Feb 19, 2014

Metta Bhavana : Sharing Merits from Vipassana

By eliminating the ego with Vipassana practice, we open the unselfish, purer mind as conduits for Dhamma forces of positivity throughout the universe. The realization that metta is not produced by us makes its transmission truly selfless.

.In these times of unrest and widespread suffering, the need for such a practice as Metta Bhavana is clear. For peace and harmony in the world, inner peace and harmony must first be established in the mind of the individual.

        Metta or Metta Bhavana is the practice of generating vibrations of goodwill and compassion [Metta practice is taught on the 10th day of a beginner's Vipassana course]. Later, at the end of every Vipassana course, or a one-hour sitting, a meditator is asked to practice metta, to share the merits gained with all beings. Metta vibrations are tangible vibrations whose beneficial power increases as the purity of the mind increases.

Practice of Metta Bhāvana In Vipassana Meditation

(from the Vipassana Research Institute article*)
The practice of Mettā-Bhāvanā (meditation of generating pure compassion for all beings) is an important adjunct to Vipassana meditation - indeed, it is its logical outcome. Mettā-Bhāvanā is the practice whereby we radiate goodwill towards all beings, from depth of one's mind, filling oneself and the atmosphere around with calming, positive vibrations of purity and compassion. 

The Buddha instructed meditators to develop in mettā practice - to lead more peaceful, harmonious lives, and serve others in doing so as well. Students of Vipassana follow that instruction because mettā gives us a way to share with all others the peace and harmony we are developing. It helps reduce the ego, and a self-centered attitude in life.

The commentaries state: Mijjati siniyhati 'ti mettā - that which inclines one to a friendly disposition is mettā. It is a sincere wish for the good and welfare of all, devoid of ill-will. 

Adoso 'ti mettā - "non-aversion is mettā."

The chief characteristic of mettā is a benevolent attitude. It culminates in the identification of oneself with all beings, a recognition of the fellowship of all life.

To grasp this concept at least intellectually is easy enough, but it is far harder to develop such an attitude in oneself. To do so, some practice is needed, and so we have the practice of mettā-bhāvanā, the systematic cultivation of goodwill towards others - with a base of a pure mind. 

Therefore, to be really effective, mettā meditation must be practiced along with Vipassana meditation. So long as negativities such as aversion dominate the mind, it is futile to formulate conscious thoughts of goodwill, and doing so would be a ritual devoid of inner meaning. However, when negativities are removed by the practice of Vipassana, goodwill naturally wells up in the mind; and emerging from the prison of self-obsession, we begin to concern ourselves with the welfare of others.

For this reason, the practice of mettā-bhāvanā is introduced only at the end of a Vipassana course, after participants have passed through the process of purification. At such a time meditators often feel a deep wish for the well-being of others, making their practice of mettā truly effective. Though limited time is devoted to it in a course, mettā may be regarded as the culmination of Vipassana practice.

As we practice Vipassana, we become aware that the underlying reality of the world and of ourselves consists of arising and passing away [of biochemical flow of sensations *] every moment. We realize that the process of change continues without our control and regardless of our wishes. Gradually we understand that any attachment to what is ephemeral and insubstantial produces suffering for us. We learn to be detached (through Vipassana practice of objectively observing impermanence of bodily sensations), and to keep the balance of mind in the face of any experience. Then we begin to experience what real happiness is; not the satisfaction of desire nor the forestalling of fears, but rather liberation from the cycle of desire and fear.

As inner serenity develops, we clearly see how beings are enmeshed in suffering, and naturally this wish arises, "May all find what we have found: the way out of misery, the path of peace." This is the proper volition for the practice of mettā-bhāvanā.

Mettā is not prayer; nor is it the hope that an outside agency will help. On the contrary, it is a dynamic process producing a supportive atmosphere where others can act to help themselves. Mettā can be omni-directional, or directed toward a particular person. In either case, meditators are simply providing an outlet; because the mettā we feel is not 'our' mettā. By eliminating egotism we open our minds and make the purer mind conduits for forces of positivity throughout the universe. The realization that mettā is not produced by us makes its transmission truly selfless.

In order to practice mettā, the mind must be calm, balanced and free from negativity. This is the type of mind developed in the practice of Vipassana. A meditator knows by experience how getting irritated, angry, generating ill-will destroys peace and frustrates any efforts to help others. Only as the ego is reduced and equanimity is developed can we be happy and wish happiness for others. The words "May all beings be happy" have great force only when uttered from a pure mind. Backed by this purity, they will certainly be effective in fostering the happiness of others.

We must therefore examine ourselves before practising mettā-bhāvanā to check whether we are really capable of transmitting mettā. If we find even a tinge of hatred or aversion in our minds, we should refrain at that time. Otherwise we would transmit that negativity, causing harm to others. However, if mind and body are filled with serenity and well-being, it is natural and appropriate to share this happiness with others: "May you be happy, may you be liberated from the defilements that are the causes of suffering, may all beings be peaceful."

This loving attitude enables us to deal far more skilfully with the vicissitudes of life. Suppose, for example, one encounters a person who is acting out of deliberate ill-will to harm others. The common response-to react with fear and hatred-is self-centredness, does nothing to improve the situation and, in fact, magnifies the negativity. It would be far more helpful to remain calm and balanced, with a feeling of goodwill even for the person who is acting wrongly. This must not be merely an intellectual stance, a veneer over unresolved negativity. Mettā works only when it is the spontaneous overflow of a purified mind.

The serenity gained in Vipassana meditation naturally gives rise to feelings of mettā, and throughout the day this will continue to affect us and our environment in a positive way. Thus, Vipassana ultimately has a dual function: to bring us happiness by purifying our minds, and to help us foster the happiness of others by preparing us to practise mettā. What, after all, is the purpose of freeing ourselves of negativity and egotism unless we share these benefits with others? In a retreat we cut ourselves off from the world temporarily in order to return and share with others what we have gained in solitude. These two aspects of the practice of Vipassana are inseparable.

The need for such a practice as mettā-bhāvanā is clear. If peace and harmony are to reign throughout the world, inner peace and harmony must first be established in the mind of the  individual.

Aham avero homi, avyāpajjho homi,
Anīgho homi, sukhī attānam pariharāmi.

Mātā pitu ācariya, ñati samūhā

averā hontu, avyāpajjhā hontu, anīghā hontu,
sukhī attānam pariharantu.

Sabbe sattā, sabbe pānā,

sabbe bhūtā, sabbe puggalā,
sabbe atta-bhāva pariyāpannā,
sabbā itthiyo, sabbe purisā,
sabbe ariyā, sabbe anariyā,
sabbe manussā, sabbe amanussā,
sabbe devā, sabbe vinipātikā,
averā hontu, avyāpajjhā hontu, anīghā hontu,
sukhī attānam pariharantu.

Sabbe sattā sukhī hontu, sabbe hontu ca khemino.

Sabbe bhadrāni passantu, mā kiñci pāpamāgamā,
mā kiñci dukkhamāgamā, mā kiñci sokamāgamā.
May I be free from ill-will; may I be free from cruelty;
May I be free from anger; May I keep myself at peace.

May my mother, father, teacher, relatives, the whole community

be free from ill-will, free from cruelty, free from anger;
May they keep themselves at peace.

May all creatures, all living things,

all beings, all individuals,
all persons included,
all women, all men,
all noble ones, all worldlings,
all humans, all non-humans,
all celestial beings, all those in states of woe
be free from ill-will, free from cruelty, free from anger;
May they keep themselves at peace.

May all beings be happy; May they all be secure.

May they all see good fortune; May no evil befall them.
May no suffering befall them; May no sorrow befall them.
Pali verses Vipassana meditators generate in the mind during the practice of mettā

* The Practice of Mettā Bhāvanā In Vipassana, VRI newsletter, Apr 1992.
Principal Vipassana Teacher Sayagyi U Goenka answers questions from Vipassana students on Metta Bhavana:

1. Does metta get stronger as samadhi (concentration) gets stronger?

Sayagyi U Goenka: Yes. Without samadhi, and Vipassana practice of paññā , the metta is really no metta. When samadhi is weak, the mind is very agitated, and it is agitated only when it is generating some impurity, some type of craving or aversion. With these impurities, you cannot expect to generate good qualities, vibrations of metta, or karuna (compassion). It is not possible.

At the vocal level, you may keep on saying "Be happy, be happy", but it does not work. With samadhi your mind is calm and quiet, at least for a moment. It is not necessary that all the impurities have gone away; but at least for that moment when you are practicing metta, your mind is quiet, calm, and not generating any impurity. Then whatever metta you generate is strong, fruitful, beneficial.

When practicing Vipassana, you go deeper to the stage where you can feel very subtle sensations. The mind gets sharper by observing, 
piercing, penetrating the subtler sensations. With this sharper mind if you generate mettā it will be so powerful. The entire atmosphere will get charged with the electricity of mettā because you are working at the depth of the mind, and this sword has become now very sharp. It is cutting all the impurities of the atmosphere, making it very pure and peaceful.

2. When you say that metta works—how does it work? 

If the mind is pure and one is generating vibrations of mettā, these vibrations can go anywhere, whether to this loka or that loka (of the 31 planes of existence), this lower field or that higher field—anywhere. If we direct our vibrations towards a certain being, certainly it moves towards that being. And when it reaches that individual, the being comes into contact with this vibration, and feels very happy, because the vibrations are vibrations of Dhamma, of peace, of harmony.

When you donate something in the name of someone who has passed away, with the wish, "May the merit of my donation go to so-and-so," then your volition of mettā, this vibration, moves to that person and they will get elated by those vibrations. And because these vibrations are with the base of Dhamma, something or other will happen which will take him or her towards Dhamma. Whether in this life or in a future life, it helps him or her towards Dhamma, then this is how we are helping those who are in lower fields or even in higher fields.

And now, what is it that you donate? You donate the best thing that you have, and the best thing that you have is the purity from your Vipassana meditation practice. So at the end of your Vipassana meditation—the end of a course or the end of your daily Vipassana sittings—you remember anyone who is very dear to you who has passed away, "I share my merits with you." This is your mettā, and the vibration which goes to that person carries such a Dhamma strength because you have meditated and you are sharing your meditation with this person. Naturally it is very helpful.

The Buddha overcame many challenging situations, including assassins sent to kill him, with a perfectly balanced mind overflowing with mettā. Here he calmly deals with the furious Bharadwaja abusing the Buddha in a public gathering. After this meeting with the Buddha, Bharadwaja practised Vipassana and became an arahant - one who has removed all impurities in the mind. 
(Painting from Buddha's Life Gallery of the Global Vipassana Pagoda).

3. If I am not able to experience subtle sensation in the body, how can I practice metta?

It is true that if you practice metta with these subtle sensations, it is very strong, very effective, because then you are working with the deepest level of your mind. In case you are not experiencing subtle sensations at the time of practicing metta, just keep thinking at the intellectual, conscious level, "May all beings be happy. May all beings be happy." And keep on working. 

When you reach the stage where there are subtle vibrations, you will work at a deeper level and the metta will be more effective. [Of course, if the mind is disturbed, agitated, then this is not the time to practice metta. Better to practice Vipassana - or Anapana, if needed - and first come out of the disturbance, negativity etc]

4Is the generation of metta a natural consequence of the purity of the mind, or is it something that must be actively developed? Are there progressive stages in metta?

Both are true. According to the law of nature – the law of Dhamma – as the mind is purified, the quality of metta develops naturally. On the other hand, you must work to develop it by practicing Metta Bhavana. It is only at a very high stage of mental purity that metta is generated naturally, and nothing has to be done, no training has to be given. Until one reaches that stage, one has to practice.

Also, people who don’t practice Vipassana can practice Metta Bhavana. In such countries as Burma, Sri Lanka and Thailand, Metta Bhavana is very common in every household. However, the practice is usually confined to mentally reciting "May all beings be happy, be peaceful". This certainly gives some peace of mind to the person who is practicing it. To some extent good vibrations enter the atmosphere, but they are not strong.

However, when you practice Vipassana, purification starts. With this base of purity, your practice of Metta naturally becomes stronger. Then you won’t need to repeat these good wishes aloud. A stage will come when every fiber of the body keeps on feeling compassion for others, generating goodwill for others.

Mettā and purity go together. If there is no purity, you can't generate mettā. By practising Vipassana, you purify your mind, and that will help to develop your quality of mettā.

5. How does metta help in the development of mudita (sympathetic joy) and karuna (compassion)?

Muditā and kāruṇā naturally follow as one develops mettā. Mettā is love for all beings. Mettā takes away the traces of aversion, animosity and hatred toward others. It takes away the traces of jealousy and envy toward others.

What is muditā? When you see other people progressing, becoming happier, if your mind is not pure, you will generate jealousy toward these people. "Why did they get this, and not I? I'm a more deserving person. Why are they given such a position of power, or status? Why not I? Why have they earned so much money? Why not I?" This kind of jealousy is the manifestation of an impure mind.

As your mind gets purer by Vipassana and your mettā gets stronger, you will feel happy when seeing others happy. "All around there is misery. Look, at least one person is happy. May he be happy and contented. May he progress in Dhamma, progress in worldly ways." This is muditā, or unselfish happiness in seeing the happiness and success of others. M
uditā will come as you purify the mind more to dissolve the ego, and more deeply you practice mettā.

Similarly, when you find somebody suffering, kāruṇā (ego-less compassion) automatically arises if your mind is pure. If you are an ego-centred person, full of impurities, without the proper practice of Vipassana, without mettā, then seeing someone in trouble doesn't affect you. You don't care; you are indifferent. You try to delude yourself saying, "Oh, this fellow is suffering because of his own karma. How can I do anything about it?" Such thoughts show that the mind is not yet pure. 

When the mind becomes pure and mettā develops, hardness of heart cannot stay; it starts melting. You see people suffering and your heart goes out to them. You don't start crying; that's another extreme. Rather, you feel like helping such people. If it is within your means, you give some tangible help. Otherwise, you serve with practice of mettā: "May you be happy. May you come out of your misery." Even if you have no material means to help somebody, you always have this spiritual means.

[* Experience impermanence every moment, of biochemical flow of sensations arising, passing away.]
Question and Answers on Vipassana and life