The meditation that the Buddha taught!
One of the favorite things I like to do with students who have ever practiced the breath meditation without the 6R’s, is to ask them to take Mettā as their object of meditation while they learning Tranquil Wisdom Insight Meditation (TWIM) first. I do this because it is easier for them to progress without having to break old bad habits from a previous practice, before they can learn to 6R smoothly.
If they are not progressing extremely well, later on, they can decide to go back to the breath. But usually students do not because of how much emphasis the Buddha placed on practicing this meditation in the texts. The Loving-Kindness Meditation was practiced far more often then the Breathing Meditation. When bad habits are already operating with breath mediation it makes is very hard to investigate a new practice. If their cup is full they have to empty it before they can taste something new. If you can learn Loving-Kindness from an empty cup, you are in great shape with a beginner’s mind.
So, right up front, I am going to suggest that you try TWIM in this way and let the breath or any other practice go for awhile; at least for two weeks to a month to see what can happen. When you practice, please follow the instructions very carefully and exactly.
Now, these instructions were given by me on July 3, 2000, at the Washington Buddhist Vihāra in Washington, DC, and to this day, they have not changed much at all. They include the practice of “Tranquil Wisdom Insight Meditation” and the practice of the “Four Foundations of Mindfulness” at the same time.
These instructions may be a little different than what you are used to, because I have followed the instructions given in the suttas very closely. If you practice in this way, the end results can bring great benefit to you and all other people around you. This, in turn, will bring true happiness in your daily life.
When practicing Loving-Kindness Meditation, you first start by sending loving and kind thoughts to yourself. Begin by remembering a time when you were happy. When the feeling of happiness arises, it is a warm glowing or radiating feeling in the center of your chest. Now, when this feeling arises, make a very sincere wish for your own happiness and feel that wish. “May I be happy”… “May I be filled with joy”… “May I be peaceful and calm”… “May I be cheerful and kind”, etc.
Make any wholesome sincere wish that has meaning for you, feel the wish in your heart, and radiate that smiling feeling. The key word here is “sincere”. If your wish isn’t a sincere wish, then it will turn into a mantra, that is, it may become a statement repeated by rote, with no real meaning. Then you would be on the surface repeating the statement while thinking about other things. So, it’s really important that the wish you make for yourself, and later for your spiritual friend, has real meaning for you and uses your whole undivided attention. You then feel that wish and put that smiling feeling into your heart and radiate it.
Don’t continually repeat the wish for happiness: “May I be happy… may I be happy… may I be happy… may I be happy”. Make the wish for your own happiness and feel that wish when the feeling of Loving-Kindness begins to fade a little.
The following step is a very important part of the meditation:
After every wish for your own happiness, please notice that there is some slight tension or tightness in your head, in your mind. Let it go. You do this by relaxing mind completely then smiling. Feel mind open up and become calm, but do this only one time.
If the tightness doesn’t go away, never mind, you will be able to let it go while on the meditation object (your home base).
Don’t continually try to keep relaxing mind without coming back to the home base. Always softly redirect your smiling tranquil attention back to the radiating of happiness.
One problem that many meditators seem to have is that they try too hard! This meditation needs to be done with a soft relaxed mind, not pushing or making mind stay on the Loving-Kindness. If you try too hard then it will cause you to have a headache. So please do this Loving-Kindness lightly, have fun with meditation, and smile a lot. The more you smile, the easier the meditation becomes, and your mindfulness will improve by leaps and bounds.
How to Sit
When you sit in meditation please do not move your body at all. Sit with your back nicely straight, but not rigid. Try to have every vertebrae stacked comfortably one on top of the other. This position has the tendency to bring your chest up a little, so it can be easier to radiate the feeling of love and the wish.
Sit with your legs in a comfortable position. If you cross them too tightly, the circulation in your legs may stop, causing your legs to go to sleep and this becomes very painful. If you need to sit on a cushion or even in a chair, that is okay. If you sit in a chair, however, please don’t heavily lean back into it. Leaning heavily back stops the energy flow up your back and can make you feel sleepy. Just sit in a comfortable way.
The most important part of this is to sit completely still. Please don’t move your body at all while sitting. Don’t wiggle your toes; don’t wiggle your fingers; don’t scratch; don’t rub; don’t rock your body; don’t change your posture at all. In fact, if you can sit as still as a Buddha image, this would be the best! If you move around, it becomes a big distraction to your practice and you won’t progress very quickly at all.
While you are sitting, radiating the warm-glowing feeling of Loving-Kindness in the center of your chest, making and feeling the sincere wish, and feeling that wish in your heart, your mind will wander away and begin to think about other things. This is normal.
Thoughts are never your enemy! So, please don’t fight with them or try to push them away or try to suppress them. When a series of thoughts come up to take you away from your meditation object, notice that you are not smiling or experiencing the feeling of Loving-Kindness and making a wish for your own happiness. Then, simply let go of the thought. This means to let the thought be there by itself without keeping your attention on it. Even if you are in mid-sentence, just let go of the thought, don’t keep your attention on it, let it be there by itself. This is done by not continuing to think the thought, no matter how important it seems at that time.
At this point there is another very important step:
Notice the tightness or tension in your head/mind, now relax. There are two halves to everyone’s brain. There is a membrane called the “meninges” surrounding these two halves. Every time a thought, feeling, or sensation arises this membrane tightens around the brain.
This tightness is how craving (taṇhā) can be recognized and let go of. This is also called the cause of suffering or the “Second Noble Truth”. Relaxing this tightness is the way of letting go of craving, which is called the cessation of suffering or the “Third Noble Truth”! Feel the tightness open. The brain (a part of the body) and mind feels like it expands and relaxes. It then becomes very tranquil and calm.
At this time there are no thoughts and mind is exceptionally clear, alert, and pure because now there is no more craving or clinging. Immediately smile and then bring that soft smiling mind back to your object of meditation, that is, the feeling of Loving-Kindness and making and feeling the wish for your own happiness.
It doesn’t matter how many times your mind goes away and thinks about other things. What really matters is that you see “how” your mind has become distracted by a thought. The same method holds true even for any sensation or emotional feeling that pulls your attention to it. In that case just notice “how” the movement of mind’s attention occurs, “how” mind becomes distracted, and let that distraction go.
Now, relax the tightness or tension in your head/mind, softly smile, and redirect your calm attention back to the object of meditation.
Learn to let go of any distraction, make a wish for your happiness, and then relax the tightness caused by the movement of mind’s attention, and redirect your smiling tranquil attention back to the feeling of being happy. Every time you return to the Loving-Kindness and make that wish and smile, you are strengthening your mindfulness (observation power). Please, don’t criticize yourself because you think that you “should” do better, or that your thoughts, feeling, sensations and emotional feelings are the enemy to be squashed and destroyed.
These kinds of critical hard-hearted thoughts and feelings contain aversion, and aversion is the opposite of the practice of “Loving-Acceptance”. Loving-Kindness and Loving-Acceptance are different words that say basically the same thing. So please be kind to yourself. Make this a fun kind of game to play with, not an enemy to fight with.
The importance of relaxing the tightness or tension after every thought, sensation, or emotional feeling can’t be stated enough. When you let go of this tightness you are letting go of craving. It is very important to understand this because craving is the cause of all suffering. This tightness or tension is where our wrong idea about ego-identification occurs. This is how the personal perspective (wrong view) arises.
Craving and Ego-Identification
Craving and the false idea of a personal “self” (“I”, “Me”, “Mine”) always manifests as tightness or tension in your head/mind. When you let go of tightness, what you are actually doing is letting go of craving and the false idea of a personal “self”. You are letting go of “ego-identification” with all of the thoughts, bodily feelings, sensations, and emotional feelings, opinions, concepts, etc. that arise. This is referred to as clinging (upādāna). When you let go of this tightness in mind (craving) you don’t have clinging arise, which means that all these thoughts, opinions, concepts, ideas, and stories about why you like or dislike things won’t arise to disturb mind and pull your attention away from relaxing and having fun with your meditation. This is how you purify your mind and become happier and more uplifted, all of the time!
While you are sitting still, there may be some sensations that arise in your body. You may feel an itch, heat, tension, a feeling of coughing or wanting to sneeze, or pain. Please don’t move your body at all. When such a feeling arises, your mind will immediately go to that feeling, let’s say an itch or cough. You don’t have to direct mind, it goes by itself. The first thing mind does is think about the feeling: “I wish this would go away.”… “I want this to stop bothering me.”… “I hate this feeling.”… “Why doesn’t it just go away?”… “I want this to stop.”
Every time you entertain these kinds of thought, the sensation becomes bigger and more intense. It actually turns into an emergency in your mind. Then you won’t be able to stand it anymore, and you have to move. But the instructions are: don’t move your body for any reason at all. Watch the movements of mind’s attention instead.
So what can you do? You need to open up and allow the feeling to be there, without trying to change it or make it go away:
First, notice that your mind’s attention has gone to the itch or cough, etc., and the thoughts about that sensation. Now, let go of those thoughts, simply let them be there without keeping your attention on them. Next, notice the tightness in your head/mind and relax.
Every time a sensation (or emotional feeling) arises, it is only natural for mind to wrap a mental tight fist around it; this tight mental fist is aversion. So, open up and allow the itch (or emotional feeling) to be there. Remember that it is okay if the tightness doesn’t go away immediately.
The “Truth (dhamma) of the present moment”, is that when an itch or any other sensation arises, it is there. What you do with this Dhamma dictates whether you will suffer more unnecessarily or not. Resisting the itch and trying to think it away, trying to make it different than it is, produces more both subtle and gross pain.
We have five different things or bunches of things that make up this mind/body process, they are called the Five Aggregates.
- Physical Body (kāya)
- Feeling (vedanā)
- Perception (saññā)
- Thought (formations—saṅkhara)
- Consciousness (viññāṇa)
As you can see feelings are one thing and thoughts (formations) are another. If you try to control your feelings with your thoughts, the resistance that you have to this feeling causes it to get bigger and more intense. In fact, it becomes so big that it turns into a true emergency (real unsatisfactoriness or dukkha), and you can’t stand the sensation (or emotional feeling) anymore. Then you have to move. While you are sitting in meditation, if you move your body even a little bit, it breaks the continuity of practice and you have to start over again.
Letting go of the thoughts about the sensation (or emotional feeling) means that you are letting them be there by themselves without keeping your attention on them. The want to control the feeling with your thoughts is only natural, but it leads to immeasurable amounts of suffering! It also means that you are letting go of craving when you relax, which directly leads to the cessation of suffering.
Next, you notice the tight mental fist wrapped around the sensation, and let go of that aversion to it. Simply allow the itch or cough (sensation or emotional feeling) to be there by itself. See it as if it were a bubble floating in the air and let the bubble float freely. Whichever way the wind blows, the bubble will float in that direction. If the wind changes and blows in another direction, the bubble goes in that direction without any resistance at all.
This practice is learning how to lovingly accept whatever arises in the present moment. Now, again notice that subtle tightness or tension in your head/mind, relax, smile, and softly redirect your gentle loving attention back to the feeling of radiating love from your heart and making a wish for your own happiness.
The true nature of these kinds of feeling (which includes both mental and emotional feeling) and sensations are that they don’t disappear right away. So, your mind will bounce back and forth between your object of meditation (that is smiling, radiating the feeling of loving kindness, and then making and feeling a sincere wish for your happiness) and that initial feeling. Every time this happens you use the 6R’s which are:
Recognize – Release – Relax – Re-Smile – Return – Repeat
The 6R’s is the way to remember this practice:
Recognize: Be alert or mindful with what arises in the present moment. Recognize any distractions that pull mind’s attention from the meditation object.
Release: Let go of any thoughts, sensations or emotional feelings. Remember its O.K. for that thought, sensation, or emotional feeling to be there because that is the truth (dhamma) of the present moment. Allow the thought, sensation, or emotional feeling to be, without trying to make it be anything other than it is.
Relax: Relax the tightness! Let go of the tight mental fist around the feeling and let it be. Tranquilize both body and mind.
Re-Smile: Remember that this is a smiling meditation and it is helpful to smile as much as possible.
Return: Come back to your object of meditation by gently re-directing your tranquil attention back to radiating the feeling of love, making a sincere wish for your happiness, and feeling that wish in your heart.
Repeat: Continue on with your meditation of radiating Loving-Kindness, making and feeling the wish, and visualizing your spiritual friend for as long as you can.
Radiating Love to a Spiritual Friend
After sending loving and kind thoughts to yourself for about ten minutes, then begin sending loving and kind thoughts to your “spiritual friend”. A “spiritual friend” is someone who, when you think of them and their good qualities, it makes you happy.
This is a friend who is of the same sex, they are alive, and not a member of your family. This is for right now. Later, you will be able to send Loving-Kindness to all of the members of your family. But for this training period please choose a friend that you love and respect.
Once you start sending Loving-Kindness to your spiritual friend, please don’t change to another person. Stay with the same spiritual friend until you get to the third meditation stage (jhāna). As you are sending a sincere wish for your own happiness and then, mentally you say, “As I wish this feeling of peace and calm (happiness, joy, whatever) for myself, I wish this feeling for you, too. May you be well, happy and peaceful.” Then start radiating this feeling of love and peace to your friend. It is quite important for you to feel the sincere wish and that you place that feeling in your heart.
You also visualize your friend in your mind’s eye. For example, you can visualize your friend as if they are in a photograph or you can see them moving around as if in a movie. For some people visualizing can be somewhat difficult because they don’t realize that one can visualize with words as well as pictures in their mind. Saying your friends name and using some words that help to see that person in your mind’s eye is fine! The exact visualization doesn’t matter. But when you see your friend, see him or her smiling and happy. This can help to remind you to be smiling and happy too!
The visualization can be somewhat difficult. It can be cloudy, or fuzzy, or a long distance away. It can be there for just a moment and disappear. That’s all right. Don’t try too hard because it will give you a headache. You want about 75% of your attention spent on the feeling of Loving-Kindness, 20% (more or less, depending on what is happening) on making a sincere wish and feeling that wish in your heart. This helps the feeling for your friend’s happiness to grow. Only about 5% of your time should be spent on visualizing your friend. As you can see, the feeling of Loving-Kindness is by far the most important part of the meditation, and the visualization is the least important part. But still put a little effort into the visualization. Eventually, it will get better and easier.
This is a smiling meditation. While you are sitting and radiating love to your spiritual friend or to yourself, smile with your mind. Even though your eyes are closed during the meditation, smile with your eyes. This helps to let go of tension in your face. Put a little smile on your lips and put a smile in your heart. Smiling is nice and most helpful to practice all of the time, but especially when you are sitting in meditation. The more we can learn to smile the happier mind becomes.
It may sound a little hokey, but scientists have discovered that the corners of our mouth are very important. The position of the lips corresponds to different mental states. When the corners of your lips turn down, your thoughts tend to become heavy and unwholesome. When the corners of your lips go up, mind becomes more uplifted and clear so that joy can arise more often.
This is important to remember because a smile can help you to change your perspective about all kinds of feelings and thoughts. So try to remember to smile into everything that arises and everything that you direct your mind’s attention to. In other words, smile as much as you can into everything.
Dullness of Mind
The more sincere and enthusiastic you are in sending Loving-Kindness to yourself and your spiritual friend, the less you will experience sleepiness or dullness of mind. When sleepiness or dullness occurs, your body may begin to slump. This is the only time that you can move your body to straighten up. But don’t do this too often, either.
If you see your mind starting to dull out, then take more interest in your friend; see him or her doing things that you truly appreciate. For example, you can visualize times that they were helpful and generous, or times when they made you happy and you laughed with them. This can help to increase your interest and energy, and then the dullness will subside.
Please, once you begin this meditation, start by sitting for 30 minutes. The first ten minutes you send Loving-Kindness to yourself. The rest of the time, send love to your spiritual friend (remember to use the same friend all of the time). When your meditation becomes better and you feel more comfortable, you can sit for a longer periods of time (whatever is appropriate for you with your time constraints). But, don’t sit for less than 30 minutes a day in the beginning! Sit more if you have the time.
This is not simply a passive meditation to be practiced only when you are sitting in a chair or on a cushion. It’s a meditation to be practiced all of the time, especially when you do your daily activities. So many times we walk around in a mental haze of random nonsense thoughts. Why not try practicing Loving-Kindness Meditation whenever we can possibly remember? When you are walking from your house to your car, or your car to your job, what is your mind doing? Ho-humming probably about more nonsense thoughts.
This is the time to notice what your mind is doing in the present moment and to let go of these distracting thoughts. Relax the tightness in your head/mind and wish someone happiness! It doesn’t matter who you send loving thoughts and feelings to in your daily activities. It can be to the person walking next to you, your spiritual friend, yourself, or all beings. The key words here are to “send love”, smile, and feel that sincere wish. Try to do this as much as possible during the day. The more we attend to sending and radiating loving and kind thoughts, the more we affect the world around us in a positive way. As a result, your mind becomes uplifted and happy. Nice!
Benefits of Loving-Kindness
There are many benefits to practicing Loving-Kindness:
- You sleep peacefully.
- You wake up peacefully, easily, and mind is very alert.
- Disturbing dreams do not occur.
- People like you.
- Animals like you.
- You are protected by the Devas.
- You are not affected by misfortune from fire, poison, and weapons.
- Meditation progress is faster with this meditation than any other meditation.
- Your face becomes radiant and beautiful.
- You die with a mind free from confusion.
- If the stage of sainthood is not reached during this lifetime, one will be born in a Brahmā world.
When you practice Loving-Kindness, your mind goes deeper in meditation and more quickly than with any other type of meditation.
Actually, the Buddha mentioned Loving-Kindness Meditation well over 100 times and he taught the “Mindfulness of Breathing” meditation only 8 times in the suttas. So, you can see just how important he thought it was.
Loving-Kindness and Nibbāna
The practice of Loving-Kindness Insight Meditation can lead you directly to the experience of Nibbāna if you follow all of theBrahmā Vihāras (the heavenly abodes) precisely. The Brahmā Vihāras include the practice of Loving-Kindness, Compassion, Joy, and Equanimity. This is mentioned many times in the suttas, which are the original discourses of the Buddha.
Many times other teachers will say that this practice alone doesn’t directly lead the meditator to the experience of Nibbāna. But, when Loving-Kindness Insight Meditation is practiced as part of the Brahmā Vihāras, it will take the meditator “automatically”, without changing the meditation instructions, to the material (rūpa jhānas) and immaterial realms (arūpa jhānas) up to the “Realm of Nothingness”. All of the Brahmā Vihāras actually arise by themselves.
This opens the path for you to experience the Realm of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception and the Cessation of Perception, Feeling, and Consciousness, which happens right before you see and truly understand how the impersonal links of Dependent Origination and the Four Noble Truths occur. When this is seen and fully understood it is such an eye-opening experience thatNibbāna takes place.
There is a very special sutta called “The Simile of the Saw” (Majjhima Nikāya, sutta MN-21, the Kakacūpama Sutta), which shows the usefulness of practicing Loving-Kindness in your daily life. In order to attain Nibbāna you must decide to change old unwholesome habits of acting and speaking into the wholesome habits of having equanimity and Loving-Kindness towards everyone you see or think about. This sutta shows how to practice your meditation during your daily activities and this simple instruction leads to true happiness all of the time.
It says: “There are these five courses of speech that others may use when they address you: Their speech may be timely or untimely, true or untrue, gentle or harsh, connected with good or with harm, spoken with a mind of loving-kindness or with inner hate. When others address you their speech may be timely or untimely; when others address you their speech may be true or untrue; when others address you their speech may be gentle or harsh; when others address you their speech may be connected with good or with harm; when others address you their speech may be connected with loving-kindness or with inner hate.
“You should train thus: ‘My mind will remain unaffected, and I shall utter no evil words; I shall abide compassionate for their welfare, with a mind of loving-kindness, without inner hate. I shall abide pervading that person with a mind imbued with loving-kindness; and starting with them, I shall abide pervading loving-kindness to the all-encompassing world with a mind that is abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill-will.’
“If you keep this practice in mind, do you see any course of speech, trivial, or gross, that you could not endure? Therefore, you should keep this advice in mind always and that will lead to your welfare and happiness for a long time.
This is a good reason to remember to smile all of the time. There are many advantages to smiling and one of the main reasons is because smiling will show you what true mindfulness is. Another reason is when you smile a lot, joy arises very easily while you are doing your daily activities. When joy arises, mind is exceptionally bright, clear, alert, and agile. It is easy to see when mind starts to get pulled down into unwholesome states and with that mindfulness present it becomes very easy to 6R and come back to smiling.
I hope these instructions are helpful and that by practicing in this way you will benefit greatly and lead a truly happy and healthy life.