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Cultivating a Metta Mind

Loving-kindness meditation (metta) challenges us to send love and compassion to the difficult people in our lives—including ourselves.

By Sylvia Boorstein

Loving-kindness, listed ninth in the traditional list of the 10 Perfections of the Heart (also known as the paramitas) is described as the heart fully awake in friendliness, compassion, and empathic joy. The Perfections are the 10 particular permutations of goodness and kindness that the Buddha was said to have developed in his many lifetimes before the one in which he was acknowledged as fully enlightened and venerated as the Buddha. Loving-kindness seems to me to be the requisite substrate that supports all of the other Perfections: generosity, morality, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, truthfulness, determination, and equanimity. The Metta Sutta (the Sermon on Loving-kindness) is part of the Pali canon. It gives instructions for loving-kindness practice and promises that liberation is its reward. I imagine that if the Buddha preached the Metta Sutta today, the newspaper reporting the event would say: "Three discoveries Ensure Lasting Peace": 1.Wholesome living is the cause of happiness; 2. Personal happiness cultivates the insight "Everyone wants this!"; 3. Human beings have the capacity—in gladness and in safety—to wish unconditionally, "May all beings be happy!"

Commentators would point out that the Metta Sutta has no special instructions for "What Wish to Make for People You Don't Like." It doesn't need them. It assumes that one's own boundlessly safe and happy heart has no walls with hooks on them on which to hang old animosities, no filing systems filled with fear stories that get in the way of forgiving. In loving-kindness meditation, steadfast well-wishing concentrates the mind, dispelling any barrier to benevolence. My colleague Guy Armstrong says, "The metta mind is like frozen orange juice. Everything extra is squeezed out of it. What remains is the essential goodness, only sweeter."

A Student's Lessons
One of the stories told about the origin of loving-kindness practice says that the Buddha taught it as a protection to monks who were frightened because they were about to go off by themselves into the jungle to meditate. Perhaps those monks were comforted, having heard the legend of how a rampaging elephant stampeding into the Buddha's path was brought to his knees by the force of metta that surrounded the Buddha. I imagine they believed the same force would ward off tigers and snakes and every other fearful thing they might encounter on their own. I also think metta is a protection. But I don't think it's an amulet. Tigers and snakes and fearsome things are wherever they are, doing whatever they do. The miracle protection is the spontaneous loving-kindness response of the heart to fearsome things seen clearly and fully understood in a mind awakened by mindful attention.

My metta practice—when it is not the saying of structured phrases—has been informed by teachings from Chagdud Rimpoche, a venerable teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and Jo, a regular member of the Wednesday morning class at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. I think of both teachings as the loving-kindness point of view.

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Reader Comments


for elaine - feel yourself rising above the pain and anger. all the emotion is distraction. repeat the words towards the person who has hurt you. may your heart be healed.


How do you do this for apartner who has been unfaithful?


Your article did not even mention feeling loving kindness for those that have harmed you or your loved ones...

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