or "lovingkindness," is
the first of the brahma-viharas.
monks, a disciple dwells pervading one
direction with his heart filled with loving-kindness,
likewise the second, the third, and the
fourth directions; so above, below and
around; he dwells pervading the entire
world everywhere and equally with his heart
filled with loving-kindness, abundant,
grown great, measureless, free from enmity,
and free from distress. Buddha
In the lessons that
follow you will learn how the others—compassion,
sympathetic joy, an equanimity—grow out
of metta, which supports and extends these states.
The words we use in
English to designate the brahma-viharas can have a
significant affect on our relation to and attitudes
about these qualities.
The common translation for metta is “lovingkindness”.
What does lovingkindness
mean to you?
What is your first response to hearing this word?
Is lovingkindness something you experience? In yourself? In others?
Let’s look at other words we might use to
convey the meaning of metta.
is translated as “love.”
does “love’ have for
In our culture,
when we talk about love, we usually mean either
passion or sentimentality. So it is crucial to
distinguish metta from both of these states
laying just the tiny, thin little veneer of sentimentality
of what are very conflicted feelings of pain, anger,
sadness or grief, we try to pretend they’re
not there. It is a facsimile of caring that
limits itself only to experiences of pleasure
like looking through the lens of a camera that
been smeared with a little Vaseline, sentimentality
puts things into what is called "soft
cannot see the rough edges, the trouble spots,
or the defects. Everything appears just too
Sentimentality finds pain unbearable
and so rejects it, thus provoking and sustaining
of parts of ourselves. To avoid feeling pain,
we shut out crucial portions of awareness,
this closing off this internal separation,
Metta certainly does not mean this.
kind of fear or anxiety leads people to say, “I
don’t know if I want to have a loving heart,
because if I developed a loving heart, I’d
be an idiot. I would let myself be hurt or abused
or tyrannized and I would smile that Miss Kentucky
smile. Or I would allow other people to be hurt
or oppressed or abused, and just smile, because
I’m developing lovingkindness rather than
taking any sort of action.”
Somebody once told
me that he absolutely detested
practice because it reminded
him of a continually enforced Valentine’s
Day, like, “On the count
of three, you will now be filled
Does the thought
of lovingkindness practice engender
this kind of fear in you? Do you
associate lovingkindness with shallowness
or weakness? Are there reservations
of this kind that come up for you?
Not surprisingly we often confuse love
with passion. Passion is enmeshed with feelings
of wanting or of owning and possessing.
gets entangled with needing things to be a certain
way, with having our expectations
Interestingly the word passion derives from
the Latin word for "suffering." Wanting
and expectation inevitably entail suffering.
Do you confuse or
equate love with passion? Reflect
on how love for you becomes enmeshed
with longing and possessing
water poured from one vessel to another,
metta flows freely, taking the shape of
each situation without changing its essence.
metta doesn’t mean this kind of passion.
The spirit of metta is unconditional: open and
A friend may disappoint
us—she may not meet our expectations—but
we do not stop being a friend to her. We may in
disappoint ourselves, may not meet our own expectations,
but we do not cease to be a friend to ourselves.
A medium of exchange
I used this example and somebody raised their
hand and said, “Only 15?”
An expectation of exchange underlies most passion: "I
will love you as long as you get better, according
to my agenda."
Does this resonate with
you? Reflect on the ways your love is
conditional, is a medium of exchange.
Reflect on the ways your love is a mechanism
for receiving something.
Can you see how fragile and ultimately defeating this
kind of love is? How interlaced with disappointment
it inevitably is ? We can see how fleeting it is; conditions
change and we realize, “Oh – that didn’t
work out quite the way I wanted it to”.
Metta refers to something much more sustaining; something
that isn’t going to be broken; isn’t going
to be shattered, through the winds of change, through
the natural ups and downs that make up a life.