Metta practice instructions
Start the practice with a wholesome wish for the well-being of all beings. As you get settled, begin to notice and appreciate any pleasant aspects of your experience, and soak in any comfort, vitality, or feelings of refreshment. Feelings of relief and refreshment are indicative of ‘withdrawal from the hindrances’ i.e indicating a state of access concentration. There should be a sense of settled comfort, with bright clear alert awareness. Start with the simple, genuine phrases, beginning with yourself:
“may I be peaceful”
Then as you mentally say these words, breathe deeply and appreciate the breath, with a diffuse awareness spread throughout the body. The phrase above is good for an inbreath and an outbreath, and one can synchronize the words with the breath if that seems to fit. Sometimes as you get more settled, the breath is not so much directly correlated to the phrases. And eventually when the intention arises and is noticable, the phrases are dropped. There are many subtle aspects to sentiment of the above. First, in metta practice, we usually begin with ourselves, as this is the person most people can genuinely wish good things for. We notice that there can be nothing happening, or maybe there is a sense of sweetness or comfort. And as you’re gently, lovingly saying those words, you are also enjoying the breath and the sense of sweetness and peace. You have a broad awareness on the body, and several different phenomenological markers are indicators of good samatha developing in conjunction with the metta, and indicate the phrases can be dropped, and the practitioner stays with the intention, which arises spontaneously. That may happen at any point, but it will begin to happen right away when the practice is really moving. If the following are happening, the phrases can be dropped and the intention is maintained as the meditation object.
You may feel waves of pleasurable electric sensations moving through your body with the breath, and they eventually develop a pleasurable feeling tone to them.
You may feel a sense of clarity of mind, and a sense of “flow”- things are happening on their own seemingly- the mind feels secluded from the outside world
The intention for goodwill seems to emanate from your heart effortlessly and seemingly it is bigger than you-moving through you
You will develop physical pliancy, which is the ability to sit for long periods of time, and the body develops a sort of cocoon of pleasurable sensation, there is no pain
When the seven factors of awakening are present to a noticeable degree and the intention for wishing goodwill becomes effortless and self-sustaining, this is ideal practice and corresponds to Stage I Samatha.
The most important aspect of metta practice is keeping it simple and sticking to the basic foundations of practice. With a mind free of the basic hindrances, metta can be used to generate a state of mind very prone to insight and awakening experiences. Often visualization can develop the intention into a tangible thing, and this helps to summon the metta intention and develop focus. For example, it can be useful to imagine the goodwill or metta as some material thing such as a ball of light, or a beam of sorts, and that helps the mind to concretize the intention of goodwill into a specific meditation object. The fabrication activity that wants the mind to have an “object” to grab onto is perfectly at play when this dynamic is seen clearly, and it’s one way that metta practice can lead to and promote insight. The section on visualization describes these principles in more detail.
“May <insert name> be serene”
The self-other dynamic begins to be seen when we switch from wishing ourselves goodwill, to wishing goodwill for another person. We have grappled so far with creating an intention for goodwill for ourselves, applying that wish to ourselves, and hopefully experiencing some wholesome sweet states of metta. What can happen with more intellectual oriented types of people, is the phrase can become like a koan in the mind, – the mind starts questioning “who is the one sending and who is the one giving” and “am I sending this or is it just happening causally”. We can notice these types of thoughts bouncing around and that is fine, just notice them, and return to the intention, and enjoyment and appreciation of any factors of awakening that arise. More likely, we try for a while, and only very subtle transient feelings come. As long as we apply the intention in a genuine and authentic way, the feelings of goodwill and happiness will come on the cushion, but even if they don’t there will likely be other fruits that promote your practice if not directly in the moment. That’s the way intention works sometimes, especially a new intention that hasn’t been intended before.
The mind doesn’t have a clear pathway laid out yet, so it can take some time between applying an intention and the intention to manifest in subjective experience. But rest assured, the mind is in ways predictable and does follow basic principles. A person who is persistent in this practice, even without experiencing any kind of goodwill or loving feelings on the cushion, will experience other fruits of the practice in their interactions with others, and they will notice a sense of lightening toward the world, things are not taken quite so seriously. These are benefits and fruits that can be consciously pointed out to guide intention and do positive reflection.
“May all sentient beings be happy”
We begin, with a phrase like this, to dissolve the self-other duality, and hopefully with an intuitive progression through however many iterations of the above two intentions, we have some sense of blissful loving goodwill flowing. The goodwill can be thought of as coming from the heart, and moving through you. Wishing goodwill to all sentient beings begins to break down discrimination – you equally wish both friend and foe goodwill, no matter what they have done or who they are or what they stand for. It is an unconditional wish of goodwill, and when it effortlessly flows from your heart, expanding the wish for goodwill to all sentient beings has an expansive effect on the mind, and the sense of a self that is emanating this goodwill gets much thinner. This is similar to how the sense of spaciousness expands in the fifth jhana and develops into an all-knowing consciousness in the 6th jhana. The wish breaks down the sense of being a self, and there is only this pure light coming out of you. The same sensations that make up the feelings of unbounded goodwill are the sensations that can be found in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd jhanas, and there is a sense of thinning of the sense of self- actually in an ideal state of samatha the awareness is quite broad and the mind can monitor not only it’s own state, but the objects arising within the mind and relationships between them.
Important at this stage is to have bright alert awareness, and the field of experience should be broadly perceived, with a center of focus on the main object, the intention of goodwill. The experiences that happen around this main intention can all be seen in the moment as dependently arising phenomena. The intention is seen emanating from ‘somewhere’ in the back of awareness or through the air somehow, but definitely not from an agent of any sort. That intention leads to noticing feelings in the body and mind, and further intentions come and lead to further feelings and subtle liking and disliking, very quick, subtle phenomena. The intention, this abstract object, and it’s relation to the different feelings of pleasure, joy, peace, stillness, serenity – all those different exalted feelings, are seen as feelings, part of the process initiated by the intention of metta, and interdependently dancing with the images, feelings, and movements of mind. The unification of mind achieved should ideally lead the practitioner to a place where this interplay is happening and there is mindfulness of it all, including the ephemeral sense of being a separate self. It is very hard to impose a lot of self-ness when your heart is filled with loving kindness for others. As such, there is a direct perception of the weakening, dissolving, of the perceptual distortions that emphasize a self-identity. This can be seen in the moment effortlessly while doing metta practice.
In states where the mind has been trained to see clearly very subtle phenomena (see preparatory practice), and the mental bandwidth has been developed to such an extent to have very broad coverage of the mind, there is subtlety and richness and detail to the senses that is vibratory and subtle in nature, but can be vividly perceived with a trained mind. This is a state similar to high equanimity as described in various text describing the Progress of Insight, and it is especially powerful when accessed through metta, because of the effect on the sense of self, the involvement of the deeper heart/gut awareness, and the karmic effect of purifying the mind in general that can be achieved using metta and prayer – these make the mind very prone to “letting go” that precedes cessation in the form of conformity knowledge. – “perfect comprehension of reality” as some would say, but that statement needs to be clarified and qualified.
It really means direct comprehension of the 3C’s as mental experiences, not really “perfectly perceiving true reality”. The purifying effect of training the mind to see clearly, restraining unskillful impulses and cultivating skillful mind states- that effect in itself removes the mental obscurations that prevent the clear seeing of the 3C’s as mental fabrications. Once those obscurations are removed, insight experiences occur. Fruition of the knowledge and insight gained is freely accessible.