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The Power of Metta Bhavana Meditation: From Loving-Kindness to Insight

Updated: 17 hours ago

The Metta Bhavana is a meditation technique rooted in loving-kindness and can be expanded into a profound insight practice, a way that helps us get a glimpse into the nature of reality. It is one of the fundamental meditation practices taught in Triratna (our Buddhist movement), translates to the development of loving-kindness.

 

What is Metta Bhavana?

Traditionally, Metta Bhavana meditation involves five stages, where we cultivate loving-kindness towards ourselves, a good friend, a neutral person, someone we find challenging, and then all beings together.


This practice is not just about focusing; it’s about fostering kindness towards ourselves and extending that kindness to others. When we practice Metta Bhavana, we are essentially nurturing our ability to connect with and positively influence the lives of others. You can read more about the basics of this practice here.




 

Taking Metta Bhavana further

There's a deeper aspect to this meditation practice we can explore - something called ‘objectless Metta’, which is a form of Vipassana (insight) practice.


Objectless Metta is an extension of the fifth stage of Metta Bhavana meditation. It goes beyond sending loving-kindness to specific individuals or groups and instead focuses on the idea that Metta itself is a quality of existence. This insight can be transformative, helping us to see the world and ourselves in a new light.


The below steps can help you take your Metta Bhavana practice to a new level. If you are new to the practice, it’s best to get a good understanding of the five-stage Metta Bhavana first, which in itself is a transformative practice.

 

Step 1: Reflect on Your Connection to Metta

To begin, consider what allows you to connect with Metta (loving-kindness). Reflect on when and how this connection happens naturally for you. Spend a few moments on this reflection, noticing any specific thoughts or feelings that arise.


Step 2: Let Go of Mental Activity & Move to Heart

Once you've reflected on this, try to let go of any mental activity and simply connect with the feeling of Metta. Notice how it feels in your body. Is there a specific area where this loving-kindness seems to be focused? Use your breathing as a guide to move your focus from your mind to your heart.


If you find it challenging to connect, be kind to yourself. Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to feel Metta. Sometimes, just focusing on your breathing can help open up this connection.


Step 3: Breathe Metta into Your Body

Next, try to explore breathing Metta into your body. Imagine that with every breath, you are inhaling loving-kindness. Explore whether this loving-kindness fills your body or flows through you. Notice varied experiences, such as feeling your boundaries dissolve or sensing Metta moving through you without staying in the body.


This practice can be disorienting at first, but remember, Metta is always present. With practice, you can learn to let more light and loving-kindness in.


Step 4: Practice Objectless Metta (Vipassana)

Finally, we move into the practice of objectless Metta. Objectless Metta (a form of Vipassana practice) is an advanced stage of Metta Bhavana, where we transcend the typical notions of sending and receiving loving-kindness.


In this practice, we let go of the idea of a subject (the person sending Metta) and an object (the person receiving Metta), along with all associated labels and distinctions. The goal is to experience Metta as a pure, wordless phenomenon.

 

How to understand the nature of objectless Metta

  •  Let go of the subject-object divide. Release the idea that you are the one sending Metta and that others are receiving it. Instead, recognize that Metta simply flows naturally without needing a source or destination.

  • Transcend labels and distinctions. Drop all labels and categories you might use to define or understand Metta. This includes words like "flow" or "energy." The practice aims to strip away conceptual thinking.

  • Embrace a wordless experience. Allow yourself to sit in a state of pure experience, without trying to describe or analyze what’s happening. This can be challenging because our minds are accustomed to labeling and categorizing experiences.

  • Recognize unity with the universe. In this state, you may begin to feel a profound connection with the universe. Without the interference of the mind, you become aware of being an integral part of the cosmos, where Metta is a fundamental aspect of reality.

  • Allow insights to arise naturally. By staying in this wordless state, insights about the nature of existence may spontaneously arise. This form of Insight practice can lead to deep realizations about the interconnectedness of all life and the nature of suffering and compassion.


Vipassana practice requires patience and care

Objectless Metta is a powerful practice that requires patience and careful attention. It can be disorienting at first because it challenges our habitual ways of thinking and perceiving. However, by gently and consistently practicing this meditation, we can open ourselves to profound insights and a deeper understanding of loving-kindness as an essential part of our being.


If at any point this feels overwhelming, return to your breath. Trust your intuition and go at your own pace. The goal is not to force an experience but to gently explore the expansive nature of Metta.


Through these practices, we learn to loosen our rigid views, fostering a deeper connection with ourselves and others. Metta Bhavana meditation not only nurtures our capacity for kindness, but also opens the door to profound insights about the nature of reality. Embrace this journey with patience and kindness, and allow the transformative power of Metta to unfold naturally.

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