Unblemished happiness arises from wishing for others’ happiness, while unending suffering arises from wishing exclusively for our own happiness. Shantideva warned, “If you do not switch your concern from your own happiness to relieving others’ pain, you will not achieve Buddhahood and there will be no pleasure in your own cyclic existence.” Maitri bhavana or cultivating a mind of unconditional love and benevolence for all sentient beings, therefore, constitute an indispensable spiritual practice in Buddhism which culminates in identification of oneself with all beings.
While mindful meditation develops observing awareness, maître bhavana cultivates empathetic awareness. Empathy is the ability to share others’ emotions, thoughts or feelings by imaginatively stepping into their world. In doing so, we realise their concerns, fears, hopes, passions as our own, which changes our behaviour towards them. This uplifts our negative emotions transforming them into positive with loving care, concern, benevolence and well-wishing.
Maitri bhavana has three dimensions. When we are aware of others’ happiness, we experience mudita (empathetic joy without jealousy). Awareness of suffering of others is transformed into karuna (compassion with a sense of empathy, not pity). Awareness of empathetic joy and suffering of others make us probe deeper into their root cause lying in past actions or karma, which develops upekkha or equanimity, calm, loving, non-judgemental awareness of the flow of phenomena.
Maitri bhavana needs to be generated regularly in meditation and then practised daily. Sit down with deep relaxation. Focus on breathing. Concentrate in heart centre and cultivate maître feelings for yourself, friend, difficult person with whom you have conflict, and to all sentient beings. Send emotional vibration of love, appreciation, forgiveness, apology and good wishes through imagination or creative visualisation.
It makes us harmonious with the world transcending hatred and intolerance. It makes us magnetic and radiant with love, benevolence, serenity, warmth and calmness. It is a panacea for all the major world problems today.