Updated: Jun 26, 2022
Metta Bhavana is a Buddhist meditation practice known as the development of universal loving-kindness. It belongs to a set of meditations called brahma-viharas, which roughly means ‘abode of the gods’. As such, metta meditation is considered to help us experience positive and enjoyable mental states similar to the mental states of the beings in the Buddhist god-realm.
Before we get started you will need to think of three people you are going to use to focus on during this meditation.
The first person should be someone you love or a good friend who is still living.
The second person should be a ‘neutral’ person. This may be someone you work with or know casually but don’t really know all that well.
The third person is a person who normally provokes rather unfriendly feelings within you. This person should be someone whom you find difficult or irritating.
Once you have the three people you’ve chosen firmly in mind we can get started. Find a time and place where you are comfortable and will not be disturbed. Sit down and settle into your chosen meditation posture. Move through your body looking for tension. Feel your attention as calming warmth as it begins at your feet and works its way up your body. Allow your body to soften, relax and let go. Once you have completed this sweep through your body center your attention in your chest where you imagine your heart to be. Throughout the meditation remember to allow yourself to truthfully experience what it is you are feeling. Don’t judge yourself for anything that may arise. Allow whatever happens to happen.
Loving Kindness Starts with You
With your attention still focused on your heart, begin the meditation by sending a sense of well-wishing to yourself. However you do it, keep it simple. You can simply say, “May I be well, may I be happy, may I be free from suffering.” Say this to yourself with a sense of kindness and warmth. Be patient and listen to how your heart responds. There is no need to hurry. Experience your heart slowly fill with the warmth and bliss of your own loving intention.
Your Good Friend
Now bring to mind the good friend you selected previously. Do this in whatever manner is best for you. You might picture their face, their voice or remember the last time you were in their company. The point is to bring them into your awareness. Feel the warmth that is in your heart naturally flow towards them. Think to yourself, “May they be well, may the be happy, may they be free from suffering.” Again take your time. There is no need to hurry and no need to force anything. Experience whatever it is you are feeling even if it feels like nothing at all. What is happening is what is happening. Be with that. Simply maintain your awareness of your friend and your well-wishing feelings towards them.
The Neutral Person
Now let go of your friend and allow your attention to turn to the neutral person you selected. Try to maintain the same level of well-wishing as you felt towards both yourself and your good friend. While holding the neutral person in your mind extend your well-wishing to that person. Gently look beyond the limited view you have of this person. Feel the sense of oneness that exists between yourself, your friend and the neutral person. All three people are one in that all wish to be happy, peaceful and free from suffering.
The Difficult Person
Allow the neutral person to fade and bring to mind the difficult person. Take a sweep through your body and notice what is happening. Have your shoulders and abdomen tensed? Take some deeper breaths and allow your body to let go of its tension. Notice what your mind is doing. It’s likely that it is trying to replay an old story about this person. Let that train leave the station without you on it. Remain in the present moment with the intention to wish the person well. Imagine the person well and happy. Try to see the good side to the person. Everyone has a good side- we just may have not seen it. Extend the feeling of loving kindness that has built up in your heart to this difficult individual. Try wishing them well as you have for each previous person. Imagine them to be free of suffering and wish them well in their life.
Now bring together all four people in your mind: the difficult person, the neutral person, the good friend and yourself. Imagine the feeling of metta between everyone and recognize that all have the same desire to be happy and well. Check to see if the positive feelings towards all four are equal. Now extend your feeling of loving-kindness outwards. Wish your neighbors in your street well, then all the people in your city, next your country, then all beings on the earth. Finish with all sentient beings of all types that have lived, that are alive and that will live throughout all time and space.
You may experience feelings of bliss and great love. I like to interpret these feelings as the product of the universe returning my feelings of loving kindness. I feel I am enjoying the benefit of getting back what I’m giving out. For me over time this feeling has strengthened into a rather serene feeling of bliss. The more love I give, the more love I have and the more I receive.
Finish the meditation by bringing your attention back to yourself. Take three breaths that are deeper than normal and come back to the environment you are sitting in. Open your eyes and enjoy for a few moments your state of being.