The Cultivation of Loving-Kindness
The good symbol for Metta (loving kindness) is the
mother cradling her baby to sleep. The baby cradled to sleep will be the
result. I can still remember that it was a good feeling when I was cradled to
sleep by my mother. There is also a lot of joy when one is unselfishly caring
for a friend. Such is loving kindness and its results.
In the texts metta is characterised by the promoting of the aspect of welfare. Amity, goodwill, friendliness and loving kindness are some words used to describe this mental state. There is no better way to know it than to study it as it occurs in one's own mind and others'. It is a totally unselfish and pure state of mind that brings profit to oneself, others now and hereafter.
The cultivation of this state of mind is called Bhavana or normally translated as meditation. When we cultivate it, it becomes strong, powerful and useful. It brings us abundant, deep and intense peace and happiness.
The cultivation of it involves the following:
1. The concentration of metta. Concentrated, it becomes strong and powerful.
2. Metta is also trained so that it can be given to anybody. That is, it is flexible, versatile, universal and boundless.
3. When this potent force has become powerful we can make use of it to produce many marvels to make everyone's life better.
To do this effectively one needs the method. Acquiring the skill requires patience. With experience one improves.
Metta and its place in Buddhism
Metta in Buddhism is a state of mind. Its object is the lovable being. It is the state of wishing to promote the welfare of the lovable being. In the Buddhist teachings, the doctrine of anatta – or non-self – occupies a position of prime importance. As such it may seem to be conflicting. This is because there are two types of truths, conventional (sammutti) and ultimate (paramattha).
Conventional truths are conceptual, and true only at the conventional level. When seen in an ultimate point of view (i.e. a mind freed from ideas, concepts) they do not exist. They are like shadows cast by realities. Therefore the "person" exists only conventionally. Ultimately, "he" can be experienced as mental and material processes. If you see things in this way you are looking at things as they really are, which is actually insight (vipassana). To develop this direct vision into reality is to practise insight meditation – vipassana bhavana.
At such a time, we cannot be having metta as the nature of the objects differs. Moreover, when we return to conventional realities or switch back to conceptual objects then we may have the metta again. That is why, comparatively, vipassana is more profound and superior. It frees one utterly from all sufferings of samsara (cycle of birth and death).
Metta, however, must not be underestimated, although it has its limitations. Most of us will need a lot of time before we have completed the work of insight cultivation. And even after that metta will still play a great role. Even Buddhas are not always without conceptual objects. Concepts occur together with the mental formations and processes.
In the discourse to Subha, the Buddha answers questions posed to him as to the reasons for long life and so forth. From the answers, we find that the kammic results that lead to long life, good health, beauty, following, wealth, noble birth can be attributed to acts connected with loving kindness, compassion and sympathetic joy.
Therefore the Four Sublime Abodes (Brahmavihara: i.e. loving-kindness, compassion, altrustic joy and equanimity) act as a soothing balm to those still within the cycle of birth and death.
Besides these, we also see metta as an effective means:
1. to overcome anger – as it is the opposite of these violent and destructive mental states,
2. to build up the required concentration base for the development of insight, because with metta, our mind concentrates rapidly,
3. for a healthy relationship with every living being – so important for a happy family, society and the world.
From this we can see that Metta Bhavana is something that should be practised to some degree by everyone. Without it one not only tends to fail in social and personal relationships but is also at a great disadvantage when involved in spiritual practice.
Samatha Bhavana – The Cultivation of Tranquillity
Metta bhavana is one of the 40 themes for samatha bhavana listed in the Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga).
Samatha means tranquillity.
Bhavana means cultivation.
That is, the cultivation of loving kindness is one way by which we can attain tranquillity.
Tranquillity or Samatha refers:
firstly – to tranquillity freed of defilements. Truly the defilements of greed, hatred, delusion, jealousy, etc. are torturous and disturbing to the mind. The mind purified of these can truly be said to be peaceful.
secondly – to unification with or concentration of the mind on its object. It is because the mind that wanders to manifold objects is scattered, weak and tends to be restless. The still, fixed and concentrated purity gives strength and stability to tranquillity.
thirdly – to the removal of less peaceful states of mind which furthers and deepens the state of tranquillity. This is done when moving from the lower absorptions (jhana) to the higher ones. For example, while going from the first to second absorption, initial application (vitakka) has to be abandoned.
This book talks of the rupa jhanas in fivefold (as in
the abhidhamma) rather than fourfold (as in the Suttas).
Bhavana refers to the repeated cultivation of these peaceful states, so that it lasts longer and deeper. The wholesome state of mind here in this case will of course be the mind of loving kindness. The depth of concentration reached is the fourth form absorption (four rupajhana) in the fivefold classification. The objects of this mind may vary. In fact one can extend it to the unlimited number of beings. For this reason it is also called an immeasurable (appamanna).
In the development of the mind, one has to be holistic. The mind is involved with every aspect of life, and so every aspect ought to be considered. A good understanding of the teachings of the Buddha is important and with respect to meditation practice in particular.
The preliminary preparations given in the "Path of Purification" have appeared often in manuals and writings on meditation. It can also be applied to metta bhavana as well. We shall go through them briefly with reference to our subject.
1. Purity of morals:
This is the restraint from immoral acts, particularly of body and speech. All unwholesome states oppose wholesome states and so it is one initial level of purification. Those done out of the root of anger e.g. killing and slaughtering would directly indicate a failure of metta. Those done out of greed and ignorance would be an indirect but nevertheless still an opposing force. The first is the direct enemy and the second the close enemy. We are often more unwary of the second.
The four aspects of this are:
I. observance of precepts – e.g. five, eight for laity.
II. guarding of the senses – e.g. mindfulness when seeing, hearing, etc.
III. purity of livelihood.
IV. proper use of requisites – for monks.
2. Cutting off impediments:
The impediments mean anything that can obstruct and hinder one's practice. Ten impediments often quoted are:
I. unsuitable dwelling
IV. class of students
V. building work
X. supernormal powers
Though these are not necessarily unwholesome, they can
take away valuable time meant for the practice. They can also be a source of
attachments, anger or other defilements, to which a beginner is especially
Therefore, they are best abandoned as much as possible. For a layperson it would be difficult to abandon all.
With special inference in the case of metta bhavana would be those impediments concerning people (no. II, IV, VII). Here it may seem conflicting because one may ask – "Can you abandon them when you are to have loving kindness?" We have to bear in mind that to really have strong metta for others, we have to establish ourselves firmly first. For example we need really strong and powerful metta and patience to be able to take a lot of nonsense from others. And so solitude and training has to come first. There will be time for all that later.
Another matter concerns psychic powers. To maintain
them needs concentration itself. And so it would not be an impediment in metta
bhavana. It seems to occur as an impediment more for vipassana only.
In samatha meditations the environment is at best very quiet and comfortable as it aids in the calming of the mind. A natural environment of trees and streams also adds to the peace and natural settling down of the mind. Fresh air and freedom from pests provide safety and health, remove anxiety, whilst cleanliness and orderliness are also to be noted as they help bring about concentration. Another factor is suitable companionship: such as fellow strivers with little or no anger, those who do not irritate or are not restless would make ideal companions if one should need them. Better will be those who have abundant metta or are accomplished in metta.
3. Suitable place:
The Anguttara Nikaya says that a suitable environment
ought to have the following:
I. convenience – coming and going
II. quiet – peace by day and night
III. freedom from dangers
IV. well-furnished in requirements
V. presence of a guide
4. Competent guide:
As in other forms of meditation, a good guide is an
important factor for learning. It is best if we find one who is learned,
well-restrained and accomplished in meditations. In this case it would be one
accomplished in metta bhavana or the brahma vihara.
Then there is also the skill needed to teach and communicate.
5. Suitable subject of meditation:
The subject here is of course loving kindness (metta). Usually the practice of the four divine abidings (brahma vihara) are taken together. They all have a being/beings as the object, or we may say that they are all a positive mental relationship for one or a group of beings.
This form of meditation is especially suitable for those who intend to overcome anger or anger-related problems (e.g. bad temper, jealousy, cruelty, fear, worry and anxiety).
It is also very practical as it creates good
relationship between and among people. This makes life and work in society easy
and happy. This meditation is also generally suitable for beginners for it
brings quick results. It has been said, for one with metta, the mind calms
quickly. It is also fairly safe without much complication.
Hence metta is one of the tranquillity meditations recommended for beginners.
6. Severing minor impediments:
This finishes the minor bits of work to be done i.e. tying up all loose ends which may cause some flurry or an unsettled state of mind.
7. Getting detailed or specific instructions on the meditation subject:
Meditation, the development of individual mind, requires specific skills and direct practical experience. As such, although there are general implications, one will still require specific instructions that suit the individual's temperament and situation for maximum effectiveness.
Motivation is an important factor for the accomplishment of any task. For the successful cultivation of loving kindness one has to have a lot of patience to persevere and overcome all sorts of difficulties.
Therefore the initial stage involves reflections on the following:
I. benefits of patience, and
II. benefits of loving kindness, and
III. the dangers of anger.
Such reflections can also be done as often as possible to serve as a frequent reminder and motivation.
Reflection on Patience
I. Patience means being able to accept a situation
without flurry, anxiety and anger.
II. When one is patient, one avoids a lot of unnecessary trouble.
III. When one is patient, one is able to get a lot of good opportunities lost to the impatient.
IV. When one is patient, one is able to go far in one's achievements, for there will always be some difficulties in any great undertakings.
V. The patient man also overcomes a lot of anger in order to work with metta and other good virtues successfully.
We may also reflect on incidents in the lives of the Buddha and his disciples, how they overcame difficulties to achieve greatness with their patience.
One such story is the perfection of patience when the Buddha was still a Bodhisatta. Even when tortured with his hands and legs cut off he showed no anger. He merely asked the King who had ordered it done – "Do you think my patience is in my hands?" Finally the King had his heart cut out. Even then he showed no anger and was patient. He was called the bearer/practiser of patience – Khantivadi.
Similarly we can also reflect on the Benefits of Loving-kindness.
Benefits of Loving-kindness
1. Happily She/He Sleeps.
2. Happily She/He Wakes.
3. Dreams No Bad Dreams.
These first 3 benefits involve sleeping peacefully, and should not be underestimated. Sleep is a restorative process and plays an important part in our lives. If we do not get proper sleep our body and mind in the day will be badly affected and life will become miserable, as can be seen in the case of insomniacs.
For one who practises loving kindness his mind will bear no ill-will towards beings. His mind is also calm and filled with joy. These are conditions for easy and peaceful sleeping and when dreams do arise, the good states previous to sleep will have a good influence on these dreams.
After such good sleep, on waking up one would also be fit enough to take on the chores of daily life in a happy manner. This in turn makes all one meets happier.
In Buddhist psychology, the state of deep sleep is the life continuum consciousness, a state of mind without any thinking process. It is a result of kamma and acts as the mind door. When thought processes arise, the mind shifts from a passive to active state. Dreaming is also an active state that occurs in the mind. There are many reasons for dreams, of which four are quoted below:
I. Thinking in the day carried forward even after one
has cut off the awareness of one's surroundings.
II. Thoughts that arise through imbalance of elements in the body e.g. discomfort and illness. These strong sensations stir up thoughts.
III. Spirits or deceased relatives trying to make contact.
Dreams are often uncontrollable as they occur after normal awareness is cut off. How they arise is affected by our own basic nature and habits. One who is used to having evil thoughts in the day will carry them forward into his dreams.
Similarly one with good thoughts will have good dreams.
4. Loved by Human Beings.
by Non-human Beings.
We cannot avoid encountering other people or beings. Even a forest hermit may meet with wild animals! So it is best for all to tune into a favourable relationship. Metta is such a relationship that will foster welfare and benefit for each other. This makes a happy person, persons, families, communities, country, world and worlds. In this way one can avoid a lot of suffering.
Devas are beings that exist in heavenly dimensions. Although we may not be able to see them they are known to exert influence on people's lives. For those who are virtuous and with loving kindness for beings and devas, they may render help and protection.
Poison or Weapons will not be experienced by that Person.
Metta is a protective mental force and its tendency is to bring about beneficial states and put away harmful conditions. Fire, poison and weapons often associated with harmfulness are likewise put aside. This force is present to some extent when one has metta in one's heart. The stronger the metta, the stronger it can be. But when this force is absent, the armour of metta is likewise absent. The story of the Boddhisatta perfecting metta is a good example.
Mind Calms Down Easily.
As happiness is the near cause of concentration, it is obvious why metta has this benefit. Therefore it is a subject of concentration which can calm down the mind easily even for beginners. This is especially true in those of angry temperament and those who undergo a lot of stress in work. Besides, it is also quite safe to do so after brief instructions.
Complexion of the Face becomes Clear.
A happy face has a happy heart. It is pleasant to everyone. That's why you are advised to smile even if you don't feel happy. However in Buddhism, sincerity is also necessary otherwise it can be taken as hypocritical. Therefore metta serves as the best cosmetic for men and women, and for a good cause with good motives!
A good complexion is also a sign of good health. As a pure state of mind that brings benefits, it will also create beneficial substances in the body promoting good health. Conversely, how anger or other evil states of mind can cause illnesses such as gastritis and other psychosomatic illnesses is clearly known.
Death Takes Place Without Confusion.
When death is to take place, it is very important to keep the mind in a pure state as it has a strong influence on the ripening of the good kamma that will decide the nature of the next existence.
One with metta will have good kammas that will bring about peaceful death far from violence. His good kamma ripens as if good friends and relatives come from afar to greet him. It will bring about favourable and pleasant signs that will bring him to a happy rebirth.
If it goes no further (i.e., the fruits of Arahatta –
Enlightenment) the person goes to the Brahama world.
The four paths and fruitions are only attained through vipassana but metta can serve as a strong base of concentration. If this concentration has reached up to the absorptions (jhana) then it can bring rebirth in the brahma realms. If access concentration is reached it can give rise to existence in deva or human realms. Concentrated states are strong in kammic forces and being so are more likely to ripen over others.
Dangers of Anger
The converse of the benefits of metta would be the dangers of anger. In brief one would quote the opposite of loving kindness. One sleeps and wakes unhappily and dreams bad dreams. Humans, devas dislike him. Hounded he will be by enemies and demons. His life is likely to meet with violent dangers. His complexion is ugly and he suffers ill health. When death comes he dies confused and reaches the woeful states.
Anger being harmful, violent and aggressive would
cause much harm to oneself and others by the committing of evil deeds through
the body (e.g. killing, destroying, etc.), speech (cursing, slandering, lying,
etc.) and mind. Displeasure or unhappiness of mind will always be there when
there is anger. How can one be happy? More sadness, fear and terror will follow
as a result of deeds done. In short, one does things which one will be sorry
One should see the terror of these states. They can be avoided but positive and persistent effort must be made. It is too easy to be lax and make excuses for harmful acts that once done, cannot be undone. Then suffering is sure to follow. The reflection of the dangers of anger can help us to overcome anger and develop metta.
Beginning Practice of Loving-Kindness
There is no one posture in which you cannot send thoughts of metta. In intensive metta exercises, one radiates loving kindness all the time in whatever position one is in – standing, walking, sitting and (if not sleepy) lying down.
Usually sitting is alternated with walking. Gradually the sitting is lengthened.
When radiating metta while walking one does not really pay attention to the sensations or phenomena involved with the process of walking meditation as in vipassana. One just radiates as one walks along. As the concentration becomes more intense, slowing down would be only natural. At times one may just stand still and radiate. When the flow of metta ceases one will have to stop to arouse it again. The active nature of walking is involved with the energy faculty and hence helps keep up the arousing and sustaining of the flow of metta, i.e. the 1st and 2nd jhana factors – initial and sustained application (vitakka, vicara). A suggested period for walking is 1 hour. It also serves as an exercise for physical health.
The best posture is sitting in the full lotus with both legs crossed, soles facing upwards. The back is straight and hands on the lap with palms on top of each other, facing upwards.
Because most people are not able to withstand the strain at the ankles, most may adopt half lotus, one leg crossed above the other. There are other variations like the Burmese method where both legs are folded, but not pressing one on each other. There are sitting sideways postures and so on.
Generally the posture has to be balanced, back straight and legs folded in. This helps to keep an alert mind whilst keeping the body fairly comfortable. In Samatha meditation this is very essential especially at the start, after which one ought not to shift one's posture but remain still for long periods.
We can try to do it by relaxing from head to toe or toe to head, part by part, from externally, the skin, to internally, the bones and organs. Next we must make a resolution to put away all matters for the period of meditation. All matters must be put aside! Now is the time for meditation. Nothing else matters! If one is decisive enough most thoughts can be put away. Then we can make sure the mind is relaxed and peaceful. We also maintain an awareness or mindfulness or else it will fall to sloth.
After sitting in the desired posture, one ought to remain still with utmost relaxation to the point until the physical body is as if dead and not a single strain is felt. The body is as if it is not there at all. Then one may proceed to giving metta to oneself. When it is being done, try to do so very gently or else strain or restlessness may arise as well. Each thought aroused is as if it is a very small, subtle, soft bubble or mist suffusing out of the mind. In such a way we can preserve and increase the tranquillity.
Sometimes people think that giving metta to oneself is
selfish. That is because they misunderstand what is being done and the mental
Actually it is a sincere and unselfish wish to progress onwards in the spiritual path. That is, to be happier and healthier to practise better because one can give up anger and all the unwholesome states of mind with this practice.
One thus makes these wishes or aspirations one after another and lets them sink deep into the mind, creating far-reaching effects. One recites not just the words in the mind but rather sincerely makes the wish, understanding fully the meaning or idea.
May I be free from enmity
May I be free from mental suffering
May I be free from physical suffering
May I take care of myself happily
This is done for the first 5 minutes (of the sitting) which should last at least an hour. It serves several purposes.
Setting onself right.
One has to do this and this means having a pure objective that involves one's life in all its aspects. This would involve right livelihood, morality and so on. If this is not done, there is bound to be conflict during or outside meditation.
After seeing the need for oneself to be truly happy one can then understand better the need for others to be happy. It will serve to motivate and ease the outflow of metta for others.
Serves as preliminary concentration.
It is easier to arouse this sincere wish for oneself than for others. It makes an easier start to gain some degree of concentration which can develop to deeper levels as the practice progresses.
After this one can proceed to radiate metta to another person.
Selecting An Individual
According to their relationship to one at the time of starting meditation, individuals may be classified into 5 categories:
1. extremely intimate (atipiya)
2. lovable (piya)
3. indifferent (majjhata)
4. unpleasant (apiya)
5. inimical/hostile (veri)
In selecting an individual as an initial object of metta bhavana, one is advised to choose the 2nd, a lovable individual because metta can arise easily. The 1st may arouse attachment, the 3rd may pose some difficulties and the 4th and 5th may arouse anger instead. One is also advised against giving it to the opposite sex as it may arouse lust. What if she is his own mother or he, her father? Usually it is not preferred for the unstable mind may wander to another of the opposite sex. The other individual not recommended is the deceased. It does not produce deep concentration as the person is no longer present and is already in a different state.
Therefore the lovable individual should be alive and
of the same sex as one. "Lovable" means he (or she) inspires metta in
you the moment you think of him. He would most likely be one with a lot of
metta himself besides many other virtues like morality, concentration, wisdom,
patience, humility and so on. It is someone whom you think of or meet with a
lot of respect and friendliness. Someone whom you can call a true friend. If
you have known him for some time and had spent many moments and events together
with little or no misunderstandings, it would be better. Then you can call up
all the good that he has done for you as well as the happy events in the past
to arouse metta.
When you have chosen the individual then this shall be the soil and source from which your metta shall set its roots deep and spread far elsewhere.
Arousing of Metta
The near cause of metta is the lovable person or being. Therefore we have to see the favourable aspect of the person or being.
One way is to think of his or her virtues or good
qualities. We can perhaps enumerate them, e.g. he is
1. compassionate – V1
2. understanding – V2
3. etc. – V3
The more we have of these the better. The mere thought of one will inspire metta. We may use this sparingly so that it will last us a long time.
For example, when we think about v1, metta arises. Every time it dies down, we can use v1 to stir it up again. Aftersome time v1 may not be effective (for the time being), then we use v2 to arouse metta. We will then continue to use v2 to arouse metta. When it loses effectiveness we can return to v1 again. One can go on arousing metta with v1 and v2 until both do not seem to work. Then we proceed to v3.
The other way is to see the lovableness of the person and thus to arouse metta is to recall the events one has associated with him or her that would inspire metta. It may be the help given, gifts offered or just kind, gentle words. One would naturally have to avoid recalling unpleasant moments. We can again enumerate the events:
Event 1. gifts given at birthday – E1
2. help in time of stress – E2
3. counselling in career – E3
4. etc. – E4
We may apply the principle on the use of virtues to ensure ease of arousing metta.
When metta arises it has got to be sincere and come from the depth of one's heart. It should be encouraged to flow abundantly and freely without inhibition. There is nothing wrong with giving metta to anyone, only it is to be given in a suitable manner with wisdom and guarded against attachment.
When metta arises one enables and urges it on with the
use of 4 aspirations.
1. May he/she be free from enmity/danger
2. May he/she be free from mental suffering
3. May he/she be free from physical suffering
4. May he/she take care of himself/herself happily
The principle is that when we make each aspiration we do so with metta. This would arouse more metta to keep it flowing on. It is also important that we understand the meaning of these aspirations clearly and sincerely mean it. Before the metta from the first one dies down, we make it continue on by using the next. When we have used the 4th aspiration we start again with the first. This can go on indefinitely.
The second point is that when one aspiration, e.g., "May he be free from enmity", is very effective and can produce strong metta which can last a long time, then we can let this flow go on as long as possible, in which case it would continue to deepen.
However, if the aspiration is not very effective, we may skip it or pass through it quickly.
A third point here is that there is a more positive aspect of each aspiration which can be borne in mind. If one intends to emphasise a more positive aspect it can be used with much effectiveness looking into the meaning of each aspiration.
1. MAY HE/SHE BE FREE FROM ENMITY/DANGER.
Enmity may refer to enmity within (e.g. defilement) and without us. A more positive aspect will be "May he have a lot of loving kindness". Therefore we may also use the wish "May he be safe". Enmity may also mean any dangerous and harmful elements within (e.g. defilements, bad kammic results ripening) or without (e.g. catastrophes, accident etc.)
2. MAY HE/SHE BE FREE FROM MENTAL SUFFERING.
Mental suffering refers to mental anguish, sorrow, frustrations, fears, despair, irritation and all types of defilements that are present to no end, as well as the unsatisfactoriness of conditioned existence. "May he/she be peaceful and happy" is a positive wish for this second aspiration.
3. MAY HE/SHE BE FREE FROM PHYSICAL SUFFERING.
Physical suffering will include all forms of physical discomfort, illness, ailments and incompleteness. It is possible that the wish can be put as "May he/she be healthy and strong".
4. MAY HE/SHE TAKE CARE OF HIMSELF/HERSELF HAPPILY.
This means that we wish him (or her) to be able to carry out all the activities in his life or maintenance of life such as waking up, eating, caring for his livelihood, looking after his children, wife, house, while resting, carrying out his spiritual activities and even having peaceful sleep.
The last of those aspirations is by itself positive.
The negative variant can be "May he not have any trouble, problems,
obstacles in taking care of himself".
I have tried this on myself and others and it does have a different effect psychologically, stronger towards well-wishing than negative phrasing which tends towards compassion and cancellation of suffering. This is therefore one part that is worth consideration. A possible alternative would be to use both, which would increase the aspirations from 4 to 8.
Here we also notice that too many aspirations for the
beginner may not be beneficial to concentration. Hence we stick to just 4
Another modification can be considered if a further specification of the wish is required, such as "May he be free from the deadly disease of cancer which is afflicting him", or maybe even a single wish for a son that he may be able to do well in his studies.
These are more specific and therefore not applicable all the time and to everyone. Nevertheless, it is a wholesome wish of metta and, when made with strong and deep concentration, will have its effects.
At the beginning, the flow is not smooth and does not last long. One has to guard against just merely reciting the aspiration without feeling. One has to guard against indiscriminate and uncontrolled thinking (which leads to restlessness) while trying to arouse metta. One also has to guard against frustration if metta does not arise. Therefore it is very important that mindfulness is present when these hindrances arise.
Five Jhana Factors of Concentration/Absorption
In the initial stage, the main part is played by the 1st jhanic factor – initial application of mind (vitakka), the mental factor that lifts the mind and mental states to its object. In metta bhavana, it is the continuous bringing up of Metta consciousness to its object – the person selected.
So when metta keeps flowing up we always make sure that we have the same person in mind. This part is concentration. Very often the mind will flit to other persons and if so, we can just let the metta flow on for a few seconds and return to the original one. Sometimes the new person seems to arouse stronger feelings than the original one intended and so we may be tempted to switch objects. It is best to return to the original one as there will always seem to be a better one when the original becomes somewhat stale. The test is the ability to go on with the same one for a long time.
Another problem involved at this stage is visualisation. Some practitioners may visualise the object, i.e. the person. This may be a help in some ways or it may also cause complications. The problem may arise with unmindful visualisations which can cause tension and stress over a period of time. Presently there are already two processes to take care of:
Visualisation may come as a third process although connected with the second. One has to be careful not to visualise without metta or even mindfulness.
As the arousing by initial application predominates the first part of the concentration exercises, the next step is the sustained application (vicara) which is sustaining the metta consciousness continuously onto its object. This can be seen as dragging or lengthening the flow of Metta which would otherwise stop. In fact it is a product of continuous arousing. As a result, the momentum of the flow is built up. It continues even after one does not intend to radiate Metta, and if one does, a minimal effort is needed. Therefore one has to try to drag on each aspiration as long as possible so that the metta is continuously flowing onto the person for a long time.
When this can be done, usually joy (píti) follows. The progress thus acquired removes sceptical doubts and brings calmness. Joy is a thrilled, joyful state of mind that comes with increasing concentration. Sometimes it comes with goose pimples or pleasantness (minor joy). It may come in flashes or sudden rushes of coolness (momentary joy), or it may make one feel lighter or hop or jump (uplifting joy), or one may feel overwhelmed in wave-like, joyful feelings and sway (overwhelming joy), or one feels the entire body and mind system suffused to every single particle with joy and comfort (suffusing joy).
It is certainly very pleasant and attractive when one first comes across these. In metta bhavana they can be abundant. The usual tendency is to become attached to them. As a result mindfulness is lost. Then complications arise. So when they become very strong one would have to keep them under control. One will have to keep up the mindfulness and note. If one's body starts swaying or tears start to fall uncontrollably, one would know that it has gone too far and one should wilfully stop it or get up. Then we should bear in mind that when the strong joy and emotions tend to be overwhelming, to ensure that the metta is truly unselfish, the mind can be kept detached as we radiate very softly and gently with mindfulness rather than in an intense manner. If we keep on radiating in this way the joy will become very subtle and tranquil. The mind will experience deep bliss (sukha) within or as if a very high and rapturous state. Again one must be guarded against attachment so that one can continue one's practice.
The final stage will be the sinking in, absorption or unification with the object. This is one-pointedness. Again there must be some mindfulness at the very quiet and still stage before absorption. Otherwise one may lapse into deep sleep or is pulled away by subtle thoughts. At this last phase, the Visuddimagga quotes joy as overcoming restlessness, bliss as overcoming ill-will, and one-pointedness as overcoming sensual desires because it stops the mind from flitting to sense objects and fixes onto the meditation object.
Hence the five jhanic factors are:
1. Initial application (vitakka)
2. Sustained application (vicara)
3. Joy (píti)
4. Happiness (sukha)
5. One-pointedness (ekaggata)
In practice, these factors can be defined as follows:
1. Bringing the mind to the object (arousing, applying)
2. Keeping the mind with the object (sustaining, stretching)
3. Finding, having interest in the object (joy)
4. Being happy and content with the object (happiness)
5. Unifying the mind with the object (fixing).
Five Hindrances to Concentration / Absorption
Before the metta is continuous, the five hindrances may arise to hinder the progress.
Sensual desire arises commonly with an attractive object. This is one reason why we do not choose the extremely intimate person as the first object and also, based on the same reason, why we avoid one of the opposite sex. Even when giving metta to the good friend, you should avoid thinking of sensual moments (e.g. sightseeing etc.). Calmness and joy that arise abundantly in this meditation should also not be attached to when they arise during practice. One may note the "desire" or "attachment" with mindfulness till it goes away. Always remember not to be attached! Mindfulness is the key to this. Alternatively one may radiate metta to all beings for a short while to offset.
Ill-will arises with the repulsive object. That is when we are sending metta to an unpleasant or hostile person. If anger arises one may resume with the persons (lovable) one started with. Ill-will may also arise with frustration or unpleasant sensations. In such a case, try to ignore it and persist with the metta. If it fails, change to a more comfortable posture or setting.
This sluggish state of mind that can come with peacefulness often makes the meditator fall into deep sleep. Therefore when the mindfulness weakens, one has to be more energetic in arousing the metta. For example, one may radiate from one aspiration to another fairly rapidly. One can also try to make the metta more intensely emotional. Doing more metta in the walking posture also encourages a more energetic flow of metta. One has to be very energetic to be able to do these. Activities like washing the face, rubbing the hands, sitting in brightness and open space, suitable conversation or reflection of the dangers of laziness and benefits of energy are general steps that can be taken.
Restlessness and worry arise owing to lack of mindfulness. If we have sufficient basic mindfulness, we would be able to watch that restless state or extraneous thoughts when they arise. So even if the mind does wander, we will soon be aware of it. Therefore we should make it a point to note the thinking as soon as it has arisen, then return to metta.
In the preliminary arousing of metta, when thinking is predominant, we have to be careful that it does not become uncontrolled, e.g. we may think of the person, then we think of what we did together. This may go on for some time before we realise we have forgotten about metta bhavana. Therefore to facilitate deep concentration one should stay with one person for an extended period of time. And when arousing metta, care has to be taken not to "overthink". Once metta has arisen one has to maintain its flow in a way that it may deepen.
Sceptical doubt regarding the Three Gems or the method in the practice of metta may arise due to the lack of understanding of the Buddhist teachings etc. Here one has to note a sceptical "doubt" etc. till it is put aside. Another way is to reflect again on the benefits of metta and the danger of anger. If one tries hard enough one will progress and doubts too can be cast aside. Having an experienced guide at hand to clear one's doubts concerning the practice is important.
Three Types of Concentration
There are three types of concentration that come with
1. parikamma samadhi – preliminary concentration
2. upacara samadhi – access concentration
3. appana samadhi – fixed concentration
1. PARIKAMMA SAMADHI
Parikamma bhavana is the stage of doing the preliminary exercises. Some degree of one-pointedness or calmness is reached when radiating metta to the person as one is involved with active recitations.
2. UPACARA SAMADHI
When it comes very close as if about to sink or merge with the object we may consider it as access concentration. By then one has overcome the hindrances as it is close to fixed absorption. The mind has reached a very subtle and sleeplike state. If one is not careful one may fall asleep. One has to be mindful to maintain the flow of metta and yet not too energetic that it stirs it up to a restless state. At this state visions may creep in but one has to be mindful enough to maintain the flow of metta. The Visuddhimagga describes this state as a state when the barriers are broken. That is, at that time one's metta is developed to the state that one is as if one with the person. One cannot be said to have any less or more metta one has for oneself than another or a close one from a hostile one.
As concentration develops, the object of mind likewise becomes more refined and steady. It may be very gross ideas of the person at preliminary concentration to fine, transparent-like visualisations at access concentration. However the development of the object is not as obvious as in kasinas. So in initial stages the states of mind and metta are more obvious and important criteria for checking one's development. With frequent meditation one can also be aware of the nature of this fine object. I remember that the first time I noticed it was as the person outlined on a crystal-clear surface. It has appeared again in another way.
3. APPANA SAMADHI
When the mind becomes fixed onto the object it sinks and merges into it to become as if one. The result is the development of a different form of consciousness called (jhana citta) absorption. Very often people say this is like falling into a state deeper than sleep. Yet on emerging one is aware that at that period one is in bliss and is still having metta for the person. It has been claimed that the state is so sleep-like that one may not be aware that one has entered into it, especially when it first occurs in only very short moments. However with frequency it should become obvious. How long one takes to reach up to this level is very much of an individual capability. If we go into intensive meditation, it should not take too long. Those who have undergone vipassana meditation, whose mind is already flexible and wholesome, should be even quicker. There are 4 types of these absorptions (in the 5-fold classification) in metta bhavana. They are called the 1st jhana, 2nd jhana, 3rd jhana, and 4th jhana. As for the 5th jhana, it can be attained only in the development of equanimity – upekkha bhavana.