Lovingkindness [metta]

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The Pali word metta has two root meanings.


One root meaning for metta is "gentle."

In regards to metta we've mentioned conditional love, passion, and sentimentality. How does your heart shift when the word "gentle" is introduced?

Metta is likened to a gentle rain that falls upon the earth. This rain does not select and choose—"I'll rain here, and I'll avoid that place over there." Rather, it simply falls without discrimination.


The other root meaning for metta is "friend."

What does “friend” connote for you? What does friendship mean to you? How might lovingkindness relate to friendship?

A good friend, the Buddha said, is someone who is constant in our times of happiness and also in our times of adversity or unhappiness. A friend does forsake us when we are in trouble nor rejoice in our misfortune. The Buddha described a true friend as being a helper, someone who will protect us when we are unable to take care of ourselves, who will be a refuge to us when we are afraid.

Beginning with yourself

The practice of metta, uncovering the force of love that can uproot fear, anger, and guilt, begins with befriending ourselves. It means developing the art of friendship—a spirit of friendship—first toward ourselves.

Reflect on the Buddha's words:

You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.

How few of us embrace ourselves in this way! With metta practice we uncover the possibility of truly respecting ourselves. We discover, as Walt Whitman put it, "I am larger and better than I thought. I did not think I held so much goodness."

When you're afraid, just put your head in the lap of the Buddha.
Dalai Lama

The lap of the Buddha epitomizes the safety of a true friendship. The culmination of metta is to become such a friend to oneself and all of life.

Directly seeing the natural radiance of our minds re-teaches us our own loveliness. To allude to a phrase in the Zen tradition, this is our original face before we were born—before we were born into identification with a separate, limited self. Recognizing our own power to love points us directly to recognizing this primordial radiance.

That means every aspect of ourselves, not just those parts of ourselves we like a lot and we proudly present to the world, but those parts of ourselves we’re not so in touch with; we feel cut off from. Those parts of ourselves that we don’t like so much, that we try to avoid. Still, we can have that sense of friendship.

Friendship of all beings

When you read this do you think this means that you should like everyone or accept anyone’s behavior as is?

This does not mean that we like everybody; it doesn’t mean that we approve of how everyone behaves. But it is a bone-deep recognition that this is the nature of things. That we’re connected. And we need to live in a way that honors that.