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What is Loving-Kindness (Metta)

By Catherine Teoh


Love and compassion are the foundation of humanity. It really doesn’t matter which religion one subscribes to; these two axioms can be found across all cultures, societies and civilisations. These two values are inherent to human nature and are fundamental principles that are universally recognised, and independent from religious affiliation.


Many people equate love to the romantic kind of love. However, love is much more than that and as Buddhists, we always strive to achieve unconditional or universal love, also known as loving-kindness or metta, which is to love without expecting anything in return. So, what is loving-kindness (metta)? Is it the kind of love we have for our family, our parents, our siblings, our spouse and our children?


Chapter 25, Verse 368 of the Dhammapada, says: With loving-kindness toward all and with confidence in the Buddha’s Teachings, a Bhikkhu will reach the holy state where all is peace. (English Translation by Alan Bomhart, Florence Buddhist Fellowship)

Another translation states: The monk who abides in universal love and is deeply devoted to the Teaching of the Buddha attains the peace of Nibbana, the bliss of the cessation of all conditioned things. (English Translation by Acharya Buddharakkhita, Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc.)


The closest meaning of the Pali word ‘metta’ is loving-kindness. However, this word also means compassion, friendliness, goodwill, benevolence, fellowship, non-violence and an absence of hatred. It also denotes an altruistic attitude and a strong desire for the welfare and happiness of others, and without attachments, conditions or expectations. Loving-kindness or Metta is the first of the Four Immeasurables or the Four Divine States or Four Virtues (Brahma-Viharas) of Buddhism or Four Infinite Minds, followed by Compassion (Karuna), Empathetic Joy (Mudita) and Equanimity (Upekkha).


Gary related a story about how a pilot from Singapore had pledged to sell his luxury condominium in Penang to contribute to the Bodhi Heart Society. He had even sold the property below market value. Practising Metta requires mindfulness and a deep understanding of how we relate to the world and this short story aptly portrays how we can practise Metta in our daily life.


How do we start practicing Metta?


In short, make a mental note to be kind to everyone we meet, be generous and thoughtful, extend goodwill, and try to cultivate a sense of harmony with everything around us—nature, people, animate and inanimate objects included.


The Metta Sutta, which is a discourse of ten verses is found in the Sutta-Nipata section of the Khuddaka-Nikaya collection of shorter-length discourses, states:


If you know what is truly good for you and understand the possibility of reaching a state of perfect peace, then this is how you need to live. Start as a capable person, who is upright (really upright), gently spoken, flexible, and not conceited. Then become contented and happy, with few worries and an uncomplicated life. Make sure your sense experience is calm and controlled, be duly respectful, and don’t hanker after families or groups. And avoid doing anything unworthy, that wiser people would criticise.

(Then meditate like this:)

May all be happy and secure.

May all beings become happy in their heart of hearts!

And think of every living thing without exception: the weak and the strong, from the smallest to the largest, whether you can see them or not, living nearby or far away, beings living now or yet to arise – may all beings become happy in their heart of hearts!

May no one deceive or look down on anyone anywhere, for any reason.

Whether through feeling angry or through reacting to someone else, may no one want another to suffer.

As strongly as a mother, perhaps risking her life, cherishes her child, her only child, develops an unlimited heart for all beings.

Develop an unlimited heart of friendliness for the entire universe, sending metta above, below, and all around, beyond all narrowness, beyond all rivalry, beyond all hatred.

Whether you are staying in one place or travelling, sitting down or in bed, in all your waking hours rest in this mindfulness, which is known as like living in heaven right here and now!

In this way, you will come to let go of views, be spontaneously ethical, and have perfect insight.

And leaving behind a craving for sense pleasures, from the rounds of rebirth, you will finally be completely free!

(Translated by Ratnaprabha)


“Ultimately, the practice of love and compassion can lead to individual happiness, confidence, and the growth of a happier, harmonious and successful world.”– Gary Lau (2024)

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