We are not currently meeting 'in-person'

We are not currently meeting 'in-person.'
I have made the difficult decision to stop holding our in-person Sunday night meetings - you can read more about this in my post here. I will be continuing to post weekly content here and in our newsletter. Do remember to sign up for the 'Metta Letter' newsletter below as I will be sending out weekly meditations there.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Metta Phrases

Metta Phrases

The practice of Metta Bhavana or 'Cultivation of Lovingkindness' is a powerful one, but for most of us the key part is to experience - not just understand - what Metta truly is. I say 'experience' because it's not just about knowing some definitions or having an intellectual understanding of the word 'Metta,' but is about allowing an unconditional form of love to permeate your being.

The word 'love' for us is a tricky one, as it is so overloaded. From the sticky-sweet Facebook meme version of love through romantic love to my love of spicy food - it is used for so many different things that it has become almost meaningless.

For this reason Metta is often translated as 'goodwill' or 'lovingkindness' - but deep down it is simply genuinely wishing the best for someone, regardless of who they are or what they have done. While it is hard to put in words it is something we can all learn through the practice.

The great thing about the traditional form of Metta Bhavana is that it is so practical. It doesn't assume you know what Metta means, nor does it make any assumptions about your situation right now. Instead it invites you to practice wishing the best for yourself right now in this place - and then to see what it is like to wish exactly the same for a number of other people - those you know and those you don't, those you like and those you dislike. And each of these people is a real person, not a generalization. It is all too easy to say 'I wish all beings to be well,' but a completely different proposition to say 'I wish this person who hurt me to be well.' Metta practice is specific, practical and empirical. We learn what it is like to wish a person we can't stand to be well. We learn and explore the edges of our goodwill.

One of the 'tools' we use in the practice are the Metta phrases, prayers or mantras. These are simple sentences wishing the best for yourself or for another. In our group we usually use this simple formulation:

May I be well,
May I be happy,
May I be free from suffering.
These short phrases are fairly traditional, and are a great starting place for beginning to cultivate goodwill. We first direct the phrases to our own self - recognizing the messiness of our lives but none the less practicing unconditional goodwill - not getting caught up in whether we 'deserve' these things but simply wishing them for our self. We then change them to be 'May you...' and work with specific other people - the friend, the unknown, the enemy - and wish exactly the same for them. And, as I often say, if it's hard then we are probably doing it right. It will be hard with some individuals - and sometimes with our self - and that is the practice.

One of the things that is often recommended is that we experiment with these phrases - try differing phrases wishing our self well, and then using exactly the same wish for others. This can be a wonderful way to learn some of the subtleties of true Metta. And once we have a phrase or two that resonates, we can use that phrase in our life as we meet with and interact with others, holding an intention of Metta as we speak and act.

I have linked below a fully guided audio meditation where we explore and experiment with different Metta phrases. Feel free to use it in your own practice if you wish, or to explore different ways of expressing goodwill on your own.

Metta, Chris.

Apologies for the poor audio quality, I am having microphone difficulties!




Sunday, December 5, 2021

Sharing Merit

Sharing Merit

In many meditation traditions it is usual to end a meditation session with a form of 'dedication of merit.' This dedication can take a number of forms - in our local group we use the simple formula of:

May all beings  —  without limit, without end  —
    have a share in the merit just now made,
    and in whatever other merit I have made.
    May they attain liberation,
    and their radiant hopes be fulfilled.

There is a notion in the Tibetan traditions that I think is helpful in understanding why we do this. There is a concept of the 'Three Excellences' (or 'Three Supremes') which gives some simple guidance on how to approach a meditation practice. They are:

  1. To start with a loving heart;
  2. To perform the practice without attachment to outcome; and
  3. To finish by dedicating any achievements to others.

Now, if any of you are Type-As like me you are probably saying "Wait - what about what I want to achieve?" And that is of course the point - if we approach our practice in this way we can avoid just generating attachment to some desired outcome. Instead our meditation is purer and less complicated.

But there is more than that. Sharing is powerful in itself. In the Itivuttaka The Buddha says:

If beings knew, as I know, the results of giving & sharing, they would not eat without having given, nor would the stain of selfishness overcome their minds. Even if it were their last bite, their last mouthful, they would not eat without having shared, if there were someone to receive their gift. But because beings do not know, as I know, the results of giving & sharing, they eat without having given. The stain of selfishness overcomes their minds.
The message here is clear - the act of sharing is important and something we should practice in all forms of our life. When we meditate we recite the dedication, but that is not enough. We should approach our life 'off the cushion' with this attitude of sharing. Whether this is smiling more, approaching people with more love or being more understanding and compassionate. Our practice should be shared in all these ways.

So as much as anything reciting the dedication is a reminder to ourselves that we should continue to practice this sharing.

Metta, Chris.


PS: I have linked below a fully guided meditation on the dedication of merit and the importance of sharing - please feel free to use it in your own practice if you wish. Apologies that the audio has some distortion issues, I have been having some microphone problems.

PPS: Those of you in the Theravadin tradition will recognize the short dedication of merit above as a cut-down version of the Sabba-patti-dāna Gāthā:

May all beings — without limit, without end —
have a share in the merit just now made,
and in whatever other merit I have made.

Those who are dear & kind to me —
beginning with my mother & father —
whom I have seen or never seen;
and others, neutral or hostile;

beings established in the cosmos —
the three realms, the four modes of birth,
with five, one, or four aggregates —
wandering on from realm to realm:

If they know of my dedication of merit,
may they themselves rejoice,
and if they do not know,
may the devas inform them.

By reason of their rejoicing
in my gift of merit,
may all beings always live happily,
free from animosity.

May they attain the Serene State,
and their radiant hopes be fulfilled.

"Itivuttaka: The Group of Ones" § 26.   {Iti 1.26; Iti 18}, translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/iti/iti.1.001-027.than.html .

Photo by Beth Macdonald on Unsplash