over feelings of ill-will; ease-of-mind, by relieving accumulated stress, counteracts restlessness or agitation of mind; while one- pointedness holds the mind’s wanderings in the sense-fields to inhibit sensuality.

Achieving deep concentration with this positive mind set will tend to imprint the new positive conditioning while overriding the old negative patterns. In this way, old negative habits are changed, freeing one to form new positive ways of relating.

How to do loving-kindness meditation

The practice begins with developing loving acceptance of yourself. If resistance is experienced then it indicates feelings of unworthiness are present. No matter, this means there is work to be done, and the practice itself is designed to overcome any feelings of self-doubt or negativity. Then you are ready to develop loving-kindness to others.

Four types of people are chosen to send your loving-kindness to:

A respected, beloved person — such as a spiritual teacher;
A dearly beloved — which could be a close family member or friend;
A neutral person — somebody you know but have no special feeling towards, eg. a person who serves you over a counter;
A hostile person — someone you are currently having difficulty with.

Starting with yourself, then moving systematically from person to person in the above order will break down the barriers between the four types people and yourself. It will break down the divisions within your own mind, the source of much of the conflict we experience.

Just a word of caution, it is best to choose a member of the same sex or if you have a sexual bias to your own sex then a person of the opposite sex. This avoids the risk of arousing the near enemy of loving-kindness, lust. Try different people to practise on as some people do not easily fit into the above categories, but do keep to the prescribed order.

Ways of arousing feelings of loving-kindness

Visualization — Bring up a mental picture. See yourself or the person the feeling is directed at smiling back at you or just being joyous.

By reflection — Reflect on the positive qualities of a person and the acts of kindness they have done. And to yourself, make an affirmation, a positive statement about yourself, using your own words.

Auditory — This is the simplest way but probably the most effective. Repeat an internalized mantra or a word or phrase such as ‘loving-kindness’.

The visualizations, reflections and the repetition of loving- kindness are devices to help you arouse a positive feeling of loving-kindness. You can use all of them or one that works best for you. When the positive feeling arises switch from the devices to the feeling, as it is the feeling that is the primary focus. Keep the mind fixed on the feeling, if it strays bring it back to the device or if the feeling weakens or is lost then return to the device, i.e. use the visualization to bring back or strengthen the feeling.

The second stage is Directional Pervasion where you systematically project the aroused feeling of loving-kindness to all points of the compass: north, south, east and west, up and down, and all around. This directional pervasion can be enhanced by bringing to mind friends and communities in the cities, towns and countries around the world.

Non-specific Pervasion tends to spontaneously happen as the practice matures. It is not discriminating. It has no specific object and involves just naturally radiating feelings of universal love. When it arises the practice has come to maturity in that it has changed preferential love, which is an attached love, to an all-embracing, unconditional love!

Loving-kindness is a heart meditation and should not be seen as just a formal sitting practice removed from everyday life. So take your good vibes outside into the streets, at home, at work, into your relationships. Applying the practice to daily life is a matter of purposefully directing a friendly attitude and having openness toward everybody you relate to without discrimination.

May All Beings Everywhere Be Safe and Secure!

About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

8 Responses to “An Overview of Loving-kindness Meditation”

  1. I have been practicing LKM for awhile and what bothers me is when I send out to all sentient beings I think of refugees, people in Syria, those starving in Africa, etc. and know they are not happy, safe, healthy, or at ease. There is nothing I can do to relieve that state of anguish. It bothered me so much, I sent in a recent donation to the International Rescue Committee, but every morning it continues to bother me when I send these blessings – it feels futile.

  2. Great content Metta Refuge! While I love your blog, I did not mean to “reblog” it. I thought I was doing something else, and am trying to figure out how to un-do this now, sorry about that! I would like to allow a link into one of my posts into your blog (which is what I was trying to do). Om Shanith, keep up the great work.

  3. Reblogged this on DC Heal .

  4. Thank you.

    The soul is touched, in every way positive energy flows through me today moment to moment, my eyes shine, words are not needed and the spirit does listen.

  5. Reblogged this on Life is Mysterious and commented:
    Loving Kindness


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