The Four Loves: Lovingkindness

Field with dandelions and blue skyOne of the four loves or sublime attitudes in Buddhism is lovingkindness or metta. It involves the understanding that all sentient beings (capable of thinking and feeling), including ourselves, desire happiness and wish to be free from suffering. It also involves an attitude of friendliness and well-wishing toward all beings, including ourselves.

When we cultivate lovingkindness we are able to see our fundamental interconnection – that all beings are united by a common desire for fulfillment and freedom from misery. This understanding cuts through differences and allows us to see others as interchangeable with ourselves.

Lovingkindness provides the basis for two of the other loves, compassion and appreciative joy. Encountering the suffering of another with an attitude of solidarity and open-heartedness, we experience a spontaneous desire to alleviate that suffering. This is compassion. Likewise, seeing others as interchangeable with ourselves and witnessing the success of another, vicarious happiness naturally arises. This is appreciative joy.

Practicing lovingkindness meditation (LKM) is one way to cultivate this beneficial attitude. Research has shown that LKM is correlated with relaxation, feelings of social connection, increased empathy, compassion and positive emotions, decreased negative emotions and bias, improvements in migraines, chronic pain, PTS symptoms, and the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, increases in gray matter volume in the brain, and longer telomeres (indicator of decreased aging in chromosomes). Some degree of positive impact can be measured immediately, even in small doses, and the effects seem to persist over the longer term.

For one who mindfully develops
Boundless loving-kindness
Seeing the destruction of clinging,
The fetters are worn away.

– Itivuttaka: The Group of Ones

If you would like to try LKM, please enjoy this guided practice from the University of New Hampshire:

Happy, at rest,
may all beings be happy at heart.
Whatever beings there may be,
weak or strong, without exception,
long, large,
middling, short,
subtle, blatant,
seen & unseen,
near & far,
born & seeking birth:
May all beings be happy at heart.

Let no one deceive another
or despise anyone anywhere,
or through anger or irritation
wish for another to suffer.

As a mother would risk her life
to protect her child, her only child,
even so should one cultivate a limitless heart
with regard to all beings.

With good will for the entire cosmos,
cultivate a limitless heart:
Above, below, & all around,
unobstructed, without enmity or hate.
Whether standing, walking,
sitting, or lying down,
as long as one is alert,
one should be resolved on this mindfulness.
This is called a sublime abiding
here & now.

– Karaniya Metta Sutta: Good Will

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