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.
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.