An overview of loving -
By Pannyavaro Thera
Loving-kindness meditation can be brought into support
the practice of ‘bare attention’ to help keep the mind
open and pleasant. It provides the essential balance to
support your insight meditation practice.
It is a fact of life that many people are troubled by
difficult emotional states in the pressured societies we
live in, but do little in terms of developing skills to
deal with them. Yet even when the mind goes sour it is
within their capacity to arouse positive feelings to
Loving-kindness is a meditation practice taught by the
Buddha to develop the mental habit of selfless or
altruistic love. In the Dhammapada it says: “Hatred
cannot coexist with loving-kindness, and dissipates if
supplanted with thoughts based on loving-kindness.”
Loving-kindness is a meditation practice, which brings
about positive attitudinal changes as it systematically
develops the quality of `loving-acceptance’. It acts, as
it were, as a form of self-psychotherapy, a way of
healing the troubled mind to free it from its pain and
confusion. Of all Buddhist meditations, loving-kindness
has the immediate benefit of sweetening and changing old
habituated negative patterns of mind.
To put it into its context, loving-kindness is 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 practice matures it naturally overflows
into compassion, as one empathises with other people’s
difficulties; on the other hand one needs to be wary of
pity, as its near enemy, as it 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, or appreciative joy, rather
than feelings of jealousy towards them. This series of
meditations comes to maturity as ‘on-looking
equanimity’. This `engaged equanimity’ must be
cultivated within the context of this series of
meditations, or there is a risk of it manifesting as its
near enemy, indifference or aloofness. So, ultimately
you remain kindly disposed and caring toward everybody
with an equal spread of loving feelings and acceptance
in all situations and relationships.
How to do it . . .
The practice always begins with developing a loving
acceptance of yourself.
If resistance is experienced then it indicates that
feelings of unworthiness are present. That means there
is work to be done, as the practice itself is designed
to overcome any feelings of self-doubt or negativity.
Then you are ready to systematically develop
loving-kindness towards others.
Four Types of Persons to develop loving-kindness
* 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 feelings towards, e.g.: a
person who serves you in a shop; * a hostile person -
someone you are currently having difficulty with.
Starting with yourself, then systematically sending
loving-kindness from person to person in the above order
will have the effect of breaking down the barriers
between the four types of people and yourself. This will
have the effect of breaking down the divisions within
your own mind, the source of much of the conflict we
experience. Just a word of caution if you are practicing
intensively. It is best if you choose a member of the
same sex or, if you have a sexual bias to your own sex,
a person of the opposite sex.
This is because of the risk that the near enemy of
loving-kindness, lust, can be aroused. Try different
people to practice on, as some people do not easily fit
into the above categories, but do try to keep to the
Ways of arousing feelings of loving-kindness:
1. Visualisation - Bring up a mental picture. See
yourself or the person the feeling is directed at
smiling back at you or just being joyous.
2. By reflection - Reflect on the positive qualities of
a person and the acts of kindness they have done. And to
yourself, making an affirmation, a positive statement
about yourself, using your own words.
3. Auditory - This is the simplest way but probably the
Repeat an internalized phrase such as `loving-kindness’.
The visualisations, reflections and the repetition of
loving-kindness are devices to help you arouse positive
feelings of loving-kindness. You can use all these terms
or one that works best for you. When the positive
feeling arise, 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 feelings weaken or are lost then
return to the device, i.e. use the visualisation 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 will be enhanced by bringing to
mind loving friends and like-minded communities you know
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 then come to maturity in that it has changed
particular, 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 and into your relationships.
Applying the practice in daily life is a matter of
directing a friendly attitude and having openness toward
everybody you relate to, without discrimination.
There are many different ways of doing it as there are
levels of intensity in the practice. This introduction
will help you to familiarize yourself with the basic
technique, so that you can establish yourself in the
practice before going on, if you wish, to go deeper,
into systematic practice - to the level of meditative