More thoughts on Metta

I’ve been practicing Metta in the mornings on the cushion this week. My decision was based on the increased interest in Metta after reading more about it last week for class.

Specifically, one aspect of the benefits of Metta (of which there are many) really appealed to me. Practitioners of Metta are said to enter easily into states of concentration, ie. the Jhanas.

For this past week, I’ve been doing some Metta for myself, and bringing Lucy to mind to get the metta feeling flowing, then going through friends, neutral people, and difficult people, then spreading out geographically or directionally. This, I’ve come to see, keeps many aspects of the mind quite busy. Consider Shinzen’s breakdown of mental activity into ‘talk’ and ‘image’, then add the aspect of Vedena, or feeling tone, and you have 2 of the four foundations of mindfulness activated with thoughts of loving kindness. Non-harming, goodwill, wishes for well-being and liberation are being mentally spoken (talk), projected in widening circles or specific directions (image) and creating a feeling tone of joy and well being (feeling).

All the while, the mind is getting more concentrated, more collected, and more joyful. Piti (one of the jhana factors usually translated as ‘energy’) also arose for me this morning during Metta practice.

It is quite easy to see that all of the jhanna factors are being developed. What I’m starting to see is that the four foundations of mindfulness are also at play here.. but it’s not mindfulness as we typically think of it — in it’s equanimous receptive mode — but rather these aspects of our being are being generated or filled with skillful qualities — qualities that are in alignment with right intention, right effort, right action, and right concentration.

Metta is serving to prepare the ground for concentration by strengthening all of it’s aspects by providing wholesome content while simultaneously softening the mind’s grasping and aversion. The next step would be to drop the phrases and move into samadhi practice to see if all of this preparation does in fact lead to an easier entry into the jhanas. I think I’ll stick with Metta for a while longer. I do want to keep in mind and remember this two-fold combination, though. After all, it has it’s roots directly in the Metta Sutta.

Metta and liberation

Teaching the Insight Meditation class had some real benefits in terms of study and practice. Brushing up on the fundamental concepts of Buddhism, leading guided meditations for groups, and delivering dharma talks were all very beneficial to me, “as teacher” and “as student”.

This process of researching and reading lead me to some written material on the practice of Metta. The following proved very interesting. Metta: The Philosophy and Practice of Universal Love by Acharya Buddharakkhita.

I know Metta practice can be considered a concentration practice. In fact, the guided Metta meditation during the 2014 concentration retreat proved to be a huge heart-opening experience for me and gave me a glimpse into the power of Metta. This article (book?) expounded upon that theme and gave me more background for and insight into the practice and it’s effects.

Metta practice opens the heart and mind through meditating on Universal Love: an all pervasive wish for well-being and happiness that does not differentiate between any beings whatsoever. The Universality of the practice strengthens our ability to hold different beings in mind without discrimination. The practice of Metta allows the meditator to go beyond the barriers that typically restrain us.. allows us to get a taste of the limitless expansion of mind.. allows us to radiate goodwill outwardly, thus (at least temporarily) obliterating any sense of ill will or aversion. A mind that has been trained in Metta is a mind that settles down easily and is not agitated easily. A heart that practices Metta is easily concentrated and can more easily access the jhanas. Metta becomes a means to purify the mind and the heart. A mind free from hinderances is in a wonderful position to access insights and be fully liberated.

Intentionally creating mental fabrications – radiating goodwill methodically in all directions and to all beings – is a very skillful way of working on the problem of suffering from within. Vipassana is a way of working with phenomena — the sensations of the body, arising thoughts and feelings — slowly allowing us to see all phenomena’s true nature: impermanent, insubstantial, not self. This leaves us with ever increasing degrees of freedom as our clinging falls away, as our self definition loosens and softens, as our reactions weaken. Metta is a whole ‘nother vehicle whereby we expand ourselves as love to the very extremes of being.. and find ourselves equally empty of clinging and bondage, equally free, equally happy. Dipa Ma says the two methods are the same. I think she may be onto something.