I meant to post this piece before or on January 1st, but some things came up and I forgot about it. Not too late, though. The Chinese New Year is still ahead, and actually, any day can be the beginning of a new year, just as any day can be the first day of the rest of your life.
Thich Nhat Hanh, the great Vietnamese Zen teacher, suggests a practice of loving-kindness (metta) mediation for the first three days of the New Year. On the first day, we practice for ourselves. On the second day, we practice for people we love. On the third day, we practice for those who make us suffer.
Loving-kindness meditation originated in the Theravada tradition but is practiced in almost all Buddhist schools. It’s considered a very effective tool for calming the mind and dispelling anger and hatred.
The Dalai Lama offers a rather nice summary of the practice:
Just as compassion is the wish that all sentient beings be free of suffering, loving-kindness is the wish that all may enjoy happiness. As with compassion, when cultivating loving-kindness it is important to start by taking a specific individual as a focus of our meditation, and we then extend the scope of our concern further and further, to eventually encompass and embrace all sentient beings. Again, we begin by taking a neutral person, a person who inspires no strong feelings in us, as our object of meditation. We then extend this meditation to individual friends and family members and, ultimately, our particular enemies.
We must use a real individual as the focus of our meditation, and then enhance our compassion and loving-kindness toward that person so that we can really experience compassion and loving-kindness toward others. We work on one person at a time.”
I first learned loving-kindness meditation in a group setting and the format went like this:
You start by generating acceptance of yourself, removing all feelings of unworthiness. Then you send warm thoughts of loving-kindness to the person next to you. Then, to everyone in the room. Next, you send warm thoughts of loving-kindness to a friend or mentor, and next to an especially beloved friend and to the members of your family. After this, you send warm thoughts of loving-kindness to a neutral person, and then a hostile person, someone you have difficulty with. Lastly, you generate warm thoughts of loving-kindness to each living being in the world.
Acceptance of oneself can be difficult. Feelings of unworthiness or self-loathing are just as much a hindrance to our development of compassion as self-cherishing. When we cannot love ourselves, then how can we love others? Everyone at some time or another finds it difficult to love themselves. And it is especially hard, for obvious reasons, to feel loving-kindness toward a person whom we believe has harmed us and consider hostile. If we can master these two most difficult aspects of loving-kindness practice, then we have scored a major victory over anger and hatred.
This meditation is a very early Buddhist practice, formally known as Metta Bhavana. Metta, of course, is loving-kindness, or simply, love. Bhavana means ‘development’ or ‘cultivation.’ So this meditation is called “The Development of Loving-Kindness.”
Metta Bhavana also has a nice little Pali paritta or chant that accompanies it, which goes like this in English:
Seeing that all beings like myself
Have a desire for happiness
One should develop for all of them
Warm thoughts of Loving-Kindness
May I be every happy
And free from suffering
May all friends and enemies
Be ever happy too
May all beings in this city,
In this state, in other countries
And in all the universe
Be ever happy
May I be free from hatred
May I be free from suffering
May I be free from worry
May I live happily
May all beings in the universe
Be happy and free from suffering
May they always find good fortune
All beings have karma of their own
I don’t have anything particularly insightful to say about loving-kindness today. I just wanted to pass along Thich Nhat Hanh’s suggestion because I though it is a good one. So I will end with this thought from Nagarjuna:
Even offering three hundred bowls of food three times a day does not match the spiritual merit gained in one moment of love.”