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What Is Loving Kindness Meditation?

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  • Written By: Cynde Gregory
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 04 December 2016
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Like other forms of meditation, loving kindness meditation reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and fills the practitioner with an overwhelming sense of serenity. Loving kindness meditation, or Metta Bhavana, is said to have originated with the supreme Buddha himself, Siddhārtha Gautama, who is believed to have died sometime between 450 and 400 BCE. This type of meditation is about compassion for the self and others, acceptance of what is, and retraining negative mental habits into positive ones.

Buddha taught that love is a greater force than hatred. In the face of compassion, hatred, which is based in ego and illusion, simply evaporates. In theory, and many say in practice as well, if half the world practiced loving kindness meditation daily, the other half would be transformed by the healing energies it generated.

Loving kindness meditation must begin with the self. Practitioners believe a meditating being who is filled with self-loathing or other negative feelings directed inward cannot generate or even truly experience compassion. Silencing the world’s chatter and finding the path inward toward perfect stillness through the repetition of a mantra, visualizing an object, or erasing each distraction as it arises is the first step.

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According to tradition, loving kindness meditation involves a meditation series called the Four Divine States in which first metta, or friendly kindness, is contemplated. Metta can be described as the sense of acceptance and affection for all living beings that emanates from a heart that has no blockages. It also contains the blessing of joy on others that is completely altruistic. Metta is benevolent and without self-gain.

Karuna, which is also compassionate, has a different emotive quality. It is perhaps more engaged or active; the benevolent but distant wish for world happiness transforms into active affection. Karuna can include the desire to bear pain in order to spare others.

Mudita expresses joyful and honest happiness for the good fortune of others. It is the opposite of negative feelings, such as envy or jealousy. Mudita emanates outward in ever-widening circles, whereas envy or similar negative feelings move inward with increasingly narrow self-absorption.

Upekkha, also known as equanimity, is the final meditation in the series. In this state, the mind and heart are in a state of perfect balance in which insight that sees the full circle is possible. This is a passionless state — neither strong positive or strong negative feelings can create an imbalance.

Each of these steps must be followed for purity of compassion. Without first experiencing, metta, for example, meditation on karuna could transform into pity instead of compassion. Without the previous three states, the final meditative loving kindness practice, equanimity, could manifest as apathy instead of profound acceptance.

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SarahGen
Post 3

@stoneMason-- I know what you mean. I also find it difficult to be compassionate to every person I meet, especially when they are so mean to me. I've personally made some progress by meditation with the thought of the divine. I don't like people because of their qualities but rather the qualities of God who created them. So I believe that I ought to love everyone and be compassionate towards them because God loves them and that's how he would want me to act. I do it out of fear of God and the desire to please Him. If you can find a strong and meaningful reason for accepting all living things, then the stages of loving kindness meditation become easier.

stoneMason
Post 2

This meditation type sounds interesting but it's very difficult to follow through. I personally, have not made it past the first stage. I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong or if I just need more time. I don't have issues with myself or plants or animals. But I can't seem to love other people. I meet so many bad people that are negative and mean. I find it very challenging to accept and love them.

candyquilt
Post 1

I believe that compassion starts with oneself. In order to love and accept others, we have to first love and accept ourselves.

I used to suffer from low self-esteem. I did not like myself and always felt inadequate about myself. I was my biggest critic and criticized myself about everything. This hatred and lack of compassion for myself really took a toll on me and led to depression and anxiety. One day, I decided that I was doing nothing but harming myself and decided to change.

Loving kindness meditation among other things helped me in this journey. There are still times when I feel low-self esteem but they are brief. With the help of loving kindness meditation, I have learned to notice and stop those thoughts and concentrate on what is good. I have become a much more positive person and this has also reflected in a good way on my relationships with other people.

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