THE METTA SUTTA
(Discourse on loving-kindness - Suttanta pitaka Kuddaka Nikaya Suttaniparta -8)
The Pali word mettâ is a
multi-significant term meaning loving-kindness, friendliness, goodwill,
benevolence, fellowship, amity, concord, inoffensiveness and non-violence. The
Pali commentators define metta as the strong wish for the welfare and happiness
of others (parahita-parasukha-kamana).
Essentially mettâ is an
altruistic attitude of love and friendliness as distinguished from mere
amiability based on self-interest. Through mettâ one refuses to be offensive
and renounces bitterness, resentment and animosity of every kind, developing
instead a mind of friendliness, accommodativeness and benevolence which seeks
the well-being and happiness of others. True metta is devoid of self-interest.
It evokes within a warm-hearted feeling of fellowship, sympathy and love, which
grows boundless with practice and overcomes all social, religious, racial,
political and economic barriers. Mettâ is indeed a universal, unselfish and
Mettâ makes one a pure font of
well-being and safety for others. Just as a mother gives her own life to
protect her child, so mettâ only gives and never wants anything in return. To
promote one's own interest is a primordial motivation of human nature. When
this urge is transformed into the desire to promote the interest and happiness
of others, not only is the basic urge of self-seeking overcome, but the mind
becomes universal by identifying its own interest with the interest of all. By
making this change one also promotes one's own well-being in the best possible manner.
Mettâ is the protective and
immensely patient attitude of a mother who forbears all difficulties for the
sake of her child and ever protects it despite its misbehavior. Metta is also
the attitude of a friend who wants to give one the best to further one's
well-being. If these qualities of metta are sufficiently cultivated through
metta-bhavana — the meditation on universal love — the result is the
acquisition of a tremendous inner power which preserves, protects and heals
both one and others.
The explanation of mettâ-bhavana,
the meditation on universal love, will give the practical directions for
developing this type of contemplation as set forth in the main meditation texts
of the Theravada Buddhist tradition, the Visuddhimagga,
and the Patisambhidamagga.
The Background of
the Metta Sutta
The historical background which
led the Buddha to expound the Metta Sutta
is explained in the commentary
written by Acariya Buddhaghosa, who received it from an unbroken line of Elders
going back to the days of the Buddha himself.
It is told that five hundred
monks received instructions from the Buddha in the particular techniques of
meditation suitable to their individual temperaments. They then went to the
foothills of the Himalayas to spend the four months of the rains' retreat by
living a life of withdrawal and intensive meditation. In those days, a month or
two before the rains' retreat started, monks from all parts of the country
would assemble wherever the Buddha lived in order to receive direct instruction
from the Supreme Master. Then they would go back to their monasteries, forest
dwellings or hermitages to make a vigorous attempt at spiritual liberation.
This was how these five hundred monks went to the Buddha, who was staying at
Savatthi in Jeta's Grove in the monastery built by Anathapindika.
After receiving instructions they
went in search of a suitable place, and in the course of their wandering they
soon found a beautiful hillock at the foothills of the Himalayas. This,
according to the commentary, "appeared like a glittering blue quartz
crystal: it was embellished with a cool, dense, green forest grove and a
stretch of ground strewn with sand, resembling a pearl net or a silver sheet,
and was furnished with a clean spring of cool water." The bhikkhus were
captivated by the sight. There were a few villages nearby, and also a small
market-town ideal as alms-resort. The monks spent a night in that idyllic grove
and the next morning went to the market-town for alms.
The residents there were overjoyed
to see the monks, since rarely did a community of monks come to spend the
retreat in that part of the Himalayas. These pious devotees fed the monks and
begged them to stay on as their guests, promising to build each a hut near the
grove on the sandy stretch so that they could spend their days and nights
plunged in meditation under the ancient boughs of the majestic trees. The
bhikkhus agreed and the devotees of the area soon built little huts in the
fringe of the forest and provided each hut with a wooden cot, a stool and pots
of water for drinking and washing.
After the monks had settled down
contentedly in these huts, each one selected a tree to meditate under, by day
and by night. Now it is said that these great trees were inhabited by
tree-deities who had a celestial mansion built, appropriately using the trees
as the base. These deities, out of reverence for the meditating monks, stood
aside with their families. Virtue was revered by all, particularly so by
deities, and when the monks sat under the trees, the deities, who were
householders, did not like to remain above them.
The deities had thought that the
monks would remain only for a night or two, and gladly bore the inconvenience.
But when day after day passed and the monks still kept occupying the bases of
the trees, the deities wondered when they would go away. They were like
dispossessed villagers whose houses had been commandeered by the officials of
visiting royalty and they kept watching anxiously from a distance, wondering
when they would get their houses back.
These dispossessed deities
discussed the situation among them and decided to frighten the monks away by
showing them terrifying objects, by making dreadful noises and by creating a
sickening stench. Accordingly, they materialized all these terrifying
conditions and afflicted the monks. The monks soon grew pale and could no
longer concentrate on their subjects of meditation. As the deities continued to
harass them, they lost even their basic mindfulness, and their brains seemed to
become smothered by the oppressing visions, noise and stench.
When the monks assembled to wait
upon the senior most Elder of the group, each one recounted his experiences.
The Elder suggested: "Let us go, brethren, to the Blessed One and place
our problem before him. There are two kinds of rains' retreat — the early and
the late. Though we will be breaking the early one by leaving this place, we
can always take upon ourselves the late one after meeting the Lord." The
monks agreed and they set out at once, it is said, without even informing the
By stages they arrived at
Savatthi, went to the Blessed One, prostrated at his feet, and related their
frightful experiences, pathetically requesting another place. The Buddha,
through his supernormal power, scanned the whole of India, but finding no place
except the same spot where they could achieve spiritual liberation, told them:
"Monks, go back to the same spot! It is only by striving there that you
will affect the destruction of inner taints. Fear not! If you want to be free
from the harassment caused by the deities, learn this sutta. It will be a theme
for meditation as well as a formula for protection (paritta).
Then the Master recited the Karaniya
— the Hymn of Universal Love — which the monks learned by rote
in the presence of the Lord. Then they went back to the same place.
As the monks neared their forest
dwellings reciting the Metta Sutta,
thinking and meditating on the
underlying meaning, the hearts of the deities became so charged with warm
feelings of goodwill that they materialized themselves in human form and
received the monks with great piety. They took their bowls, conducted them to
their rooms, caused water and food to be supplied, and then, resuming their
normal form, invited them to occupy the bases of the trees and meditate without
any hesitation or fear.
Further, during the three months of the
rains' residence, the deities not only looked after the monks in every way but
made sure that the place was completely free from any noise. Enjoying perfect
silence, by the end of the rainy season all the monks attained to the pinnacle
of spiritual perfection. Every one of the five hundred monks had become an
Indeed, such is the power
intrinsic in the Metta Sutta.
Whoever with firm faith will recite the
sutta, invoking the protection of the deities and meditating on metta, will not
only safeguard himself in every way but will also protect all those around him,
and will make spiritual progress that can be actually verified. No harm can
ever befall a person who follows the path of mettâ.
The Four 0f Guardian Meditations-
Mettā is also one of the Four
Guardian Meditations- Caturārakkhabhāvanā. Mettā protect us from inner and
outer dangers. Protection and security are needed everywhere. Many kinds of
dangers can arise, inside the mind and outside it. External dangers are easy to
identify. In Buddhist thought, they are called “distant” because they arise
from outside one’s own body and mind. These distant dangers are called as
Puggala vera, the enemy that comes in human form.” We also face internal
dangers, arising from within. In Pali these are known as Kilesa vera, “the
enemy of mental defilements”. Buddhist sense of Mettā can be clarified with the
Loving-kindness is characterized as promoting the welfare of others (Lakkhaṇā).
(2) Its function
is to desire welfare of others (Rasa).
(3) It is
manifested as the removal of annoyance (Paccupaṭṭhāna).
proximate cause is seeing the liveableness in beings (Padaṭṭhāna). It succeeds.
When it makes ill-will subside, and it fails when it gives rise to selfish
Mettâ consists of five stages:
There are various ways of
practicing metta-bhavana, the meditation on universal love. Three of the
principal methods will be explained here. These instructions, based on
canonical and commentarial sources, are intended to explain the practice of
metta-meditation in a clear, simple and direct way so that anyone who is
earnest about taking up the practice will have no doubts about how to proceed.
For full instructions on the theory and practice of metta-bhavana the reader is
referred to the Visuddhimagga,
(1) In the first stage, one
generates Mettā for oneself. Actually this is not a selfish love in the sense
of self-appreciation as a special person, above others, but a recognition of
one’s capacity to be loving to others and loveable. Some people mistake this
for being selfish. If one doesn’t have Mettā in his own heart or his Mettā is
not strong, then, if he is trying to give out Mettā, it doesn’t work very well
and it is not very effective. First one should know the quality of Mettā within
his own heart. At this stage, one can repeat in such ways: ‘May I be well, may
I be happy, may I progress’.
(2) In second
stage, the feeling is extended to a friend.
(3) In third
stage, to a neutral person.
(4) In the
fourth stage, to someone towards whom you have antipathy.
(5) In the fifth
stage, you see all these together, and then visualize the whole world of living
beings and extend Mettā to all of them.
The Blessings of Mettâ
Monks, when universal love
leading to liberation of mind is ardently practiced, developed, unrelentingly
resorted to, used as one's vehicle, made the foundation of one's life, fully
established, well consolidated and perfected, and then these eleven blessings
may be expected. What eleven?
One sleeps happily; one wakes
happily; one does not suffer bad dreams; one is dear to human beings; one is
dear to non-human beings; the gods protect one; no fire or poison or weapon
harms one; one's mind gets quickly concentrated; the expression of one's face
is serene; one dies unperturbed; and even if one fails to attain higher states,
one will at least reach the state of the Brahma world.
Monks, when universal love leading
to liberation of mind is ardently practiced, developed, unrelentingly resorted
to, used as one's vehicle, made the foundation of one's life, fully
established, well consolidated and perfected, and then these eleven blessings
may be expected.
The Power of Mettâ
The subjective benefit of
universal love is evident enough. The enjoyment of well-being, good health, and
peace of mind, radiant features, and the affection and goodwill of all are
indeed great blessings of life accruing from the practice of mettâ-meditation.
But what is even more wonderful is the impact which mettâ has on the
environment and on other beings, including animals and devas, as the Pali
scriptures and commentaries illustrate with a number of memorable stories.
the Buddha was returning from his alms round together with his retinue of
monks. As they were nearing the prison, in consideration of a handsome bribe
from Devadatta, the Buddha's evil and ambitious cousin, the executioner let
loose the fierce elephant Nalagiri, which was used for the execution of
criminals. As the intoxicated elephant rushed towards the Buddha trumpeting
fearfully, the Buddha projected powerful thoughts of metta towards it.
Venerable Ananda, the Buddha's attendant,
was so deeply concerned about the Buddha's safety that he ran in front of the
Buddha to shield him, but the Buddha asked him to stand aside since the
projection of love itself was quite sufficient.
The impact of the Buddha's metta-radiation
was so immediate and overwhelming that by the time the animal neared the Buddha
it was completely tamed as though a drunken wretch had suddenly become sober by
the magical power of a spell. The tusker, it is said, bowed down in reverence
in the way trained elephants do in a circus. So mightily powerful is metta —
loving-kindness. This is not the case of one who has developed metta-samadhi.
It is a simple case of the consciousness of love for the offspring.
Indeed, the power of metta can
never be told enough. The commentaries to the Pali Canon are replete with
stories, not only of monks, but also of ordinary people who overcame various
dangers, including weapons and poison, through the sheer strength of mettaâ
Just as sun sheds its rays on all
without any distinction, even so sublime mettâ bestows it sweet blessing
equally on the pleasant and unpleasant, on the rich and poor, on the high and low,
on the vicious and the virtuous, on man and woman, and human and animal. Loving-kindness
(Mettâ) is not mere universal brotherhood, for it embrace all living beings in
mettâ is the opposite of the
hatred (dasa).that mental factor called Adosa(non-hatred) which for wishes for
the welfare of the other beings ,contemplating “may all beings be happy and may they be free from danger” The
commentators define Mettā as the strong wish for the welfare and happiness of
others And unselfish and all-embracing love. This is the pure form of love that
can bring peace and prosperity to all beings.
Therefore, loving-kindness is
very benefic and promote the values of human race and peaceful in all human
society, will give and insight to live in a wholesome and enjoyable life. “May
all beings be happy and peaceful in the whole life”. “May all attain Nibbana in
shout time by cultivate of loving-kindness (mettâ bavanâ)
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Paṭis-a III 603
(Digha Nikaya, III. 234).
Mettā (Pali: मेत्ता in Devanagari) or maitrī (Sanskrit: मैत्री) is loving-kindness, friendliness, benevolence, amity, friendship, good will, kindness, love, sympathy, close mental union (on same mental wavelength), and active interest in others. It is one of the ten pāramīs of the Theravāda school of Buddhism, and the first of the four sublime states (Brahmavihāras). This is love without clinging (upādāna).
The cultivation of loving-kindness (mettā bhāvanā) is a popular form of meditation in Buddhism. In the Theravadin Buddhist tradition, this practice begins with the meditator cultivating loving-kindness towards themselves, then their loved ones, friends, teachers, strangers, enemies, and finally towards all sentient beings. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, this practice is associated with tonglen (cf.), whereby one breathes out ("sends") happiness and breathes in ("receives") suffering. Tibetan Buddhists also practice contemplation of the four immeasurables, which they sometimes call 'compassion meditation'
"Compassion meditation" is a contemporary scientific field that demonstrates the efficacy of metta and related meditative practices.