It takes time and effort to develop immeasurable loving-kindness. At times we have enthusiasm for it, but at other times we feel indifferent or just lazy and think, why bother? Sometimes we may wonder why we should cultivate love for people we don’t know or who have negative attitudes and harm others. Some might even question the whole idea of cultivating love, thinking that it should arise all by itself.
These obstacles are easily cut through if we simply contemplate the benefits of practicing loving-kindness. When we see the benefits of growing flowers and vegetables in our garden, we are enthusiastic to do so. Similarly, by seeing the benefits of cultivating loving-kindness, we want to put our energy into it.
This meditation involves visualizing Maitreya, the buddha who embodies the quality of loving-kindness (his name derives from the Sanskrit word for loving-kindness, maitri). In preparation, sit in a comfortable position, with your back straight, and take a few minutes to relax your body and mind. Let your eyes close gently, and let your body become relaxed, light and free from tension. Let your breath flow in and out in a natural rhythm. Relax your mind by letting go of thoughts—thoughts of the past or the future, thoughts of your work, other places, or people. Let these thoughts drift out of your awareness, and decide to keep your mind in the present, focused on the meditation, without being distracted by anything else or wandering aimlessly away.
Generate a positive motivation for doing this meditation. For example, you can think that you are doing the meditation in order to have more love, kindness, and compassion in your heart to give to others and to the world. If you are comfortable with the idea, you can also think that you are doing it to become enlightened, to help all beings.
Visualize in the space in front of you Maitreya, the embodiment of loving-kindness, or another figure or image that represents absolute purity, goodness, peace, universal love, and compassion. It could be another Buddhist figure that you are familiar with or a figure from another religious tradition that represents for you these positive qualities. You could also simply visualize light: a sphere or beam of radiant white or golden light. The point is to think of a representation of pure love and compassion you are comfortable with, and imagine it in front of you. Visualize it as not solid, like our bodies, but made of light, transparent and radiant.
If you do wish to visualize Maitreya, imagine that his body is made of radiant golden light, and that his appearance is youthful, peaceful, and smiling. Don’t be concerned about having a perfect, clear image. Just do the best you can, and be satisfied with that. The most important thing is to feel that it’s really there, that you are sitting in the presence of this representation of goodness, perfection, purity, universal loving-kindness, and compassion. Spend some time getting a sense of the loving-kindness Maitreya feels for you and every other living being in the universe, without exception. His love does not discriminate people who are beautiful or ugly, wealthy or poor, intelligent or dull, well-mannered or unruly. He loves all beings equally, not because of their appearance or behavior, but just because they exist. He views all of us in the way a loving mother sees her small child: beautiful, precious, totally deserving of love. And his love is constant, not fleeting; he is there, ready to help us, every moment, hour, day, month, and year, forever. He is completely nonjudgmental, and always forgives us, no matter what we do. Try to really feel this loving-kindness and compassion emanating from Maitreya to yourself and all other beings. Moreover, understand that you also have the capacity to develop such love.
Now visualize light streaming into you from your visualized image, and filling your body as if it were like an empty vase being filled with liquid. The light flows down to the tips of your toes and fingers. It then fills your legs, hands, arms, torso, neck, and head, right up to the top of your head. It fills every cell, atom, and tiny particle of your body. This light purifies all of your troubles and pain—physical pain and sickness, as well as mental unhappiness, negative thoughts, and the imprints of harmful actions you did in the past. Everything negative in your body and mind is completely cleansed, and disappears like the darkness in a room when the light is switched on.
Imagine that your body is suffused with blissful, radiant light, and becomes clean and clear like a piece of crystal. Imagine that your mind becomes calm and clear, free of all disturbing thoughts, and filled with feelings of loving-kindness and compassion. Imagine that you become inseparable from the image in front of you, the embodiment of loving-kindness and compassion. You yourself become just like that—totally positive, loving, compassionate, peaceful, and blissful. Let your mind rest in this experience for a few minutes, without thinking of anything else.
Now generate the wish to share this peaceful, loving energy with others, so they too become free from suffering and filled with positive energy. Imagine the energy of loving-kindness radiating out from your heart to all directions like rays of light emanating from the sun. Imagine that it first touches other people who are in the room with you, or in the house or building you are in. Imagine that they become filled with the energy of loving-kindness.
Then send it out to all the people in your . They all become filled with this light of loving-kindness. Next, send it out to all the people in your or city, and imagine that they all become filled with the energy of loving-kindness. Continue, sending the light out to the people in countries, so that gradually all people in countries in the world become filled with the energy of loving-kindness. Imagine sending it out to other beings as well: nonhuman beings such as animals, birds, fish, other marine life, and insects—all living beings everywhere in the world. They all become filled with the energy of loving-kindness.
Imagine sending it out to all the beings in the universe; imagine that all of them become filled with the energy of loving-kindness. The minds of all beings everywhere become free of negative thoughts, and filled with loving thoughts, so that now there is peace everywhere. Then spend some time sitting quietly with whatever feelings are present in your mind.
When you are ready to conclude the meditation, dedicate the positive energy you created, intently wishing that it will bring peace to all beings, everywhere. You can also dedicate the merit you have developed to all beings with the wish that they may ultimately attain enlightenment, the highest state of happiness.
This teaching is adapted from Sangye Khadro’s 2010 book Awakening the Kind Heart, from Wisdom Publications, reprinted with permission.