Bhavana, also referred to as metta-bhavana in the Buddhist tradition, simply means "loving kindness." Within this ancient Buddhist tradition, the relationship between loving-kindness, and the practice of a Buddhist lifestyle is deeply intertwined.
According to Buddhism and yoga, everything is interconnected.
We are interrelated beings, and we cannot experience life without being in relationship with one another. This is why the practice of loving-kindness towards ourselves, towards our fellow humans, and towards nature is of the utmost importance.
The term bhavana, also stands alone. It’s typically translated as meditation or cultivation. In this article, I’d like to explore metta-bhavana, the specific practice of cultivating a friendly kindness towards life, as this is an incredibly timely topic, given the topsy-turvy, chaotic times we’re currently living in.
Practicing Metta-Bhavana Towards Yourself
The best place to start, in my view, is with your own self. We can all understand that to truly love others, we must first love ourselves fully. We must accept ourselves, beauty, flaws, and all, before we can fully accept those we’re in close (or far) relationship with.
From a psychological standpoint, it’s best to begin practicing loving-kindness with oneself. We must first focus our loving attention inwards, before we can radiate that love outwards.
There’s a traditional metta meditation in the Buddhist tradition that you can follow, but I like to integrate the yogic mantra meditation with one line of the traditional Buddhist meditation, and repeat it over and over again. If you have a set of mala beads with which to support the repetition of the mantra, even better.
The mantra to practice is:
May I be happy and free from suffering.
What a simple statement. And yet, so powerful. I encourage you to take this profound act of loving-kindness towards yourself and meditate with it each morning. As you do, the words will gradually sink into your conscious awareness.
Before you know it, you really will feel a deep sense of love, kindness, friendliness, and acceptance towards yourself. After you’ve practiced with this mantra each day for 40 days, you can switch to the next practice, which has to do with directing loving-kindness outwards.
Practicing Metta-Bhavana Towards Those Close to You
In the first stage of directing our focus outwards, we start close to home, with someone we love and care about. Start with someone who you genuinely want to be happy. This might be your partner, your mother, your father, a sister or brother, your grandparent, your niece, or your own child.
Just begin focusing your attention on one of these people in your life. The practice, just like the one towards yourself, should be done for 40 days. While this may seem like a lot of time, it will pass before long. And, it’s a fun project to have. Mark the days in a meditation journal, then move on to the next phase. The mantra for your loved one is:
May my loved one be happy and free from suffering.
You may wish to insert your loved one’s name into the meditation, to make it that much more personal and specific. Do this for 40 days, and see if even they feel the benefits!
Practicing Metta-Bhavana Towards Others
The next phase has to do with directing your attention to people you feel neutral towards. This might be a shopkeeper you see at the store often. It could be your yoga teacher. It might be the barista at your favorite cafe, or someone in your neighborhood to whom you wave a friendly hello from time to time.
Again, I want you to practice with this person for 40 days. Keep a note of it in your meditation journal as you practice this mantra each day:
May those around me be happy and free from suffering.
Practicing Metta-Bhavana Towards Those Who Have Hurt You
Next, it gets a little more difficult. We move our meditation to include someone who has caused us harm. This person could be an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend who broke your heart. It could be someone who we’re currently having issues with. Maybe you have a family member who is incorrigible.
Direct this meditation towards them. It’s not easy. And it’s not supposed to be. You’re cultivating loving-kindness towards all beings—not just those who make you happy or those for whom you feel neutrality. You’re cultivating it towards someone with whom you have a sticky relationship.
For them, repeat this mantra for 40 days:
May my enemies be happy and free from suffering.
Again, insert the person(s) name if you wish.
Practicing Metta-Bhavana Towards All
The last phase regards all sentient beings. You want to expand your attention outward until it reaches the entire world. While this may seem a bit much, it’s a great thing to practice.
With time, you will truly—in your heart of hearts—feel compassion and loving-kindness towards everyone on Earth. And this feeling is an amazing thing.
Practice this mantra for 40 days, and see how it transforms your relationship to life, for the better:
May all beings be happy and free from suffering.
200 Days of Practice
Now you have a powerful practice that gives you 200 days of meditation practice. You don’t need a computer, a smartphone, or any other apparatus. All you need is your kind attention and the practice.
And a cool set of mala beads if you like!
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