Stage 5 – Cultivating metta toward all sentient beings


In the Fifth Stage of the practice we cultivate universal lovingkindness: a positive regard for all beings, irrespective of whether we like them, dislike them, or feel neutral about them.

In this stage we develop a sense of expansiveness in our well-wishing. Although in earlier stages we have directed our lovingkindness towards one person, we now include many people, and not just people but all beings capable of feeling suffering and experiencing happiness.

MP3

You can listen to an MP3 guided meditation that will lead you through all five stages of the practice by clicking on the player below:

Stage Zero

We start — as always — by developing body awareness, and by contacting our emotions. Stage Zero, as you’ll know if you’ve been working systematically through this guide, is the initial stage of meditation, before the stages proper, in which we set up conditions that help the meditation practice to go well.

In stage zero first set up your posture, and deepen your awareness of your body, taking your awareness into every muscle and relaxing as best you can. If you’re not sure about meditation posture then check out our posture workshop.

Stage 1

Having developed greater awareness of the body, next become aware of your emotions taking your awareness to your heart, accepting whatever emotions you find there, and then beginning to wish yourself well. You can use any of the methods for cultivating lovingkindness that we outlined in earlier sections of this meditation guide.

Once you have spent maybe 5 to 10 minutes wishing yourself well, move on to the second stage.

Stage 2

In the second stage of the meditation practice, think of a good friend, and wish them well. Decide in advance who you’re going to pick, otherwise you might waste time in indecision during the practice.

Stage 3

Next, call to mind someone you have little or no emotional connection with. Perhaps this is someone you see working in a store, or that you pass on the street.

It doesn’t matter if there is some feeling — the main thing is that you neither really like nor really dislike this person.

Once you’ve called this person to mind, wish them well, using words or phrases, or your imagination.

Stage 4

Then we cultivate Metta for someone we don’t get on with. It may be someone that we have long-standing difficulties with, or it may be someone that is normally a friend, but we have difficulties with them just now.

Call the difficult person to mind, and be honest about what you feel. There may well be feelings of discomfort. Notice any tendency you may have to think badly of that person, or to deepen the conflict you have with them (for example, by getting into imagined arguments with them), and let go of those tendencies.

Instead, wish them well. “May they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from suffering.”

Stage 5

Then in the last stage of the practice we spread our well-wishing in wider and wider circles.

Start with yourself, your friend, the neutral person, and the difficult person. See all four of you together, and wish all four people well. Try to do this equally for all four of you, and notice any tendency to “play favorites” by wishing your friend more happiness than the others.

Then spread your well-wishing out in wider and wider circles, until you are wishing that all sentient beings are well and happy.


9 Comments. Leave new

  • John Schroeder
    May 21, 2019 12:52 pm

    Hi Bodhipaksa, thank you for this website and your guided meditations. They are so helpf ul. I want to do loving kindness of compassion meditation, but when I meditate I can’t always listen to guided meditations. I want to do longer sessions (an hour) as well. Could you tell me if this is a practical progression for a LK meditation that I would do without guidance?
    Think of someone who is close to you.
    Imagine a golden light from your heart center shining to your loved one. Imagine that this eases their suffering.
    Silently repeat “May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be free from suffer ing.”
    Visualize yourself and imagine that a golden light shines throughout your body, easing your suffering.
    Silently repeat “May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be free from suffering.”
    Then do the same for a stranger and then a difficult person and then for all beings, but then visualizing the globe and changing the phrasing as necessary. I would spend perhaps 10-12 minutes on each stage. I’ve heard of monks meditating on love in the mountains so I know that meditating like this in seclusion all on your own must be possible. I just don’t want to waste time with a incorrect practice. Would this be close enough to traditional LK practices to be effective? If not, what is something that is simple enough for me to easily remember and also traditional for long LK practice sessions without guidance? What steps would I need to change or add? Thanks so much! You do a great job with your site and it is so cool that you help by responding to so many comments!

    Reply
    • Hi, John.

      What works in meditation varies from person to person. In my experience the “visualizing golden light” approach works for some people sometimes, but often fails to do anything much. The important things to remember are empathy and kindness. For me empathy means understanding that happiness and suffering of the people you’re wishing well are as real to them as yours are to you. And kindness means actually following through on that empathetic awareness by supporting and cherishing their wellbeing. If your approach does both those things, then good! But it might be a bit indirect and not really support the arising of kindness, which is what I now think of metta as being.

      All the best,
      Bodhipaksa

      Reply
      • John Schroeder
        May 25, 2019 9:58 pm

        What is more direct than silently wishing visualized targets well with phrases? This seems integral to every loving kindness practice I have come across online. I certainly want to support the development of kindness with my practice like you say, so any tips would be much appreciated.

        Reply
        • John Schroeder
          May 25, 2019 10:00 pm

          Unless you mean only the golden light is too indirect, in which case it’s an easy correction.

          Reply
          • The important thing is, does it help you to become kinder. If it does, then that’s fine, since that’s the purpose of the practice.

  • Thanks for that info, Bodhipaksa. Really interesting to know how these practices have been passed down to us. Personally I find the “benefactor” stage really helpful – so now I know I have Buddhaghosa to thank for that! (And also why it is sometimes included and sometimes omitted from the format.)

    Reply
  • I’m really enjoying your detailed guide to Metta Meditation, Bodhipaksa. Although I learned the general form and began practising a little while before I came across this website, what I’ve read here has helped me deepen my understanding the practice and the practical tips and techniques are really helpful. Many thanks.

    Now a question: As far as I can see, the Metta Sutta doesn’t specify any ‘stages’ nor any specific phrases/wishes to use except “May all beings be happy”. So what is the origin of the stages and the phrases? Have they been gleaned from other suttas, or did later teachers devise them?

    Reply
    • Hi, Andy.

      We don’t exactly know how the Buddha taught lovingkindness practice, although the most detailed instruction in the suttas seems to involve cultivating lovingkindness for beings in various directions, and for various classes of being (including dangerous animals, as a protection). The Vimuttimagga, which perhaps dates from the first or second century, explains the five stages of the practice. The Visuddhimagga, from the fifth century, has an extra stage, before the friend stage, which is “the benefactor.”

      So the idea of stages goes back a long way. The practice may have been done this way at the time of the Buddha, but it wasn’t recorded. Or it may be that the stages evolved later. There is at least one sutta I know of (I don’t have the reference to hand) where the idea of cultivating metta for an enemy is put forward. So there was at least that “stage” in existence at the time of the Buddha, presumably.

      Reply
  • Just wanted to say thank you for making this wonderful meditation, and pleasant, soothing voice of the man leading the meditation, available for me to have assistance to meditate every day. I very much appreciate this. May you all be well, may you all be happy!

    Kataraina

    Reply

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