The object of mettā meditation is loving kindness (love without Upādāna, that is, attachment). Traditionally, the practice begins with the meditator cultivating loving kindness towards themselves, then their loved ones, friends, teachers, strangers, enemies, and finally towards all sentient beings. Commonly, it can be used as a greeting or closing to a letter or note.
Buddhists believe that those who cultivate mettā will be at ease because they see no need to harbour ill will or hostility. Buddhist teachers may even recommend meditation on mettā as an antidote to insomnia and nightmares. It is generally felt that those around a mettā-full person will feel more comfortable and happy too. Radiating mettā is thought to contribute to a world of love, peace and happiness.
Mettā meditation is considered a good way to calm down a distraught mind by people who consider it to be an antidote to anger. According to them, someone who has cultivated mettā will not be easily angered and can quickly subdue anger that arises, being more caring, more loving, and more likely to love unconditionally. Recent neurological studies have shown that compassion meditation can increase one's capabilities for empathy by changing activity in brain areas such as the temporal parietal juncture and the insula, and increase the subject's ability to understand the mental and emotional states of others as well as deal more effectively with external stressors.
Mettā meditation: the practice of loving-kindness
Mettā signifies friendship and non-violence as well as "a strong wish for the happiness of others", but also less obvious or direct qualities such as showing patience, receptivity, and appreciation. Though it refers to many seemingly disparate ideas, Mettā is in fact a very specific form of love – a caring for another independent of all self-interest – and thus is likened to one's love for one's child or parent. Understandably, this energy is often difficult to describe in words; however, in the practice of Mettā meditation, one recites specific words and phrases in order to evoke this "boundless warm-hearted feeling." The strength of this feeling is not limited to or by family, religion, or social class. Indeed, Mettā is a tool that permits one's generosity and kindness to be applied to all beings and, as a consequence, one finds true happiness in another person's happiness, no matter who the individual is.
Visuddhimagga method: Six stages
Contemporary metta practice is often based on a method traditionally associated with the 5th c. CE Paliexegetical text, the Visuddhimagga. The full instructions for the theory and practice of mettā bhāvanā is available in the Visuddhimagga ("The path to purity"), Chapter IX, of the Buddhist scriptures.
The six stages of mettā bhāvanā meditation which are most commonly found involve cultivating loving-kindness towards:
For #2 avoid choosing someone to whom you feel sexually attracted, or that is much younger or much older than yourself, or who is dead. For #3 choose someone that you might come in contact with every day, but who does not give rise to strong positive nor strong negative emotions. For #4 traditionally choose "an enemy", but avoid choosing a person who has just wrecked your life, unless you are very well grounded in awareness. For #5 treat them as equals, equally deserving of loving-kindness.
Pali Canon texts
In the Pāli Canon, statements regarding the use of metta traditionally employ one or more of the following devices, often using a stock formula:
a verse for wishing others well
pervading all directions and all beings with loving-kindness.
The well-known Kakacupama Sutta and Karaniya Metta Sutta use striking metaphors to give these traditional devices vitality. Other canonical material, such as in the Paṭisambhidāmagga, elaborate on these basic devices in a manner that is perpetuated by the later traditional commentaries. Other canonical sources, such as the Abhidhamma, underline the key role of metta in the development of wholesome karma.
Basic intention and verse
May these beings be free from animosity, free from oppression, free from trouble, and may they look after themselves with ease!
In Cunda Kammaraputta Sutta ("To Cunda the Silversmith," AN 10.176), the Buddha explains that mental or intentional purity (manasā soceyyaṃ) is threefold: non-greed, non-ill-will and non-delusion. Regarding the manifestation of non-ill-will the discourse describes a virtuous person in the following manner (in English and Pali):
He bears no ill will and is not corrupt in the resolves of his heart. [He thinks,] 'May these beings be free from animosity, free from oppression, free from trouble, and may they look after themselves with ease!'
This basic statement of intention and verse can also be found in several other canonical discourses.
Basic radiating formula
In over a dozen discourses, the following description (in English and Pali) is provided for radiating metta in six directions:
"He abides, having suffused with a mind of loving-kindness one direction of the world, likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth, and so above, below, around and everywhere, and to all as to himself; he abides suffusing the entire universe with loving-kindness, with a mind grown great, lofty, boundless and free from enmity and ill will."
In the Canon, this basic formula is expanded upon in a variety of ways. For instance, a couple of discourses provide the following description of "the path to the company of Brahmā" (brahmānaṃ sahavyatāya maggo) along with a memorable metaphor:
"What ... is the path to the company of Brahmā? Here a bhikkhu abides pervading one quarter with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the forth; so above, below, around, and everywhere, and to all as to himself, he abides pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility, and without ill will. When the deliverance of mind by loving-kindness is developed in this way, no limiting action remains there, none persists there.
"Just as a vigorous trumpeter could make himself heard without difficulty in the four quarters, so too, when the deliverance of mind by loving-kindness is developed in this way, no limiting action remains there, none persists there. This is the path to the company of Brahmā."
Kakacupama Sutta (MN 21)
Incorporating facets of the above textual methods in a series of increasingly vivid similes, the Kakacupama Sutta ("Parable of the Saw Discourse," MN 21) provides the following culminating scenario:
"Monks, even if bandits were to savagely sever you, limb by limb, with a double-handled saw, even then, whoever of you harbors ill will at heart would not be upholding my Teaching. Monks, even in such a situation you should train yourselves thus: 'Neither shall our minds be affected by this, nor for this matter shall we give vent to evil words, but we shall remain full of concern and pity, with a mind of love, and we shall not give in to hatred. On the contrary, we shall live projecting thoughts of universal love to those very persons, making them as well as the whole world the object of our thoughts of universal love — thoughts that have grown great, exalted and measureless. We shall dwell radiating these thoughts which are void of hostility and ill will.' It is in this way, monks, that you should train yourselves."
According to the Pali commentaries, the Buddha originally gave this instruction (of Loving-Kindness meditation) to Monks who were being harassed by the Tree Spirits of a forest in which the Monks were trying to meditate. After doing this meditation in the forest it is said that the Spirits were so affected by the power of Loving-Kindness that they allowed the Monks to stay in the forest for the duration of the rainy season.
Patisambhidamagga Mettakatha (Ps. 2.4)
May all beings be free from enmity, affliction and anxiety, and live happily.
In the Khuddaka Nikaya's Paṭisambhidāmagga, traditionally ascribed to Ven. Sariputta, is a section entitled Mettākathā (Ps. 2.4, "Metta Instruction"). In this instruction, a general formula (below, in English and Pali), essentially identical to the aforementioned Cunda Kammaraputta Sutta verse (especially evident in the Pali), is provided for radiating metta:
"May all beings be free from enmity, affliction and anxiety, and live happily."
In addition, this instruction categorizes twenty-two ways in which "the mind-deliverance of lovingkindness" (mettācetovimutti) can be radiated as follows:
five ways of "unspecified pervasion" (anodhiso pharaṇā):
all beings (sabbe sattā )
all breathing things (sabbe pāṇā bhāvapariyāpannā)
all creatures (sabbe bhūtā bhāvapariyāpannā)
all persons (sabbe puggalā bhāvapariyāpannā)
all with a personality (sabbe attabhāvapariyāpannā)
seven ways of "specified pervasion" (anodhiso pharaṇā):
all women (sabbā itthiyo)
all men (sabbe purisā)
all Noble Ones (sabbe ariyā)
all non-Noble Ones (sabbe anariyā)
all deities (sabbe devā)
all humans (sabbe manussā)
all born in lower realms (sabbe vinipātikā)
ten ways of "directional pervasion" (disā-pharaṇā):
of the eastern direction (puratthimāya disāya)
of the western direction (pacchimāya disāya)
of the northern direction (uttarā disāya)
of the southern direction (dakkhīṇāya disāya)
of the eastern intermediate direction (puratthimāya anudisāya)
of the western intermediate direction (pacchimāya anudisāya)
of the northern intermediate direction (uttarā anudisāya)
of the southern intermediate direction (dakkhīṇāya anudisāya)
of the downward direction (heṭṭhimāya disāya)
of the upward direction (uparimāya disāya).
Moreover, the directional pervasions can then be applied to each of the unspecific and specific pervasions. For instance, after radiating metta to all beings in the east (Sabbe puratthimāya disāya sattā ...), one radiates metta to all beings in the west and then north and then south, etc.; then, one radiates metta to all breathing things in this fashion (Sabbe puratthimāya disāya pāṇā ...), then all creatures, persons, and so forth until such is extended for all those born in the lower realms.
Abhidhammic descriptor (Dhs. 189)
What are the three causes of good karma? The absence of lust, hate and dulness.
In the Abhidhamma's Dhammasangani, the causes of "good" or "wholesome" (kusala) and "bad" or "unwholesome" (akusala) karmic states (dhammā) are described (Dhs. 188ff.). The three causes of wholesome karma are stated to be the non-greed, non-hate and non-delusion (alobho adoso amoho; cf. kleśā). Non-hate is then defined in the following manner:
"The absence of hate, hating, hatred; love, loving, loving disposition; tender care, forbearance, considerateness; seeking the general good, compassion; the absence of malice, of malignity; that absence of hate which is the root of good (karma)."
↑Bodhi (2005), pp. 90, 131, 134, passim; Gethin (1998), pp. 26, 30, passim [spelled as two words: "loving kindness"]; Harvey (2007), pp. 247-8 [spelled without a hyphen: "lovingkindness"]; Ñāṇamoli & Bodhi (2001), pp. 120, 374, 474, passim; Salzberg (1995), passim [without a hyphen]; Walshe (1995), p. 194.
↑Regarding the cultivation of loving kindness towards oneself, this is not specifically recommended by the Buddha himself in the pertinent canonical discourses but is inferred in the commentarial literature from other discourses.
↑See, for instance, Kamalashila (1996) and Salzberg (1995).
↑Centuries before the Visuddhimagga's famous instructions for metta practice, Upatissa's Vimuttimagga provided a similar though less detailed framework:
Thus after the yogin has clearly understood the way of destroying hatred, has identified friends, indifferent ones and enemies with himself, and acquired facility in the practice, he should gradually arouse the thought of loving-kindness and develop it for various bhikkhus in (his) dwelling-place.... After that he should develop (loving-kindness for beings) in one direction.... Thus he spreads loving-kindness towards all beings of the four directions, above, below.... (Upatissa et al., 1995, p. 187.)
Interestingly, however, the aforementioned method is not the first one described by Upatissa. Instead, In a manner reminiscent of the Karaniya Metta Sutta (see below), Upatissa starts his description of metta practice with the following:
Q. What is loving-kindness? What is the practising of it?...
A. As parents, on seeing their dear and only child, so one arouses thoughts of loving-kindness and benevolence towards that child, so one arouses thoughts of loving-kindness and benevolence towards all beings. Thus is loving-kindness to be known. The undisturbed dwelling of the mind in this practice is called the practising of it.... (Upatissa et al., 1995, p. 181.)
↑In the Visuddhimagga, Ch. IX, vv. 8-10 (Buddhaghosa & Ñāṇamoli (1999), pp. 289-90), Buddhaghosa identifies three sources in the Tipitaka for metta practice (the Khuddaka Nikaya's Sutta Nipata 145, the Khuddaka Nikaya's Paṭisambhidā-magga ii.30, and the Abhidhamma's Vibhanga 272); and, in none of these texts is cultivating metta towards oneself mentioned. However, Buddhaghosa states that the Tipitaka references to metta are for the purpose of meditative absorption (such as jhāna practices); whereas cultivating metta towards oneself is instead practiced as "an example" for cultivating metta towards other. That is, one first cultivates metta towards oneself in order to seed metta that is subsequently extended towards others. Buddhaghosa bases this latter approach on the following statement by the Buddha in the canonical Samyutta Nikaya i.75 (also in the Khuddaka Nikaya's Udāna 47):
Searching all directions
with one's awareness,
one finds no one dearer
In the same way, others
are fiercely dear to themselves.
So one should not hurt others
if one loves oneself. (Thanissaro, 1994)
↑In the Pāli Canon, a classic example of extending loving-kindness and compassion (Pali: karuṇā) to "difficult persons" can be found in the "Parable of the Saw" sutta (MN 21), where the Buddha provides the following instruction:
'Monks, even if bandits were to sever you savagely limb by limb with a two-handled saw, he who gave rise to a mind of hate toward them would not be carrying out my teaching. Herein, monks, you should train thus: "Our minds will remain unaffected, and we shall utter no bitter words; we shall abide compassionate for their welfare, with a mind of loving-kindness, never in a mood of hate. We shall abide pervading them with a mind imbued with loving-kindness; and starting with them, we shall abide pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility, and without ill will." This is how you should train, monks.' (Bodhi, 2005, pp. 278-79.)
↑In addition to AN 10.176, other discourses that contain this text include: Sāleyyaka Sutta ("The Brahmans of Sala," MN 41) (Ñanamoli & Khantipalo, 1993);Verañjaka Sutta ("The Brahmins of Verañja," MN 42, which is substantially a reiteration of MN 41 in a different locale); Sevitabbāsevitabba Sutta ("To Be Cultivated and Not to Be Cultivated," MN 114) (Ñāṇamoli & Bodhi, 2001, p. 917); Paṭhama-niraya-sagga Sutta ("First Discourse on Hell and Heaven," AN 10.211); Dutiya-niraya-sagga Sutta ("Second Discourse on Hell and Heaven," AN 10.212); Paṭhama-sañcetanika Sutta ("First Discourse on Intentional Actions," AN 10.217); Dutiya-sañcetanika Sutta ("Second Discourse on Intentional Actions," AN 10.218); as well as in the Patisambhidamagga (see below) and the paracanonicalMilinda Panha.
↑See for instance, in the Digha Nikaya alone, Mahāsudassana Sutta ("The Great Splendor Discourse," DN 17), v. 2.4 (Walshe, 1995, p. 287); Mahāgovinda Sutta ("The Great Steward Discourse," DN 19), v. 59 (Walshe, 1995, p. 312); Udumbarika-Sīhanāda Sutta ("The Great Lion's Roar to the Udumbarikans Discourse," DN 19), v. 17 (Walshe, 1995, pp. 390-391); and Cakkavatti-Sīhanāda Sutta ("The Lion's Roar on the Turning of the Wheel Discourse," DN 79), v. 28 (Walshe, 1995, p. 405).
↑This particular English text is from the Nyanaponika (1988) translation of the Vatthūpama Sutta ("Simile of the Cloth," MN 7), v. 12.
↑See, for instance, the Subha Sutta ("To Subha," MN 99) (Ñāṇamoli & Bodhi, 2001, pp. 816-17);
and, the Tevijja Sutta ("The Threefold Knowledge Discourse," DN 13), vv. 76-77 (Walshe, 1995, p. 194).
See also the Dhānañjāni Sutta ("To Dhānañjāni," MN 97) (Ñāṇamoli & Bodhi, 2001, p. 796), in which a similar statement about union with Brahma is made by the Ven. Sariputta without the trumpeter metaphor.
↑MN 99 (Ñāṇamoli & Bodhi, 2001, pp. 816-17). In this translation, this text is presented as one paragraph. Here, it was divided into two, thus following the Pali text presentation, to enhance readability.
↑Given this text's length, relatively uncomplicated translation and lesser known status (e.g., compared with the Karaniya Metta Sutta), the associated Pali text is not represented in this main article but here:
Seyyathāpi ..., balavā saṅkhadhamo appakasireneva catuddisā viññāpeyya. Evameva kho ..., evaṃ bhavitāya mettāya ceto vimuttiyā, yaṃ pamāṇakataṃ kammaṃ na taṃ tatrāvasissati. Na taṃ tatrāvatiṭṭhati. Ayampi kho ..., brahmāṇaṃ sahavyatāya maggo. (Bodhgaya News, n.d., Majjhima Nikaya, book 2, BJT p. 730 [MN 99], retrieved 2009-08-07 at http://www.bodhgayanews.net/tipitaka.php?title=&record=3702.)
In this particular Pali text, the word that is repeatedly elided ("...") is māṇava ("student" or "young man") so that only the text that is common to all of the identified discourses is represented here. (For instance, in MN 97, instead of māṇava, it uses the name of the brahmin being addressed.)
↑ 27.027.1Cited in Buddhaghosa & Ñāṇamoli (1999), p. 302, Vsm.IX,50. See also Ñanamoli (1987), section 11, "Methodical Practice: from the Patisambhidamagga," where this sentence is translated as: "May all beings be freed from enmity, distress and anxiety, and may they guide themselves to bliss."
↑An "intermediate direction" (anudisā) is the midpoint between two compass points. For instance, the "eastern intermediate direction" refers to either the direction to the north-east (between north and east) or the south-east (between south and east).
Amaravati Sangha (trans.) (1994, 2004). "Karaniya Metta Sutta: The Buddha's Words on Loving-Kindness" from Chanting Book: Morning and Evening Puja and Reflections (1994). Hemel Hempstead: Amaravati Publications. Retrieved 2007-11-25 from "Access to Insight" (2004) at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/snp/snp.1.08.amar.html.
Rhys Davids, Caroline A. F. (, 2003). Buddhist Manual of Psychological Ethics, of the Fourth Century B.C., Being a Translation, now made for the First Time, from the Original Pāli, of the First Book of the Abhidhamma-Piṭaka, entitled Dhamma-Sangaṇi (Compendium of States or Phenomena). Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 0-7661-4702-9.