The user is first instructed to pervade metta to four to five persons, usually being the self, the dear, the neutral, and the hostile in that order. The user is not to move on to the next person until their metta is "malleable and wieldy" (Vism. IX.12 299). The sign to cultivate is the "breaking down of the barriers" by practicing mental impartiality towards these four persons until one reaches jhana:
And:40. When his resentment towards that hostile person has been thus allayed, then he can turn his mind with loving-kindness towards that person too, just as towards the one who is dear, the very dear friend, and the neutral person. Then he should break down the barriers by practicing loving-kindness over and over again, accomplishing mental impartiality towards the four persons, that is to say, himself, the dear person, the neutral person and the hostile person. (Vism. IX.44 308)
Once first jhana is reached and the barriers have been broken, the user has developed "versatility" with the sign and stops pervading it to the four persons. Instead, the user pervades the sign in all directions (radiate?):43. Thus the sign and access are obtained by this bhikkhu simultaneously with the breaking down of the barriers. But when breaking down of the barriers has been effected, he reaches absorption in the way described under the earth kasina without trouble by cultivating, developing, and repeatedly practicing that same sign.
At this point he has attained the first jhána, which abandons five factors, possesses five factors, is good in three ways, is endowed with ten characteristics, and is accompanied by loving-kindness. And when that has been obtained, then by cultivating, developing, and repeatedly practicing that same sign, he successively reaches the second and third jhánas in the fourfold system, and the second, third and fourth in the fivefold system. (Vism. IX.43 308)
These pervasions are referenced as the “unspecified pervasion in five ways", the "specified pervasion in seven ways", and the "directional pervasion in ten ways” which equals 132 directions plus four absorptions each to equal 528 directions total (Vism. IX.49 309). The directions and beings referenced in the above passage are used to denote a general sense of "everywhere" and "everything", respectively:44. Now, it is by means of one of these jhánas beginning with the first that he “Dwells pervading (intent upon) one direction with his heart endued with lovingkindness, likewise the second direction, likewise the third direction, likewise the fourth direction, and so above, below, and around; everywhere and equally he dwells pervading the entire world with his heart endued with lovingkindness, abundant, exalted, measureless, free from enmity, and free from affliction” (Vibh 272; D I 250). For this versatility comes about only in one whose consciousness has reached absorption in the first jhána and the rest. (Vism. IX.44 309)
Furthermore:47. Everywhere, etc., is said for the purpose of showing unspecified pervasion. Herein, everywhere means in all places. Equally (sabbattatáya): to all classed as inferior, medium, superior, friendly, hostile, neutral, etc., just as to oneself (attatá); equality with oneself (atta-samatá) without making the distinction, “This is another being,” is what is meant. Or alternatively, equally (sabbattatáya) is with the whole state of the mind; not reserving even a little, is what is meant. Entire (sabbávant): possessing all beings (sabbasattavant); associated with all beings, is the meaning. World is the world of beings. (Vism. IX.47 309, 310)
Therefore, the user pervades in all directions until one reaches third jhana, then the user switches to the next divine abiding and practices the same steps, cultivating the sign. The user practices the pervasions for each abiding, but the Vism. uses "understood" to denote this. For karuna:55. And all the remaining [terms] should be understood as synonyms for “all beings” used in accordance with ordinary speech as in the case of the term “beings.” Of course, there are other synonyms too for all “beings,” such as all “folks,” all “souls,” etc.; still it is for clarity’s sake that “The mind-deliverance of loving-kindness is [practiced] with unspecified pervasion in five ways” is said and that only these five are mentioned.
56. Those who would have it that there is not only a mere verbal difference between “beings,” “breathing things,” etc., but also an actual difference in meaning, are contradicted by the mention of unspecified pervasion. So instead of taking the meaning in that way, the unspecified pervasion with lovingkindness is done in any one of these five ways. (Vism. IX.55 311, IX.56 312)
For mudita:83. After that, the versatility consisting in the unspecified pervasion in five ways, the specified pervasion in seven ways, and the directional pervasion in ten ways, and the advantages described as “He sleeps in comfort,” etc., should be understood in the same way as given under loving-kindness. (Vism. IX.83 316)
For uppekha:Next, the versatility consisting in unspecified pervasion in five ways, specified pervasion in seven ways, and directional pervasion in ten ways, and also the advantages described as “He sleeps in comfort,” etc., should be understood in the same way as stated under loving-kindness. (Vism. IX.87 317)
Once third jhana is reached in mudita, the user emerges from third jhana to cultivate uppekha - meaning, the user is not in jhana while first cultivating uppekha:But after that the versatility and the obtaining of advantages should be understood in the same way as described under loving-kindness. (Vism. IX.90 318)
The user then cultivates the sign till fourth jhana is reached. It should be noted that due to the nature of equanimity, the user will feel neither pleasure nor pain and thus would jump straight to fourth jhana from access:88. One who wants to develop equanimity must have already obtained the triple or quadruple jhána in loving-kindness, and so on. He should emerge from the third jhána [in the fourfold reckoning], after he has made it familiar... (Vism. IX.88 318)
--------------------But how then? Does this arise in one in whom the third jhána has already arisen on the basis of the earth kasina, etc.? It does not. Why not? Because of the dissimilarity of the object. It arises only in one in whom the third jhána has arisen on the basis of loving-kindness, etc., because the object is similar. (Vism. IX.90 318)
Is my understanding correct in regards to the procedures and the interpretation of the pervasions? I ask because there comes a point in nearly every metta bhavana instruction where the user is instructed to literally pervade metta in all 132 directions to all beings, specifying each direction and each being to be pervaded. This obviously is the work of vitakka and therefore can't be so in second jhana onwards.
My understanding is that once the barriers have been broken, the metta (or other abiding) has become "versatile" enough to give-up towards the four persons and instead be pervaded to all beings in all directions. This would allow vitakka and vicarra to exist when first practicing in the first jhana, and later desist in the second jhana onwards. Otherwise, how else would one get to third jhana?
My hunch is that the pervasions use repetition to provide tacit emphasis that the user is to pervade the abidings "everywhere" towards "everything" in order to further develop the sign (e.g., breaking down the barriers). The use of the semicolon in the Vibhanga 272 reference connecting the directional pervasions and the unspecified pervasions further drives this home since these two are similar in their purpose of emphasizing all directions and all beings. Furthermore, the original passage uses "Thus" instead of a semicolon:
But with this being a hunch, this is only based on speculation and would love to see if this is incorrect and why. Venerable Sujiva in his book Metta Bhavana states the following about unspecified pervasion: The four illimitables — Herein a bhikkhu dwells with mind accompanied by loving-kindness, suffusing one direction. Also a second direction. Also a third direction. Also a fourth direction. Thus, above, below, around, everywhere, identifying himself with all, he dwells suffusing the world of all (beings) with mind accompanied by loving-kindness, extensive, sublime, unlimited, without enmity, without illwill. (Vibh 272)
Venerable Sujiva details a similar method for Brahma Vihara bhavana by using the abidings to gain mastery of the jhanas; one is to only stick with one of the four persons at a time until third jhana is reached, then switch to the other person, then after third jhana is reached with all persons, the pervasions are cultivated. Mastering the jhanas will make it easier for one to enter fourth jhana from uppekha, as he states the following:Definitely one cannot visualise all beings. One has only to bear in mind just what it means. It is as if one does not have any object, only the metta for all beings is developed. As concentration deepens one cannot help but notice that it often occurs in an expanded nature, and is very light and blissful. (Page 45)
Anyway, let me know what you think and I appreciate all replies!However equanimity meditation enters only into the fifth form absorption owing to its indifferent feeling and so on. Hence it is possible only when the other three divine abidings have been mastered. If one has not, one will at most reach access concentration. Nevertheless it can also help us balance our minds in our daily lives. (Page 76)
With metta (in unspecified pervasions),
NOTE: This is a similar question posted on the below two topics, but I'm posting another thread about this with more textual reference in hopes of understanding this process better since I never reached a conclusion reading the other threads: