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Metta (love, loving-kindness) is a feeling of warm affection, interest and concern towards others and is the first of the four Brahma Viharas.
Buddhaghosa defines metta like this, ‘Metta is characterised as promoting the welfare of others, its function is to desire their welfare, it manifests as the removal of annoyance and its proximate cause is seeing the loveableness of beings.’ To be psychologically healthy and happy we have to begin by loving ourselves and our direct family. As we grow and mature, we gradually learn to include more individuals in our love – friends, spouse, in-laws, children etc.
To develop into a truly spiritual person, our love has to eventually pervade all the beings we come into contact with. In this process of changing love from being projected to becoming pervasive, selfishness, jealousy, attachment and the demand for reciprocation gradually subside and love becomes strong, deep and effortless.
The Buddha said to his disciples, ‘You should train yourselves like this. “Our minds shall not be perverted nor shall we speak evil speech but with kindness and compassion we will live with a mind free from hatred and filled with love. We will live suffusing firstly one person with love and starting with them, suffuse the whole world with a love that is expansive, pervasive, immeasurable and utterly devoid of hatred or enmity.” This is how you should train yourself’ (M.I,127). The ancient Sri Lankan work, the Dharmapradãpikà, composed in the 12th century, says this of love; ‘If one has developed love really great, rid of the desire to hold and possess, that strong clean love which is untarnished by lust, that love that does not expect gain or profit, that love that is firm but not grasping, unshakeable but not inflexible, gentle and settled, hard but unhurting, helpful but not interfering, giving more than receiving, dignified but not proud, soft but not sentimental, that love which leads to the highest achievement, then one will be freed from all ill-will.’
See also: Metta meditation