Other Forms of Meditation
Shamatha and vipassana are the basic Buddhist meditation practices. Vipassana can also be taken “on the road” in the form of walking meditation. There are also other practices based on the Four Immeasurables, such as lovingkindness and compassion. There are also other meditative techniques such as visualization, mantras, and chanting.
Lovingkindness (Metta) Meditation
The Buddha said, “You can search through the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.”
Compassion, generosity, open-heartedness, and lovingkindness are all wonderful qualities to acquire, and are what the Buddha called the Four Immeasurables or Heavenly abodes. What is lovingkindness, or as it is sometimes translated, lovingfriendliness? Metta (lovingkindness) practice is a curious hybrid of Buddhist and yoga practices. Instead of just working with whatever arises as you would in vipassana, you intentionally direct your attention to the generation of loving feelings. To do this, you may bring to mind someone who is very dear to you, someone whom you can readily access loving feelings for. You can feel how this suffuses your heart with love and a sense of openness. Depending on the specific teacher, you will direct that loving feeling in various ways. There are some commonalities. With that loving feeling, you would direct it to others and with four specific intentions:
May you be free from danger; May you be safe
May you have happiness; May you have peace
May you have physical well-being and health; May you be free from illness
May you have ease of well-being; May you be free from unnecessary struggle and pain
You direct these feelings towards yourself as well. You might start with a loved one where making these wishes is easy. You could then go to a stranger and offer the stranger the same intentions. Then you could move on to a more difficult person. Perhaps someone you are angry at or someonewho has harmed you in the past. And, again, the practice is to direct these loving feelings toward them.
Tara Brach teaches a form of metta meditation that has spoken to the “trance of unworthiness” that afflicts so many in the West. This lack of self-acceptance is humorously and compassionately explored in her bestselling book, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha. She is the founder and senior teacher of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington.
You might be thinking this is an incredibly difficult task. But this is the real challenge of metta, being open and loving towards everyone, even your enemies. The Dalai Lama practices lovingkindness towards the Chinese, so you could try to be open to the difficult people in your life. The secret is that this is really good for you. Staying in a state of unforgiveness towards people and situations leads to elevated stress levels and can damage your health. You can expand the circle of metta further to your sangha, your community, your country, the world, and all sentient beings.
Another meditation that focuses on compassion is called tonglen — sending and receiving. Pema Chödrön writes about tonglen in When Things Fall Apart. Tonglen, she says, is “designed to awaken bodhicitta, to put us in touch with genuine noble heart. It is the practice of taking in pain and sending out pleasure and therefore completely turns around our well-established habit of doing just the opposite.” The way to practice tonglen is to breathe in suffering — your own suffering, the suffering of others, those with disease, with heartache, with pain — and breathe out wellness and kindness and direct it toward others, toward yourself. Breathe in pain, breathe out healing. Breathe in hatred, breathe out love. In this manner, you cultivate bodhicitta and awaken a compassionate spirit inside yourself.