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Metta Bhavana (November 1992, Part 1)

We are going to deal with Metta Bhavana briefly so that everyone can practise Metta meditation as the base for Vipassana when it is necessary. In the Bikkhunupasaya Sutta, the Buddha said while you are engaged in Vipassana Meditation and if the mind is distracted a lot or the mind is defiled with much of the Kilesa, when the mind becomes hot with the Kilesa or when you are reluctant to proceed with your practise then you should take the pleasant object as the object of meditation such as attributes of the Buddha, the Dhamma or the Sangha, your Dana, your Sila. You have to take these pleasant things as the object of meditation and contemplate on it. Then you will be able to concentrate your mind gradually on these objects. Then you feel happy, tranquil, peaceful and calm. At that moment you should switch your practice to Vipassana. It is called Panidhaya Bhavana, Buddha said. It means your noting mind is placed on the pleasant object and then return to Vipassana Meditation.

One of the objects which the meditator should contemplate on when he has these undesirable things such as a lot of distractions, worries, sorrow and much Kilesa and reluctance is the object of Metta. Very good. The attributes of the Buddha is also very good but you need to have some knowledge of the attributes of the Buddha so that you can reflect on them. Unless you have some knowledge of the attributes of the Buddha you can't reflect on them. But for Metta you need not have special knowledge of loving-kindness because Metta is the original nature of beings so it can be developed easily when you know the technique.

In Burmese language, the Burmese used the word Metta for Tanha, attachment. When a man is in love with a girl then it is said that he loves her. He has Metta for her. Actually it is not Metta. It is attachment but Metta is used for Tanha in Burmese language. When we deliver a discourse on Metta Bhavana we have to clear it up; repeatedly distinguishing between the two characteristics of Metta

and Tanha. Tanha has the characteristic of clinging and also the nature of heat. Metta has the characteristic of detachment with wishing the welfare of beings and making the mind calm, peaceful. But for Westerners it is not a problem because they don't use Metta for Tanha. It is easy to explain. But in 1979 when I conducted a meditation retreat for Insight Meditation Society together with Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw, during the question and answer session, one of the lady meditators, about 30 years old, ask the question, "What is love?" How can I answer this question? No, I am helpless. I could have avoided this difficulty or dilemma by answering "Yes, Love is God." But if I answered this question in that way then I'll be a Christian. So I said, "Yes, you asked me what love is but I don't know love. I can explain to you loving-kindness." But what she wanted to know was love, not loving-kindness.

Metta here means wishing the welfare of all living beings. Hita kara puti lakkhana metta. The meaning is Metta has the characteristic of wishing the well being of all living beings. The mental state which wishes all living beings to be happy and peaceful is Metta. When you develop the feeling or spirit of loving-kindness or Metta towards all living beings, that is called Metta Bhavana.

The idea that Metta can be transmitted to other living beings exist in Burma as well as in Sri Lanka, in the West and in India too, I think; some scholars use the word transmit. "You should transmit your loving-kindness towards all living beings." That is Metta Bhavana they said. Some of them use the word radiating. "You should radiate your loving-kindness towards all living beings." Unless you have fully developed loving-kindness in you, how can you transmit it to other living beings? How can you radiate it to other living beings? If you have the feeling or spirit of loving-kindness abundantly developed in you, you need not transmit it to other living beings because your mind itself is transmitting it to other living beings.

Say when you wish the welfare of other living beings then you have that Metta in you. When that Metta is in you, your face is very pleasant, happy mood and clear, gracious, glorious. With the power of Metta, loving-kindness in you, then anyone who meets you feels that. He is also happy at the sight of you. Your face looks peaceful, calm, tranquil. The mind itself transmits. It is the power of loving-kindness towards living beings. But that idea you find in Burma also. Burmese people say, "Please send your Metta to so and so." Sometimes some of the laymen or laywomen who are in distress for some reason, then "Venerable Sir, please send your Metta to me because I am in distress. I am in trouble." That is the idea of sending Metta to another person. So whenever we say " You must practise Metta Bhavana," then some of them understand that you send Metta to other people.

Actually developing loving-kindness is not to the other person but in you. However that spirit of loving-kindness is developed through wishing the welfare of living beings, the other people. Without reflecting on the welfare of the other person or beings, you can't developed loving-kindness in you. So it can only be developed through the reflection of the welfare of other beings. This point is misunderstood by some people. They think it means sending your Metta to the other person; but it is actually bringing Metta in you by reflecting on the welfare of that people or that living being. That is why we say "Metta Bhavana." "Bhavana is development or culture. "Metta" is loving-kindness.

So to develop loving-kindness in you, you have to take a person or group of persons or all living beings as the object of Metta meditation: reflecting on the welfare of all these living beings by saying "May all living beings be happy, peaceful and free from animosity, free from distress, affliction…" and so on. In this way you feel your loving-kindness towards these persons and beings. That means that loving-kindness is with you, in you, you have to develop. So by practising Metta meditation, developing loving-kindness in you, you feel happy, calm and peaceful. Your mind is concentrated and stable and pliable, malleable. These are the benefits or results of Metta developed in you. Then you switch to Vipassana meditation. Then you can concentrate on the object of Vipassana meditation easily because you have concentrated your mind by means of Metta meditation to a certain extent. You already have the concentration attained. So that concentration should be channeled to Vipassana meditation.

I remember a group of people in Switzerland, they use the word channel. That was in 1983, I think. At that time Lebanon was in great trouble, in civil war. They requested me to talk on Metta Bhavana. So I asked them, "Have you practised this Metta Bhavana?" They said, "We channel our loving-kindness towards such people as in Lebanon." Channelled our loving-kindness. What do you mean by channel? What I know is that channel is irrigation.

When we develop this loving-kindness in us, the loving-kindness is of two types; one is specific loving-kindness and the other is non-specific loving-kindness. So specific Metta means the object is chosen, then I wish the welfare of this person who is specified. So my loving-kindness is directed towards him. Then I wish the welfare of this person only, not the other person. So I choose U Samiddhi as the object of meditation. Then I say, reflecting on his welfare, peace and happiness, "May U Samiddhi be happy, peaceful, free from animosity and distress and affliction. May he be prosperous in the Dhamma. May he be able to attain enlightenment and so on. I reflect only his welfare, not some other person's. That is specific development of Metta, loving-kindness. 

Then non-specific development of loving-kindness is reflecting upon the welfare of all living beings: animals, devas, Brahmas, petas, hungry ghosts, all living beings are included. I reflect upon their welfare and say, "May all living beings be happy, peaceful. May all living beings be free from animosity. May all living beings be free from distress, affliction. May all living beings be prosperous…" and so on. Then my Metta is not specified. That is development of unspecified loving-kindness. Then the unspecified loving-kindness is called Anodhisa Metta in Pali. Specific loving-kindness is called Odhisa Metta.

The object of unspecified Metta is all living beings so it is difficult for us to concentrate our mind well on all these living beings. So when you are doing something, if you want to develop loving-kindness it is better for you to focus your mind on all living beings, reflecting on the welfare of all living beings. It is easy but you can't concentrate well. But you feel the loving-kindness in you. You feel happy and peaceful. You can't concentrate very well on the object of meditation because the obejct is in many different objects.

So when you want to concentrate well by means of Metta meditation you should develop specific loving-kindness, taking a person as the object of meditation, reflecting on his welfare only. Then when you develop specific loving-kindness towards any person or any group of persons, the Commentary said that you should not direct your loving-kindness towards a very dearly loved person at the beginning because if you take a very loved person as the object of meditation in the beginning, you are not yet skilled in developing loving-kindness so you can't concentrate well. Then sometimes you may think about his misfortune, his mental or physical suffering. As a result you may feel unhappy about his misfortune, his mishap, his suffering in any way. Then the Text said you may feel as if you are crying because of his suffering. So, the Commentary said, that is why you should not develop a very loved person as the object of meditation.

Then another one, that is a neutral one. You do not love nor hate him, but he is an acquaintance of yours. Whenever you go to your work you come across him on the road. "Ah, this person is also going to work, I am also going to work" then later on he becomes your acquaintance. He knows you and you know him, that's all. You do not associate with him in any way. You do not go to his house and he doesn't go to yours but on the way to work you see him and he sees you so you two become acquainted. That is the neutral person.

In England one of the Burmese rich man whose name is U Mya Saw bought a very big house together with a plot of 30 acres. We conducted a meditation retreat in his house in 1979-80. His office is in London but he lived in Oxford. Everyday he went to this office by train, in the same compartment and in the same seat. In the same way an Englishman also took the seat opposite him, the same compartment. Everyday they saw each other but they did not become acquaintances. He said 10 years he went by train.

In 1981 I conducted a meditation retreat in Northern England, the Manjusri Institute, near Ebersten, a country town. Three or four old English women came to the retreat and listened to the Dhamma talk and talked with us almost every day. One day one of the old women said that she had been living in London for 20 years but she did not know her neighbours. Her neighbour also did not know her. Then when she moved to Ebersten, in 5 years time she knew almost all the people in the town. So she said "Country life is very good, urban life is very bad."

Thus acquaintance should not be the first object of loving-kindness because the Commentary said if you put the neutral person in the place of the beloved person it is difficult for you to have loving-kindness. You would get tired. That is what the Commentary said. So you must not develop loving-kindness towards the neutral person as the object of meditation in the beginning. But later on when you are skilled in the development of loving-kindness you can take him also as the object of meditation. Very easily you can do it.

Then the hostile person also should not be developed as the object of meditation in the beginning. He should not be the first object of loving-kindness because when you reflect on his welfare, you may not be able to reflect on his welfare but you may reflect on his defects and also the insult or harm he did to you. Then instead of Metta, anger or hatred will arise. So the hostile person should not be the first object of meditation in specific loving-kindness.

The Commentary said you must never develop your loving-kindness towards the opposite sex. In other words the opposite sex should never the object of meditation in your loving-kindness meditation. That is what the Commentary, Visuddhimagga said. Very strange. It told the story of a man who developed his loving-kindness towards his wife. That man was very willing to practise loving-kindness or Metta meditation so he asked a monk who came to his house every day for alms round, "Venerable Sir, I want to practise Metta meditation. First of all what person shall I develop or direct my loving-kindness towards." The monk said, "Dayaka, first of all the person you love very much be the object of meditation."

Then at night when he prepared himself for loving-kindness meditation, cleaning himself and putting on new clothes, bowing down to the Buddha's statue and reflecting on the attributes of the Buddha. After that he sat in his room. He sat very comfortably and he looked for the object, "Whom do I love very much?" Then he remembered that he loved his wife very much so he thought that his wife must be the object of meditation. Then he developed his loving-kindness reflecting upon the welfare of his wife, "May she be happy and peaceful, free from animosity" .. and so on. In the beginning he felt loving-kindness to a certain extent. Later on loving-kindness became weaker and weaker and changed into another one. When he couldn't sit any longer, he got up. He had locked the door of his room, but he forgot that the door was locked; so the Commentary said, he fought with the wall. But the Commentary stopped there. It doesn't describe the later scene. So the Commentary said that is why you should not develop your loving-kindness towards the opposite sex. But my students who practise this loving-kindness meditation can develop their loving-kindness towards the opposite sex very well. They are successful in developing loving-kindness towards the opposite sex.

One lady who was a superintendent at a bank came to practise first of all Vipassana Meditation for two months. She got three months leave. After two months of Vipassana Meditation, she practised Metta Meditation one by one. First of all, the Commentary said you should direct your loving-kindness towards your preceptor or the person who is equivalent in quality to the preceptor and so on. After that you direct your loving-kindness towards a beloved person, then neutral person, then hostile person. But you have to develop your loving-kindness very well until your mind becomes pliable and malleable so that you can direct it towards any person very easily. Only after that you change to another person. Then I instructed her to develop her loving-kindness towards these persons one after another.

After about 20 days of Metta Meditation I told her, "Now you should direct your loving-kindness towards a hostile person. Have you any hostile person?" Then she remembered that her senior officer was always finding fault with her. So she was not happy at the officer. Then I told her to direct her loving-kindness towards that senior officer. She did; she was successful. After one week I told her to reflect upon the welfare of this senior officer and develop loving-kindness in her. She did. Then after that she returned home. One day she came to the Centre and told me, "Venerable Sir, that senior officer has never come to my house before I practised my meditation. During my meditation retreat he came to my house and asked my brother whether I was well or not and so on. Two times he came to my house. When I returned to my office, his face was smiling. He did not find fault with me. He helped me very much."

The Commentary said that the opposite sex should not be the object of meditation. However not only she (the lady bank officer) but also three or four other meditators were successful in developing loving-kindness towards the opposite sex. Then I judge that what the Commentary said is that before you are skilled in loving-kindness meditation you should not (try to develop Metta towards the opposite sex). But if you can master this meditation then you can develop loving-kindness towards any person.

The Commentary also said loving-kindness should not be directed towards a dead person. Then it further said that by developing loving-kindness towards that person, the meditator may not be able to attain either access or absorption concentration. So that person should never be developed as a specific loving-kindness object. However as for unspecified loving-kindness, that person may die here but be reborn in another existence, maybe in deva or Brahma or human world. Therefore he is also one of the living beings you direct your loving-kindness towards. What the Commentary said is about specific loving-kindness.

Here also the Commentary told a story of a young monk who directed his loving-kindness towards his Upajhaya, preceptor. When that young monk developed loving-kindness, reflecting upon the welfare of his preceptor who lived in a distant village, he could not concentrate his mind very well on the object. He repeatedly tried in vain. Eventually this young monk went to a senior monk, an Arhat who lived near him and asked the reason. He put forth his problem to the senior monk. Then the senior monk said, " Please find out about the object." That's all. Then the young monk went to the village where his preceptor lived, only to know that his preceptor had already died. The Commentary said that is why he couldn't concentrate very well on Metta because the object had already died.

Then who should be the first object of loving-kindness meditation? The Commentary said that the first object of loving-kindness meditation should be the preceptor or someone who is respectable like a preceptor. Such a person should be the first object of loving-kindness meditation. You choose this person and direct your loving-kindness towards him, reflecting upon his welfare, "May my preceptor (or this good man) be happy, peaceful, free from animosity, free from distress and affliction. May he be prosperous." Then you can very easily develop your spirit of loving-kindness in you gradually and abundantly. Then you should repeat it again and again so that you can concentrate your mind well on the object of meditation and attain the 1st Jhana, the 2nd Jhana and so on.

May all of you rightly understand the technique of loving-kindness meditation and its benefit and try to have in you the spirit of loving-kindness and based on the concentration of loving-kindness, strive your best to practise Vipassana Meditation and attain your goal.


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