The sad truth is that far too few of the Buddhists in the present day know of the Compassion Meditation (metta bhavana) in its more archaic form. But the truth of the matter is that, that is how it was practiced at the time of the Buddha. If it can be understood in the true sense of its intended meaning, you will find that it stands up to sound and accurate philosophical analysis. Here I will refer to this as the Ariya metta bhavana, as it differs from the standard metta bhavana (loving kindness meditation) that we are more accustomed to. The guided meditation that we frequently use at our meditation classes goes something like… “May myself and all beings be free of anger, ill will, jealousy, mental suffering, physical suffering… May myself and all beings live in peace. May myself and all beings live happily. However, the Ariya metta bhavana has a much more deeper meaning.
In order to cultivate true compassion and loving kindness one needs to feel the possible suffering of existence. In the four lower realms, the suffering is higher than at the human realm. In our realm greed, hate, and ignorance prevail. In the realms of the devas there is no hatred. In beings in the rūpa and arūpa lōkas that have very fine bodies - even less dense than devas - they do not have either greed or hate; but they still have ignorance. The fact is that no living being, in any of these realms is free of future suffering unless the Sotapanna (stream entrant) stage of Nibbana is attained. When one attains the Sotapanna stage, one becomes free from the four lower realms for good.
In the Ariya metta bhavana, when we say be free of anger, ill will, jealousy, mental suffering, physical suffering etc. etc… it is meant to be free of these ailments forever. Thus this is how the Ariya metta bhavana is formulated:
“May myself and all living beings (in all realms) be free from suffering in the apayas (the four lower realms) forever, and attain the Sotapanna stage via the inability of the mind to generate certain cittas with “apayagami” kammic power”
“May myself and all living beings (in all realms) be free from all mental states that cloud the mind and manifest in unwholesome actions like kāma rāga (reduced) patigha (reduced), and attain the Sakadagami stage and be healthy forever”.
“May myself and all living beings (in all realms) be free from being bound to sense pleasures (āmisa sukha) that lasts only while one is satisfying the particular sense faculty, and experience nibbanic (nirāmisa) sukha that is of more permanent nature, attain the Anagami stage and be content (attain peaceful happiness) forever”.
“May myself and all living beings (in all realms) be free from even a trace of defilements, and attain the Arahant stage and be free from all suffering and attain the full Nibbanic bliss”.
What matters is not the particular set of word used in the above explanation, but what is felt in one’s heart. In order to do that one needs to truly comprehend that there is real suffering that all living beings face in their present and future lives. It is a simple concept, what was explained above, but the main difficulty is with the “Ariya” part; one needs to comprehend anicca, dukkha, anatta for the bhavana to be fully effective. All four Brahma vihara (metta, karuna, mudita, upekkha) are cultivated with this bhavana if done right.