Loving Kindness meditation
During the first phase of current meditation research the main emphasis was on investigating and understanding the effects of mindfulness meditation and similar forms of practice. Meanwhile the focus has broadened and other forms of practice are being considered, too. In particular, Loving Kindness meditations and related practices are garnering more and more attention.
Loving Kindness meditations emphasise a state of universal love and compassion, equalising self and others. These can be practiced in different ways, for instance by evoking strong feelings of love for a very close person, where it is natural to experience unconditioned love free of expectation. One can, for example, evoke the love for a small baby, where the wish to care and be there for this little person comes more easily. Step by step the same feeling of unconditioned love is subsequently expanded to include close family, friends, acquaintances, strangers, people one doesn’t particularly like, people one feels aversion against and ultimately one fills the heart and mind with unconditioned love for all sentient being. This can be combined with repeating a particular formula that expresses these wishes verbally.
A strong foundation for Loving Kindness meditations are the Four Immeasurables: Love, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity. As explained by Buddhist scholar Alan Wallace, these Four Immeasurables are usually developed on the basis of Shamatha practices, which develop the required mental stability.
Love is understood as the wish that other beings may be happy and have all the causes for happiness.
Compassion is understood as the wish that other beings are free of pain and suffering and free of all their causes.
Sympathetic Joy is understood as the joy that arises when others experience joy and happiness.
Equanimity is understood as seeing and experiencing everybody as equal, without any distortion or personal bias. Ultimately, it is the ability to know that underneath all the superficial and constantly changing features that distinguish beings from each other, there is something more profound that is the same in all: the wish and striving for happiness and even more profoundly their buddha nature, their potential to experience and act in a completely liberated, fearless and compassionate way.
On his recent tour through Europe (2012) H. H. the 17th Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje strongly emphasised the role of the Four Immeasurables in Buddhist practice, based on a teaching by Dza Patrul Rinpoche. In line with these teachings, H.H. Karmapa provided a very interesting perspective by saying that Great Equanimity, the ability to fully experience all sentient beings as equal, would be the basis for fully developing Love, Compassion and Sympathetic Joy, that is all-encompassing and free of any bias.
Patrul Rinpoche (2010). The Words of My Perfect Teacher: A Complete Translation of a Classic Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism (revised edition). Yale University Press.
Wallace, B. A. (2010). The Four Immeasurables: Practices to open the heart. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion.