I'm a giant fan of metta.
Metta, of course, is the Pali word for loving-kindness or friendliness. Along with karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy), and upekkha (equanimity) it's considered one of the "divine abodes" in Buddhism.
The divine abodes are also known as "the four immeasurables" because they can be cultivated through concentrated practice and directed towards an infinite number of beings. They're not limited or limiting like personal affection and egoistic enjoyment.
In reading about the Buddhist path of awakening, one usually hears that the cultivation of metta and the other divine abodes are supplemental to the practice of Vipassana or insight meditation. I've always found this emphasis to be disappointing- as I get a lot of pleasure and fulfillment out of metta cultivation and almost none out of Vipassana.
Metta as a Complete Path of Awakening
Recently, though, I had the good fortune of finding a radically eye-opening talk on metta by John Peacock, the Associate Director of the Oxford Mindfulness Center.
Peacock makes a compelling argument that a non-traditionalist reading of early Buddhist scriptures supports the notion that the cultivation of metta is itself a complete path to awakening. He points to the Metta Sutra, where the Buddha states that anyone who cultivates metta will "never again lie in the womb" as evidence that metta practice is enough to take an aspirant all the way off the karmic merry-go-round and into nirvana.
Peacock also makes the rather fascinating point that metta practice leads progressively and automatically to the cultivation of the other three divine abodes.
Well golly gee, sign me up.
I've been thinking for awhile now that I need to intensely focus myself on the cultivation of metta.
Here are some reasons metta is so important to me:
1. It Makes Me Both Happy and Psychic
Metta meditation, when practiced as a vivid visualization of oneself and others experiencing happiness, tends to make me feel open, energized, and buoyant. I've also noticed that it tends to dramatically increase my intuition and my ability to feel and know things with my heart.
2. It Counters the Destructive force of Love Addiction
I struggle with getting caught up in romantic infatuations that are ultimately destructive. This has been a pattern throughout my life, and I'm tired of it. Metta, because it's universal and non-attached love, is the opposite of infatuated, obsessive, possessive love - which tends to be ego-inflating, unbalancing, and crazy-making. Metta is sanity-making. It's wholesome. As such, it's the antidote to my unwholesome pattern.
3. It Tunes Me Into Divine Energy
Simone Weil once remarked that the cause of all misery is the inability of human beings to consistently draw energy directly from divine love in the same way that plants draw energy directly from the sun. Instead, we humans tend to vampirize energy from others or from our own bodies via games of power and sensual indulgence. In the process, we hurt others and ourselves. I completely agree with Weil on this point. And it's evident to me that by practicing metta, we can increase our ability to draw energy directly from divine love instead of from acts of exploitation or addiction.
So my plan for the New Year...
...is to devote two hours every day to metta cultivation. I know that sounds like a lot - but metta is fun. So it's less of a commitment to hard discipline and more of me just making time to do what I both enjoy and need for my sanity.
Also, because I've found a lack of interesting things to read about metta cultivation on the interwebs, I intend to write about what unfolds in my process here - and hopefully it'll inspire some of you out there to try it for yourself. I know I always need a lot of reassurance and proof that a spiritual effort will be worthwhile before I undertake it.