“All Of Us”- Metta Series : Part 1 : Exalted Release Of Mind

 


This is the First in a five part series. Here are the links to all parts:

  • Part 1
  • Part 2
  • Part 3
  • Part 4
  • Part 5

This series is a fairly comprehensive treatise on Metta, both what the Buddha taught about it, and putting it into practice in ourlives. There are a variety of methods but only two practiced come close to what the Buddha taught. The method I wanted to describe today is one I use most often, it is part of my daily practice and connects with me most. What I am showing you here is my version of this practice, the great thing about metta is that you can play with it to find what works for you, you can make it your own.

(Just a quick word on translation of Metta.. it is most often translated as loving-kindness, which is an old translation and to myself and many others does not really encapsulate what is meant by metta. I personally prefer boundless or limitless goodwill, as translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, which to me fits best, Goodwill being defined as – friendly, helpful, or cooperative feelings or attitude. This is not about loving all beings, or even necessarily liking them, this is about good will. )

The Pali term that best describes the method I will be describing is metta-cetovimutti, Translated as the liberation of mind through limitless goodwill.This method was taught to me here at Bhavana as “exalted metta”. Here is the sutta reference, I’ve also attached the pictures here for visualization help.

“And what, householder, is the exalted deliverance of mind? Here a bhikkhu abides resolved upon an area the size of the root of one tree, pervading it as exalted: this is called the exalted deliverance of mind. 1181 Here a bhikkhu abides resolved upon an area the size of the roots of two or three trees, pervading it as exalted: this too is called the exalted deliverance of mind. Here a bhikkhu abides resolved upon an area the size of one village, pervading it as exalted…[ 147]… an area the size of two or three villages… an area the size of one major kingdom… an area the size of two or three major kingdoms… an area the size of the earth bounded by the ocean, pervading it as exalted: this too is called the exalted deliverance of mind. – MN 127

So first things first, as with all proper metta, you need to begin with yourself. You cannot possibly hope to have limitless goodwill for all beings if you do not have it for yourself first. I like to use the simile of the oxygen mask. If you’ve ever been on a plane and listened to the safety speech, you know that the attendant always says if you are traveling with children always put YOUR OWN mask on first before assisting other passengers, Metta is just like that.

So you begin by developing thoughts and feelings of goodwill towards yourself, building up a mind state of good will. You can use words, visualizations, self talk, whatever works for you. The important thing is not the words and visualizations, but the mental state itself, the words and visualizations help get you to that state. The more you practice the easier it is to find that mental state and that “feeling” of metta, even sometimes without needing the words and visuals to get you there.

Here is an example of a set of words I’ve developed for my own use:

May (I/we/all beings) find happines
May (I/we/all beings) find Peace
May (I/we/all beings) Live in friendship with(all beings/each other)
May (I/we/all beings) find release

(for self talk I’ll often say things to myself like “ it’s ok jay, you are doing the best you can, you are doing a good thing by doing your practice, etc. focusing on positive thoughts about yourself and giving yourself a little pep talk. This is something I use not just in metta but even when I’m struggling and during many other times.)

I also imagine the metta being a sort of energy that fills me up, it’s color is purple, not for any reason other then it’s the color I thought fit best. This energy created permeates me as I am giving metta to myself. Now however, once I have that feeling of metta for myself, it’s time to launch that metta ever outwards.

I visualize the metta exploding out from me in the shape of a sphere, almost like some magic spell might look. This sphere grows ever larger, with me at it’s center.

Now here is where it gets good. This sphere gradually gets larger so that it encompasses the whole of the building you are in(or if outside the general property), then larger to encompass all beings in your state, ever larger encompassing all beings in your country, then all beings on the planet. Sometimes I have visualizations where images of a large variety of beings flicker through my awareness, especially at the point where I’ve reached the level of earth.

At this point Earth is there, as in the image above, totally encompassed in that purple sphere of metta. I often take a pause here, before heading out into the universe, and so I will take a quick one and explain that you can use words for each level in addition or even instead of visualizations. This is said just like the word phrasing above, starting with “may all” for each group.

May (all beings/all of us) in/on ( this state/country/planet/universe etc):
-find happines
-find Peace
-Live in friendship with(all beings/each other)
-find release

So now It’s time to branch out. I begin the visualization of the purple metta sphere expanding ever outwards as the earth gets smaller and smaller and then disappears as stars turn into the milky way. You can pause at this point to visualize the whole milky way, with it’s hundred billion stars, encompassed in the metta sphere, you can say the words if you wish.

It’s time to move on again, the milky way gets ever smaller and other galaxies come into view which are also getting smaller millions, billions, hundreds of billions, soon you are looking at the universe(the purple web is essentially a “picture” of the universe put forth by astronomy). At the pause you are with the universe, encompassing all of it whole with your limitless goodwill, all beings everywhere in the universe, in any form of existence, you can say the words once more.

But wait.. we aren’t done here just yet. Being an astronomy buff I take it to the next level. The visualization continues to expand with the metta sphere as the universe itself begins to grow smaller… suddenly it’s encompased in a sphere, and as you expand out you see others, dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions of universes. You are now in the multiverse. it is here where that release of mind reaches it’s peak. You are expanding the metta spehere, expanding your limitless good will, beyond the limits of our current experience. You are now encompassing all beings in any form of existence, in any universe or plane of existence, anywhere, and everywhere.

Every single living being that exists, you offer your goodwill, your friendship, your feelings of camaraderie, for all fellow beings who share existence with you… ALL of US, come into existence, live for a time, then pass away, all of us who have physical forms are children of the stars, ie we are made up of material that came from the heart of an exploding star. I’m not talking about a sort of “universal mind” or “universal one-ness”, the Buddha never taught that, but a camaraderie born of siblingship, of being in the same boat(samsara) as it were.

That is basic exalted metta as taught at Bhavana and personalized by me. I do this process while reciting the metta sutta, while looking up at the stars, when I wake up, and when I go to bed. Remember the words ands visualizations are not set in stone, you find what works best for you to develop the feeling of metta. I often describe the feeling as that feeling you get sitting around the table with close family and friends, a feeling of safety, acceptance, friendship, with no emnity or fear.

Metta is not about whether others like you or hate you or care about you. There is nothing magical about metta, you are not sending healing or peaceful waves at people expecting them to “get” the positive thoughts etc. Metta is about developing your own mind to be free of ill-will and negativity, and that is always worth it.

“Happy indeed we live, friendly amidst the hostile. Amidst hostile men we dwell free from hatred. Dhp 15”

To close, I think this Metta practice is perfectly captured in one of my favorite poems “Outwitted” by Edwin Markham:

“He drew a circle that shut me out — Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But Love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle that took him in!”

New Retreat in NYC June 16-18th “Cultivating a Mindfulness of Death”

I will be returning to Buddhist Insights June 16-18 to lead a weekend retreat on cultivating a mindfulness of death. When the links are available I will post them in the future. Here is the introduction:

“Do you ever take the time to think about death? Yours and your loved ones? Most people would emphatically say no, and so they live in fear and dread throughout their lives, seeking to avoid any thought or encounter with death and its close companions, old age and sickness.

Cultivating and living with a mindfulness of death does the opposite of what one might expect. Instead fear and sadness, it cultivates peace, acceptance, compassion, and a drive to live your life in a way that is the most beneficial to you and others, for as long as you have left.

The Buddha said that mindfulness of death is of great benefit, come spend the weekend with Bhante J facing your fears, because beyond those fears is freedom.”

Mindfulness of Death Series : Part 5 : Putting It All Together

So we come to the final article for this series. The final piece where we put it all together. Now we will put everything we’ve learned so far, and a few new things, into one coherent practice that can be done in 10 minutes or less.

You can do this anywhere, on the cushion or off. I began this practice a few years ago by standing in front of the skeleton by the meditation hall here at Bhavana, which I still do today. So let us begin:

We start out with a simple recollection. We remind ourselves “I may die today, I may die tomorrow, I may die at any time”. Bhante Seelananda here at Bhavana teaches at the mindfulness of death retreat to start from a future time period, 10 years for example, and to count down at intervals from “I may die in 10 years” to “I may die, in 1 second”. It may be helpful for some but I find compressing it to the statement above works better for me.

Once we have set the stage and reminded ourselves of our impending death, we continue to the next statement “because life is uncertain, but death is certain”, another phrase taught here at Bhavana. We can never be certain about anything in life, but the death of this body is always a certainty, even for awakened beings.

Now we come back to familiar territory, the 5 remembrances/subjects for contemplation from part 2. “I who may die at any time am subject to ageing and decay, I am not exempt from ageing and decay. I am subject to illness and disease, I am not exempt from illness and disease. I am subject to death, I am not exempt from death. All that is dear to me I will one day be separated from. I am the owner and heir of my actions.

Now you need to be careful when repeating this contemplation, for you may have a sneaky delusional mind like myself that wants to deny to the end that one day this being will die. In times of waning mindfulness I have actually heard my mind repeat “I am exempt from death” instead of “I am not exempt from death”, which brought my awareness back with a laugh at this poor deluded fellow.

Next we segue into 32 parts of the body contemplation(asubha). ”I am subject to these five remembrances because I have this body. This body which I find to be pleasant on the outside, but not so pleasant when viewed from inside. Other bodies are also pleasant to look upon from the outside, but not pleasant when viewed from the inside. When seen with equanimity, free of like and dislike, we see this body is a mere biological machine made up of various parts created with numerous (scientific) elements that were born in the heart of a dying star.

”This body is made up of head hair, body, hair, nails, teeth, skin( the five parts that can be seen on the outside). Fat , tissue, bones, bone marrow, muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, various organs, various systems(circulatory, neurological etc), various liquids, and miscellaneous parts. It helps me also to visualize all of this as I go through, like making an examination of the body. Downloading an anatomy app on a phone/tablet may be helpful for this.

This is the point where it helps to be in front of a skeleton. I often times will feel the various parts of the skeleton with one hand and the same part on my own body with the other. The cheek bone of the skeleton, my cheek bone. The collar bone of the skeleton, my collar bone. The pelvis of the skeleton, my pelvis. This practice really punches home the fact that you have this skeleton inside of you, as well as all the parts you have gone though. It helps to break through the fog we keep ourselves in and show us the reality.

From there we segue into corpse contemplation. “all these parts of the body are subject to decay, to illness, to death. One day this body will lie devoid of life, useless as a dead tree stump, and will decay according to it’s nature.”

Now we go through the various stages of decay from part three, with an added visualization. I was told about this visualization some years ago by someone who claimed they learned this from Bhikkhu Thanissaro, but I can’t confirm that, regardless it has been very helpful. I visualize a copy of myself in front of me, but it IS myself, like looking in a mirror. This copy then begins to rapidly age until it falls back, dies, and then begins the 9 stages of corpse decay from corpse contemplation. I was surprised the first time I did this as the visualized me “smiled” as he died, a smile of acceptance and being “ok” with death.

I don’t really often use words during this part as I go through the various stages of corpse decay, but if you wish you can verbalize it to go along with the visualization of the stages ”a corpse 3 days dead… skeleton with flesh and blood.. scattered and bleached bones” etc

This is the end of the mindfulness of death practice, but there is one final segue after this. ”Because I am subject to decay, illness, and death, so too are all other beings. Knowing this I should develop metta(limitless good-will) and karuna(compassion) for myself and all beings….(segue into metta practice) may all of us find happiness, may all of us find peace, may all of us live in friendship with each other, may all of us find release”.

So we end our mindfulness of death practice with the realization that we are all in the same boat, subject to the same nature, and when death is rolling from all directions like four mountains as tall as the sky, all there is to do is to practice dhamma, hence why I feel it appropriate to do metta practice right after mindfulness of death, a tandem pair as it were.

I will close with one final recommendation. There is a wonderful video, a dhamma talk, on death spoken by a monk who was dealing with cancer at the time. I’m not sure if he is still alive or not but I still watch this regularly as it is poignant and profound: “The Ultimate Test” – https://youtu.be/oBIMRCRh_Xs

I wish you all peace, happiness, and that your practice blossoms. Until next time friends.


This is the Fifth in a five part series. Here are the links to all parts: