The Metta Institute

The Metta Institute was established to provide education on spirituality in dying. Inspired by the Buddhist tradition, we encourage the integration of the spiritual dimensions of living, dying and transformation through professional training, educational programs and materials.

Our Institute was formed in 2004 as an outgrowth of the Zen Hospice Project nationally recognized as a pioneering model in the movement to improve end-of-life care. Our Director, Frank Ostaseski, helped form the Zen Hospice Project in 1987 and guided the program for 17 years.

Currently, the Metta Institute’s primary program is the End-of-Life Care Practitioner Program. The goal of the innovative training is to establish a national network of educators, advocates, and guides for those facing life-threatening illness and the individuals and systems that serve them.

Our faculty members are leading voices in re-visioning dying in America. We are advocates for reclaiming the soul in caregiving and restoring a life-affirming and transformative relationship to dying.

Metta is an ancient Pali (Buddhist) term meaning loving kindness, friendliness, benevolence and non-violence. It is a strong wish for the welfare and happiness of others. We chose it as our name because we believe it expresses the essential human quality that is most beneficial in the lives of those who are dying and their caregivers. We also wanted a name that reflected our intention to have our work be guided by Buddhist teachings and ethics.

In our experience, we have noticed many dying people form two fundamental questions, “Am I loved?” and “Did I love well?”

So we asked ourselves what might be universally valuable at the time of dying. The answer was simple…. loving kindness. Metta is a love without attachment, a non-exclusive love, independent of self-interest.  It fosters a sense of belonging and a feeling of safety, reducing feelings of isolation. It calms a distraught mind and serves as an antidote to anger and fear. Through the practice of Metta, we cultivate the qualities of ease and well-being. It encourages us to express our generosity and kindness for all beings.

And so taking Metta as our name reminds us to go to the heart of the great matter of life and death.

 

Metta Mediation

The practice of Metta meditation is a beautiful support to other awareness practices. One recites specific words and phrases evoking a “boundless warm-hearted feeling.” The strength of this feeling is not limited to or by family, religion, or social class. We begin with our self and gradually extend the wish for well-being happiness to all beings.
There are different descriptions of the practice. The following is a basic set of instructions from the book The Issue at Hand by Gil Fronsdal written as a gift to the community. It is freely given.

 

Brief Instructions for Loving-Kindness Meditation

To practice loving-kindness meditation, sit in a comfortable and relaxed manner. Take two or three deep breaths with slow, long and complete exhalations. Let go of any concerns or preoccupations. For a few minutes, feel or imagine the breath moving through the center of your chest – in the area of your heart.

Metta is first practiced toward oneself, since we often have difficulty loving others without first loving ourselves. Sitting quietly, mentally repeat, slowly and steadily, the following or similar phrases:

May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful and at ease.

While you say these phrases, allow yourself to sink into the intentions they express. Loving-kindness meditation consists primarily of connecting to the intention of wishing ourselves or others happiness. However, if feelings of warmth, friendliness, or love arise in the body or mind, connect to them, allowing them to grow as you repeat the phrases.

As an aid to the meditation, you might hold an image of yourself in your mind’s eye. This helps reinforce the intentions expressed in the phrases.

After a period of directing loving-kindness toward yourself, bring to mind a friend or someone in your life who has deeply cared for you. Then slowly repeat phrases of loving-kindness toward them:

May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease.

As you say these phrases, again sink into their intention or heartfelt meaning. And, if any feelings of loving-kindness arise, connect the feelings with the phrases so that the feelings may become stronger as you repeat the words.

As you continue the meditation, you can bring to mind other friends, neighbors, acquaintances, strangers, animals, and finally people with whom you have difficulty. You can either use the same phrases, repeating them again and again, or make up phrases that better represent the loving-kindness you feel toward these beings. In addition to simple and perhaps personal and creative forms of metta practice, there is a classic and systematic approach to metta as an intensive meditation practice. Because the classic meditation is fairly elaborate, it is usually undertaken during periods of intensive metta practice on retreat.

Sometimes during loving-kindness meditation, seemingly opposite feelings such as anger, grief, or sadness may arise. Take these to be signs that your heart is softening, revealing what is held there. You can either shift to mindfulness practice or you can—with whatever patience, acceptance, and kindness you can muster for such feelings—direct loving-kindness toward them. Above all, remember that there is no need to judge yourself for having these feelings.

METTA SUTTA

BUDDHA’S TEACHING ON UNIVERSAL LOVING-KINDNESS

This is what should be done

By one who is skilled in goodness,

And who knows the path of peace:

Let them be able and upright,

Straightforward and gentle in speech.

Humble and not conceited,

Contented and easily satisfied.

Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.

Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful,

Not proud and demanding in nature.

Let them not do the slightest thing

That the wise would later reprove.

Wishing: In gladness and in safety,

May all beings be at ease.

Whatever living beings there may be;

Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,

The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,

The seen and the unseen,

Those living near and far away,

Those born and to-be-born,

May all beings be at ease!

Let none deceive another,

Or despise any being in any state.

Let none through anger or ill-will

Wish harm upon another.

Even as a mother protects with her life

Her child, her only child,

So with a boundless heart

Should one cherish all living beings:

Radiating kindness over the entire world

Spreading upwards to the skies,

And downwards to the depths;

Outwards and unbounded,

Freed from hatred and ill-will.

Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down

Free from drowsiness,

One should sustain this recollection.

This is said to be the sublime abiding.

By not holding to fixed views,

The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,

Being freed from all sense desires,

Is not born again into this world.

 

The Blessings of Metta

Monks, when universal love leading to liberation of mind is ardently practiced, developed, unrelentingly resorted to, used as one’s vehicle, made the foundation of one’s life, fully established, well consolidated and perfected, then these eleven blessings may be expected. What eleven?

One sleeps happily; one wakes happily; one does not suffer bad dreams; one is dear to human beings; one is dear to non-human beings; the gods protect one; no fire or poison or weapon harms one; one’s mind gets quickly concentrated; the expression of one’s face is serene; one dies unperturbed; and even if one fails to attain higher states, one will at least reach the state of the Brahma world.

Monks, when universal love leading to liberation of mind is ardently practiced, developed, unrelentingly resorted to, used as one’s vehicle, made the foundation of one’s life, fully established, well consolidated and perfected, then these eleven blessings may be expected.