May You Be Happy
May You Be Healthy
May You Be Safe
May You Be At Ease
Metta is a style of meditation. It’s sometimes called loving kindness practice. “Metta” is usually translated as loving kindness or loving friendliness. I like to call it Boundless Heart Practice.
First we establish ourselves in concentration practice and mindfulness of breathing, then we do the practice. In this practice we start with ourselves and mentally recite these phrases “May You Be Happy, May You Be Healthy, May You Be Safe, May You Be At Ease.” Then we bring to mind someone we care a lot about and recite the phrases for them “May You Be Happy, May You Be Healthy, May You Be Safe, May You Be At Ease.” Then we do the same with a neutral person, someone who doesn’t mean much to us, someone we don’t have a lot of feelings about. Then we do the same for someone we actively do not like. Generally I will advise people to use a person they find annoying for this, rather than a hated enemy or abuser.
So we slowly bring these phrases to mind one by one.
We are wishing good things for ourselves and for ourselves and for other people. And when I say it that way it sounds kind of silly. I used to be a secular Buddhist. I was someone who wanted to avoid things that…well…seem like prayer.
I’m not that way now. I do things that definitely seem like prayer now. I’ve really come around on sadhanas and chants and things. I resisted this stuff for so long.
This is a complicated question that I’m trying to answer. And the truth is the answer doesn’t matter. Why would it? But it is the sort of thing people have asked me.
On the surface it really seems like they’re the same. It’s hard to point to a fundamental difference between sincerely wishing for someone’s well being and asking the Lord to bless them. They’re both about wishing for someone to be well. They’re both about hope.
Prayer, as I understand it is about reaching out to something outside yourself. Boundless Heart Practice is not. When we do Boundless Heart Practice we aren’t asking a being or force for help or to do anything on our behalf. At first it may seem like it and that’s why I used to resist practices like these. “May You Be Happy” doesn’t sound that different from “I’m sending thoughts and prayers,” But it is different.
We are training our minds to incline toward kindness, virtue, and compassion. When we bring these things to mind again and again, we are training our minds. We are strengthening those compassionate impulses, in the same way we’re training in attention when we focus on mindfulness of breathing or other concentration practices.
As we do these practices again and again, we’re trying to reshape our mental habits. In his book ‘A Fearless Heart,’ Thupten Jinpa PhD says, “Compassion training is about learning to see, feel, and be in a new way that is more in touch with our better self.”
We are working on watering the seeds of compassion that exist within ourselves so that our kindness and compassion grow. When we cultivate these thoughts again and again they become mental habits, then the mental habits become central to our being.
It’s not about asking for help or wishing for help. It’s about training our hearts and minds.
Here is a guided meditation: