The Method of Developing Metta

Sayadaw U Pandita

sExcerpts from The State of Mind Called Beautiful
Sayadaw U Pandita – Wisdom Publications

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In this book Burmese meditation master Sayadaw U Pandita lays out the breadth, depth, and wealth of the Theravadan tradition of Buddhism. U Pandita begins with the basic guidelines of Buddhism, and moves on to various practices: those that can be done for one minute a day, those that sweeten and strengthen the mind, those that heal societies and families, those that lead to liberation.

Also included are complete teachings on Vipassana or Insight meditation, from how to do it, to how to refine it, to how to deal with difficulties. Teachings on the development of mindfulness, wisdom, patience, and practice itself are all included, and the book is capped by an extremely helpful “Question and Answers” section—an FAQ for newcomers and established practitioners alike.

The Method of Developing Metta

The method for developing metta is much the same as the methods for the other brahmacariyas. We will explain metta bhavana, then, as a basic example; and we will also briefly describe the theme of protective meditations.

The basic method for metta bhavana is simple. One deliberately generates wishes for others' welfare and happiness. Identifying one's own wish to be happy, one recognizes that others feel just the same way. A desire to help them arises; and so one goes out and does whatever helpful things one can. Helpful actions are a form of metta, known as kaya-kamma metta, friendly actions performed with the body. True loving-kindness includes kaya-kamma metta and two other forms of metta: vaci-kamma mettd, verbal acts of metta; and mano-kamma metta, friendly mental actions.

Four Kinds of Loving Speech

To speak friendly words, recite suttas, give good advice, or simply to speak in a friendly, beneficial manner--all are forms of vaci-kamma metta.

The specific teachings on skillful speech, vaci-sucarita, indicate that for speech to be skillful it must be motivated by loving-kindness. Thus, to practice skillful speech is vaci-kamma metta.

The first type of skillful speech is truthful speech. One wishes to inform the other person honestly, so he or she may have correct understanding and knowledge. This is a wholesome, kind intention. Honesty is a form of loving-kindness.

Second, one chooses words that are unifying rather than divisive. Not only is the intent based in metta but the result of such speech is sure to be a further expression of loving-kindness.

Third, we choose words that are sweet and pleasing, not rough, harsh language. We want to make people happy when they hear us talking. At the same time, we guard against deceit and flattery, which contain an element of dishonesty.

The fourth type of vaci-sucarita is speaking of meaningful, essential things. Not wanting to waste the other person's time, we offer worthwhile information and understanding.''

People who practice vaci-sucarita will easily find friends and support. Should they become leaders, they must not suddenly abandon the principles of skillful speech. Leaders will be trusted and respected if they do not lie to the public, if they speak in a way that builds trust and friendship, if they refrain from speaking roughly or threateningly; and if they make speeches that are pithy and meaningful.

Vaci-sucarita is important in all kinds of organizations and groups --families, businesses, communities, governments. It is especially crucial in the religious arena, given that skillful speech is based on cetana-metta, or kind intention. When people sense cetana-metta in a religious figure they become devoted; but if kind intent is lacking, they won't want to hear anything else. As soon as a religious leader indulges in wrongful or deliberately deceptive speech, it's the beginning of the end. So long as their lies remain concealed, leaders may retain some followers, but when the truth is exposed they will undergo a public downfall.

People who love to gossip and pass around divisive tidbits often claim they just want to be kind and helpful, but this is untrue. Similarly, rough, coarse language and frivolous time-wasting chatter reveal a dearth of metta. In general, ill-intentioned speech, vaci-duccarita, turns people away. People are attracted to speech that is truthful, meaningful, unifying, and friendly.

Vaci-sucarita, skillful speech, and vaci-kamma metta verbal acts of loving-kindness, are beneficial for everyone. The more one practices them, the more power one will have to gather others together into a respectful and supportive group. The kind intentions must be genuine, though.

Mental Kindness

The third and final form of metta is mano-kamma metta acts of loving-kindness performed by the mind. Essentially this means wishing others to be well and happy. Mano-kamma metta can be radiated at all times, in all postures. It can occur as a spontaneous wish or a deliberately repeated phrase like "May she (or he, or they) be happy." To recite verbal formulas silently in the mind is the method of formal metta meditation, which can develop one's loving-kindness to an extraordinary level. It will be described extensively below.

Loving-Kindness as a Protective Practice

Metta bhavana has two possible goals. It can be used to gain the jhanas, or absorptions, states of very strong concentration; or it can be used as a Guardian Meditation, leading to freedom from danger and enmity.

The technique for developing jhanic concentration has many fine points that we will not go into here, since our emphasis is on developing the insight knowledges through satipattthana vipassana meditation. Sufficient moment-to-moment concentration arises in satipatthana vipassana practice to fulfill the Noble Eightfold Path and lead to freedom from the defilements.

The protective form of metta bhavana is extremely beneficial. It generates wholesome mental states, guards against inner and outer dangers and disturbances, and develops the perfections according to the example of the Buddha.

There are enemies, vera; and there is also fear, bhaya. The two are related, for if we are not free from enemies we endure danger and fear. We already distinguished outer and inner enemies--puggala vera, the enemy that comes in the form of a person, and akusala vera and kilesa vera, unwholesomeness and mental defilements. Outer enemies are encountered relatively rarely, while the inner enemies attack us night and day, unless we protect ourselves with meditation.

Dosa is an internal enemy, as is raga, or lust, which so often poses as metta. When dosa and raga arise in the stream of consciousness they disturb it; they also have the potential to bring disaster to oneself and others. Hatred, when indulged, hardens into resentment. Lust too can grow into a destructive passion. Whenever a destructive mental state is present, the mind becomes rough, coarse, wild, heavy, dosed, disgusting, and dreadful. In contrast, a mind filled with metta is peaceFul, lovable, light, and open.

The First Wish of Metta Meditation

To be free from hatred and lust is avera, to lack an enemy. This wonderful state is the first wish we generate toward others in formal metta bhavana. "May he or she be free from enemies," we say to ourselves, thinking of both inner and outer enemies. (It is all right to vary the verbal formula slightly, as long as the essence of the wish remains. For instance, the phrase you use could be "May he or she be free from danger" or "May he or she be free from enmity, danger, and fear.")

People often ask, When one meditates by radiating metta to other beings, will these others become peaceful? This is not certain. What is certain is that one's own internal enemies, dosa and raga, will be pacified and one will become peaceful oneself.
If we practice loving-kindness, it will certainly arise. If we keep at it, our metta will gradually increase, growing powerful enough to quell the internal enemies of hatred and greed. Once these enemies are subdued, one is no longer so quick to respond to others in an angry or self-centered way--for example, by immediately forming negative judgments of those we meet, or by feeling jealous and suspicious of family members. Generally if one does not radiate metta, or if one's practice is weak, one remains easy prey for hatred, greed, lust, and so forth. One can end up violating the precepts by killing, stealing, verbal unkindness, sexual misconduct, or intoxication.

Protection from Inner and Outer Danger

Wrongdoing results from a tormented mind; it also leads to further dangers. By protecting us against inner enemies, metta bhavana also averts the dangers that result from wrongdoing. These dangers are:

  1. Attanuvada-bhaya, the fear or danger of self-blame, feeling ashamed and guilty about what one has done.
  2. Paranuvdda-bhaya, the fear of censure by others, losing the respect and support of people who have good judgment. Kind, ethical people tend to avoid those who habitually indulge in wrongdoing.
  3. Danda-bhaya, fear of punishment by the authorities. If one kills, steals, lies, takes intoxicants, and is generally unruly, sooner or later this will lead to conflict with the secular authorities.
  4. Duggati-bhaya, fear of being reborn in an unfavorable existence. Just as eating unsuitable food leads to an upset stomach, anytime one acts on a defiled intention one will suffer the consequences.

Clearly, no happiness arises in the mind of a person who is facing guilt, punishment, torture, and unfavorable rebirths.

Formula for Reciting Loving-Kindness

The wish we are emanating, for others to be free from enemies or danger, is expressed in a short, simple phrase that encompasses all possible problems a being can face: outer and inner enemies, wrongdoing, and all of its future consequences. If this wish were to come true, the being toward whom we're directing it would be perfectly happy and calm. Since we're wishing them to be freed from inner enemies, we are also wishing they might reach ultimate liberation of mind, perfect peace and freedom.

So, as we mentally recite the formula "May this person be free from enemies," we're emanating a pure volition for their happiness. Though it's uncertain what the result of this will be for the recipient, great joy will develop in one's own mind. One begins to understand what it is like to be freed from inner enemies, oneself.

Metta practice bestows the power to overcome kodhummattaka, mental madness based on hatred, colloquially called blind rage. Gripped by kodhummattaka, one goes berserk, out of control, and barely knows what one is doing. With metta bhfivanfi, one's knee-jerk responses become gentler, toned down; one's thoughts are less distorted, more humane.

People with strong metta no longer wish disadvantages upon others. They genuinely hope for others' happiness. They can put up with being insulted; they can forgive and forget. They let go of grudges and can sacrifice their own benefit for the sake of other beings. These wise, kind, beautiful qualities all arise due to lack of hatred in the mind. As metta grows stronger, the beauty of the mind increases. A generous, tolerant, unselfish person will also tend to be loved by others; he or she will be relatively free of puggala vera, enemies in human form. Thus, the protective quality of metta bhavana works inwardly and outwardly. It gradually tames the mind and behavior. As one's own little world is pacified, peace arises in the surrounding world.

Radiating Metta

To wish others to be free from enmity and danger is an efficient, focused way of radiating metta. The wish, in the form of a phrase, is radiated repeatedly. Metta can also be radiated spatially, first to those within one's home, then to those in the immediate neighborhood, and progressively to all beings in one's village, township, state, country, world, and universe.

If one's wishes are dedicated wholly to the welfare and happiness of others, metta reaches the level of metta-parami, the perfected loving-kindness of a buddha. Each and every time one radiates loving-kindness, either to individuals or groups, one is protecting oneself, developing metta-parami, gaining merit, and sowing a beneficial kammic seed that will bear fruit someday. By radiating metta hundreds or thousands of times, one protects oneself, develops metta-parami, and gains merit hundreds or thousands of times~quite a matter for rejoicing.

Radiating metta once per second, within a minute one protects oneself, develops metta-parami, and gains merit sixty times. Radiating loving-kindness for five minutes, one develops metta-parami and gains merit three hundred times. An hour offers thirty-six hundred instances of protection, parami, and merit.

But if we radiate the phrase "May so-and-so be well and happy" a thousand times and then speak roughly to that person, we cannot be said to possess real loving-kindness. After radiating loving-kindness mentally, we must also express it in verbal and bodily actions. Anytime we relate to other beings, we should do so with threefold loving-kindness–mental, verbal, and bodily acts of metta. This point should be well noted.

Still, it is said in the texts that a single moment of radiating loving-kindness mentally is more beneficial than cooking up huge pots of rice and offering them to others in the morning, noon, and evening. The Sarhyutta Nikaya states this very clearly radiating loving-kindness even for the time it takes to pull a cow's udder once is far better than
making huge rice offerings three times a day. They're not talking about just one giant pot of rice, but three hundred giant pots in the morning, three hundred more at noon, and again three hundred gigantic rice pots in the evening! It would seem that a point is being made.

Self-Esteem and Human Status

Most people hold themselves in high esteem; this is why they so easily lose patience. Impatience is a form of anger based on pride and conceit, or mana. Conceited ill will causes one to lose one's tolerance and humanity. One may continue to look like a human being from the outside, but one's mind and behavior resemble a hungry ghost's. If one remains just as irritable and impatient after radiating metta, the practice has been superficial. It is a sign that one needs to practice more. Maybe then one will start being a little bit more generous and succeed in rising up to human status and eventually become a distinguished, even an outstanding human being.

In human life it is quite possible to fulfill one's social duties, be generous, and improve one's mental states through meditation. If one can do all this, one will not be just a human being, and not just a distinguished human being, but a true human being. As such, when relating to others one will feel happy, cool, and peaceful.

Unselfishness, the Perfection of Loving-Kindness

Since we are practicing metta along the direction of developing paramis, it is good to delve into the meaning of this term.

Parami translated as "perfection," but it means "noble becoming" or "the business of a noble person." When performing wholesome deeds of generosity, dana, when observing morality (sila), and especially in metta-bhavana it is extremely important that there be no selfish interest involved. This is the meaning of the term "noble." It has nothing to do with social class--or, rather, it expresses the Buddha's definition of what is valuable and respectable in human affairs.

When performing a generous deed, it should be done entirely for the benefit of others. Only then does it qualify as true generosity. This is fairly obvious, since selfishness and generosity are contradictory. The commitment to maintain sila, too, can be altruistic, since a refined morality includes the recognition that others are just as worthy of good treatment as oneself. Likewise, when radiating loving-kindness we can do so entirely for the welfare and happiness of others.

Anytime we are generous, moral, or kind, there should be no hint of selfishness in our attitude.

Wholesome acts of morality, generosity, and kindness do not, however, lead to assurance in the Dhamma. Only the insight knowledges attained in satipatthana vipassana meditation can give that ultimate assurance--the assurance that one has understood the truth of existence and will no longer be subjected to suffering. We have been talking about the importance of selflessness in the metta practice. However, metta practice does not by itself lead to the ultimate understanding of the Noble Eightfold Path, to liberation of the mind from suffering, or to what is called "assurance in the Dhamma." When it comes time to practice the Dhamma to attain stream entry, we may feel motivated by a profound wish for release from the suffering we experience in ourselves. To have a certain degree of self-interest here is fine. The texts say that this desire is perfectly legitimate. So, when practicing the Dhamma to attain stream entry, one will be working hard in hopes of being freed from wrong views, doubt, and the danger of rebirth in states of loss. There's nothing wrong with harboring some hope of success, and no harm is done to others either. We've already discussed how one's own insight meditation practice benefits other beings.

In all other areas besides this, one should guard strenuously against selfish interest and instead focus on benefiting others. This is a noble aim; a person who undertakes such noble activity is also called parami. Persons worthy of the title parami will act from genuine loving-kindness and compassion. They are not hoping to gain name and fame or a long life nor even to be freed from the cycle of birth and death, samsara. Their motivation is altruistic.

sPrevious installments of Wisdom of the Week

Never Turn Away – Rigdzin Shikpo s
Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness: Walking the Buddha's Path – Bhante Henepola Gunaratana s
Ordinary Wisdom, Sakya Pandita’s Treasury of Good Advice – Sakya Pandita (John Davenport, translator) s
Mud & Water: The Collected Teachings of Zen Master Bassui – translated by Arthur Braverman s