Deep Dive Into the 10 Paramitas | 9 Loving Kindness or Metta

9. Perfection of Loving Kindness (Metta) 

Loving kindness is an uplifting mental state cultivated by practice. It is essential to doing away with the self-cherishing that separates us from all sentient beings and binds us to ignorance and suffering. Metta is an antidote to selfishness, separation, anger and fear. 

 ________

Loving Kindness – Supported by the other Three Brahmaviharas

– Sati Center for Buddhist Studies

The Brahmaviharas Are The Qualities Of Loving-Kindness:

Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, And Equanimity. 

What is often not sufficiently emphasized is that the brahmaviharas are 

fundamental to the Buddha’steaching and practice. I shall begin with the chant called 

The Suffusion ofthe Divine Abidings. I find this chant very beautiful. It is the most frequent

form in which the brahmaviharas are mentioned in the discourses of the

Buddha. Here is the Divine Abidings chant:

I will abide pervading one quarter with a mind

imbued with loving-kindness; likewise the second,

likewise the third, likewise the fourth; so above and

below, around and everywhere; and to all as to

myself. I will abide pervading the all-encompassing

world with a mind imbued with loving-kindness;

abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility,

and without ill will.

The chant continues similarly with the other three qualities:

I will abide pervading one quarter with a mind

imbued with compassion….I will abide pervading

one quarter with a mind imbued with gladness…

I will abide pervading one quarter with a mind

imbued with equanimity….

Last February I was asked to be the spiritual advisor to a Thai man

who was to be executed at San Quentin, and I spent the last few days

until his death with him. He touched many people and had many visitors,

but in the capacity of spiritual advisor, I was the only person allowed to

be with him in the last six hours of his life. So some of his friends asked

me what they should be doing in those final hours to help Jay as well as

themselves. I asked them to chant this Divine Abidings chant. That’s what

they did during the final hours of Jay’s life, sending forth these thoughts

of loving-kindness, compassion, gladness, and equanimity. They are pow-

erful emotions to evoke at a time when one could be stuck in anger,

regret, and self-pity. It is very empowering to be able to bring forth these

qualities of the heart, to turn the mind away from negativity towards that

which is wholesome and positive.

The Buddha’s Discourses on the Brahmaviharas

The word brahmavihara is translated in many different ways—divine

abidings, divine abodes, sublime attitudes. “Brahma” means great, holy,

supreme, sublime, exalted, and divine. “Vihara” is a place, an abode, and

also an attitude of mind. When put together,“brahmavihara” means the

psychological abiding place of the spiritually developed, of those who

are exemplary. In the Commentaries, the religious life, the holy life, is

called brahmacariya. One of the explanations for this term is that the holy

life is a life dedicated to developing the brahmaviharas.

These qualities of the mind and heart are qualities that the Buddha

himself cultivated and abided in. In a discourse (A 1.182), the Buddha

addresses a brahmin thus: “Herein brahmin, I am dependent on a certain

village. Setting mindfulness in front of me, I abide suffusing one quarter

of the world with a heart possessed of loving-kindness, likewise the sec-

ond….” He goes through the phrases we just chanted,

…the whole world I suffuse with a heart grown great

with loving-kindness, free of enmity, and untroubled.

Likewise with a heart possessed with compassion,

possessed with sympathy and gladness, possessed with equanimity. 

If I walk up and down, my walking is

sublime; my standing, my sitting is sublime.This is

what I mean when I say it is a sublime abiding place.

So even the Buddha, a completely enlightened being, still directed

his attention to these four brahmaviharas.

There is a discourse (M 55) given to Jivaka, the Buddha’s physician,

where the Buddha addresses the duty of a monk living in dependence

on a lay community:“Herein Jivaka, a religious seeker depending on alms

lives in a certain village or town. He abides pervading one quarter with

a mind imbued with loving-kindness, likewise the second,” and so forth.

Namely, it is a duty of such a bhikkhu* to live cultivating the brahma-

viharas towards the lay community.

He continues,“That bhikkhu goes into that village for alms, and what

do you think? Would such a monk cultivate these for the sake of his own

affliction, for the sake of another’s affliction, or for both?”

Jivaka answers, “No, venerable sir.”

Someone cultivating these qualities of the brahmaviharas becomes

sensitive to the suffering they create for themselves and for others.They

are qualities that develop the heart. By cultivating and abiding in them,

one leans towards that which would bring happiness to others and to

oneself.This is a fundamental truth.As your heart becomes sensitive and

open, you realize that suffering is painful and do not want to abide in it.

In another discourse (A 5.294), the Buddha again points to the de-

velopment of the heart and to the fact that these wholesome qualities

create a fullness of the heart. He says,“Monks, those noble disciples, thus

freed from covetousness, freed from malevolence, not bewildered, but

self-possessed and concentrated, with hearts possessed of amity [also

translated as loving-kindness, friendliness, and so on] abide radiating one

quarter and then the second, the third and the fourth with loving-kind-

ness, pervading the whole world with a heart immeasurable, grown

great, and boundless, free from enmity and untroubled.” After going

through the rest of the brahmaviharas, the Buddha says that they come

to know that “[f]ormerly this heart of mine was confined, it was not

made to grow, but now my heart is boundless, well made to grow

Moreover my heart was limited to a certain range, but now it is not con-

fined, it stays not in that range.” “Well made to grow” is translated from

the Pali word with the same root as bhavana, meaning meditation or

mental development. It means therefore that these qualities enable the

development of the mind.

Also as a result of this practice, feelings and thoughts that formerly

were limited and constricted become boundless. The results permeate all

aspects of one’s life. Similarly, when one does something in a small-

minded way, the results are limited.That’s the way it works.

The Buddha ends the discourse thus:“The heart’s release by loving-

kindness is conducive to non-returning for the monk with insight but

who has not yet penetrated to the truth.” The stages of enlightenment

are stream-entry, once-returner, non-returner, and arahant.* Here the

Buddha says that even for those who are still practicing and training, the

cultivation of the brahmaviharas is conducive to attaining higher levels

of the Path.

The Brahmaviharas: Their Nature and Characteristics

As one continues to practice and study Buddhism, it is very useful to

familiarize oneself with some of the Pali terms. For example,when work-

ing with computers, you have to learn some technical terms to deal with

certain concepts or operations, or when studying music, you learn the

related technical terms. With Buddhism, there is a range of technical

terms in Pali for the qualities of the heart that are helpful to know.

Metta, for instance, is often translated in English as “loving-kindness.”

Although two words are used, they still don’t quite get it right, so other

words are used, such as amity or friendliness, in an effort to convey its

meaning. Metta is characterized as being connected to happiness or wel-

fare. Its function is to generate welfare or well being. It is manifested as

the removal of annoyance. Its proximate cause is seeing the lovableness

of beings, or the good qualities and that which is pleasing in others.

Metta succeeds when it causes ill will to subside and fails when it

brings about affection. Using the word metta is more useful as it does

not have the connotations of affection and attachment that the word

loving-kindness has. Metta is a selfless wishing of happiness and well

being for others.

The brahmaviharas have so-called near and far enemies—obstruc-

tions to their correct development.The near enemy of metta is greed or

attachment, since happiness and well being could become coveted.That

leads to pain and sorrow and could even turn into a defilement if not

correctly understood.When we experience something pleasing, we tend

to want it, but to really practice metta is to wish for the well being of

others and not to try to possess them. The same goes for cultivating

metta towards oneself, to try not to cling to feelings of joy and well

being generated by the practice of meditation. So the near enemy to

metta is when the heart moves too close to something and then it shifts

from being loving-kindness to greed and grasping.

The far enemy of metta is anger. Bearing anger, ill will, or aversion

is, of course, inimical to loving-kindness, but it is far enough away to

recognize such feelings. Being more insidious, the near enemies are more

dangerous.When you are angry, you try to deal with it or try to remove

it, but when you are delighting in something, your mind tends not to be

clear enough to see that you have come too close to the object. In terms

of cultivating loving-kindness, you have to know and be aware of these

aspects that are related to and define the quality of metta, and to use

them as boundaries to work within.

Karuna is the quality of compassion. It is characterized by the wish

to help alleviate suffering in others. Its function resides in the inability

to tolerate suffering, so it motivates the desire to help when others suf-

fer. Compassion does not allow complacency in the face of suffering.

One is moved into action. Compassion manifests as non-cruelty, and its

proximate cause is seeing the pain and helplessness in those disadvan-

taged or overtaken by some misfortune. Then the heart responds with

the wish to help.

The far enemy is cruelty, and compassion succeeds when it makes

such feelings subside.The word cruelty sounds very strong, but the wish

to harm, to hurt, to be cruel can come out in many ways. One could be 

quite cruel in one’s speech without in fact beating up someone. Making

a cutting comment or put-down is being cruel. When there is compas-

sion, the tendency to lash out subsides.

Compassion fails when it causes sorrow. When faced with suffering,

if one is overwhelmed by grief or heaviness of heart, then that is not

being compassionate. The quality of compassion is then tainted and not

functioning properly. When the heart is drawn towards boundlessness, it

is not dragged down by suffering. Instead, it is uplifted. It is important

to recognize that.The heart could be weighed down by sorrow and grief

in response to a tragic event or situation, and one could think that that

is being compassionate. But that is not compassion, even though the

etymology of the word (in English) is “to suffer with.” That is not the

way the Buddha defined compassion. If one’s mind is affected by grief,

then one is not able to respond in a clear and open-hearted manner. It

is important to recognize that. This is why sorrow and grief are charac-

terized as the near enemy of compassion. Both responses can spring

from seeing suffering in others, but grief has a depressive effect, while

compassion has a positive and uplifting quality.

Mudita is translated as gladness in the Divine Abidings chant, but the

term commonly used is sympathetic joy. Mudita is characterized as a

gladdening at others’ success, a delighting in the success, the goodness,

and the well being of others. Its function is being unenvious, not being

jealous of the good fortune of others. Most of us, I think, find loving-

kindness and compassion beneficial and good to practice.When it comes

to sympathetic joy, we do not think too much about it and tend to dis-

miss it as either abstruse or unreal.When you start watching your mind

however, you see the pettiness over and over again.The unwillingness to

rejoice when someone does something good is seen in the snappy re-

mark or the clever little synopsis of a person or situation, which are a

part of daily life in our interrelations with people but which tend to be

based in negativity or cynicism. Such responses do not come from a

place of gladness but very much from a sense of self. One attempts to lift

oneself up by putting down someone else.

By cultivating mudita, the sense of self is undermined. There is a

letting go of the attachment or fixation to self.This enables us to delight

in the well being and good fortune of those around us. A great deal of joy 

is generated when one is able to tap into this quality. Mudita is man-

ifested as non-aversion, and its proximate cause is seeing the success of

others. It succeeds when it causes a sense of coolness of the heart, an

acceptance. It fails when it causes merriment, a frivolous delighting in

things that agitate the mind, which is not a pure-hearted delight.

Equanimity in Pali is called upekkha. It is characterized as that qual-

ity which brings about a sense of neutrality or an evenness of heart to-

wards all beings. Its function is in maintaining a steadiness of mind and

not allowing differences—whether physical, intellectual, spiritual, or

whatever—to detract or influence our perception of those with whom

we come in contact. Its proximate cause is understanding the nature of

karma—recognition that our actions bear results which affect us and, in

effect, that we create our own future world or experiences.

Another factor to recognize regarding karma is that we are not able

to take on the results of other’s actions and deeds. Equanimity is there-

fore understanding how the basic laws of nature work, the recognition

that our lives are governed by the way we conduct our lives.Where the

suffering of others is concerned, we recognize that by making ourselves

suffer, we do not decrease or take away the suffering of others. We can

work to alleviate another’s suffering or delight in another’s good for-

tune, but there is a point where one has to exercise equanimity, being

aware of one’s own well being.To try to take on someone else’s life and

carry it around is not equanimity. Equanimity is not taking on more

than what is actually necessary or beneficial.

Equanimity succeeds when it is aware of the movement of the

mind—the wanting and not wanting, approval and disapproval—and

one is able to establish an evenness of mind, a clarity that sees things for

what they are. Equanimity fails when it causes indifference, not caring.

Indifference could arise due to a lack of attention or clarity, or to being

unwilling to deal with a situation because too much effort is required.

Indifference is the near enemy of equanimity. True equanimity does not

hinder compassion or action, but rather enhances it by developing the

discernment that knows how and when to engage. The far enemy is

aversion and greed: the liking and disliking, approving and disapproving

that occurs within our minds. Equanimity is the quality not shaken by

the movement of the worldly dhammas or the ways of the world.

quite cruel in one’s speech without in fact beating up someone. Making

a cutting comment or put-down is being cruel. When there is compas-

sion, the tendency to lash out subsides.

Compassion fails when it causes sorrow. When faced with suffering,

if one is overwhelmed by grief or heaviness of heart, then that is not

being compassionate. The quality of compassion is then tainted and not

functioning properly. When the heart is drawn towards boundlessness, it

is not dragged down by suffering. Instead, it is uplifted. It is important

to recognize that.The heart could be weighed down by sorrow and grief

in response to a tragic event or situation, and one could think that that

is being compassionate. But that is not compassion, even though the

etymology of the word (in English) is “to suffer with.” That is not the

way the Buddha defined compassion. If one’s mind is affected by grief,

then one is not able to respond in a clear and open-hearted manner. It

is important to recognize that. This is why sorrow and grief are charac-

terized as the near enemy of compassion. Both responses can spring

from seeing suffering in others, but grief has a depressive effect, while

compassion has a positive and uplifting quality.

Mudita is translated as gladness in the Divine Abidings chant, but the

term commonly used is sympathetic joy. Mudita is characterized as a

gladdening at others’ success, a delighting in the success, the goodness,

and the well being of others. Its function is being unenvious, not being

jealous of the good fortune of others. Most of us, I think, find loving-

kindness and compassion beneficial and good to practice.When it comes

to sympathetic joy, we do not think too much about it and tend to dis-

miss it as either abstruse or unreal.When you start watching your mind

however, you see the pettiness over and over again.The unwillingness to

rejoice when someone does something good is seen in the snappy re-

mark or the clever little synopsis of a person or situation, which are a

part of daily life in our interrelations with people but which tend to be

based in negativity or cynicism. Such responses do not come from a

place of gladness but very much from a sense of self. One attempts to lift

oneself up by putting down someone else.

By cultivating mudita, the sense of self is undermined. There is a

letting go of the attachment or fixation to self.This enables us to delight

in the well being and good fortune of those around us. A great deal of 

joy is generated when one is able to tap into this quality. Mudita is man-

ifested as non-aversion, and its proximate cause is seeing the success of

others. It succeeds when it causes a sense of coolness of the heart, an

acceptance. It fails when it causes merriment, a frivolous delighting in

things that agitate the mind, which is not a pure-hearted delight.

Equanimity in Pali is called upekkha. It is characterized as that qual-

ity which brings about a sense of neutrality or an evenness of heart to-

wards all beings. Its function is in maintaining a steadiness of mind and

not allowing differences—whether physical, intellectual, spiritual, or

whatever—to detract or influence our perception of those with whom

we come in contact. Its proximate cause is understanding the nature of

karma—recognition that our actions bear results which affect us and, in

effect, that we create our own future world or experiences.

Another factor to recognize regarding karma is that we are not able

to take on the results of other’s actions and deeds. Equanimity is there-

fore understanding how the basic laws of nature work, the recognition

that our lives are governed by the way we conduct our lives.Where the

suffering of others is concerned, we recognize that by making ourselves

suffer, we do not decrease or take away the suffering of others. We can

work to alleviate another’s suffering or delight in another’s good for-

tune, but there is a point where one has to exercise equanimity, being

aware of one’s own well being.To try to take on someone else’s life and

carry it around is not equanimity. Equanimity is not taking on more

than what is actually necessary or beneficial.

Equanimity succeeds when it is aware of the movement of the

mind—the wanting and not wanting, approval and disapproval—and

one is able to establish an evenness of mind, a clarity that sees things for

what they are. Equanimity fails when it causes indifference, not caring.

Indifference could arise due to a lack of attention or clarity, or to being

unwilling to deal with a situation because too much effort is required.

Indifference is the near enemy of equanimity. True equanimity does not

hinder compassion or action, but rather enhances it by developing the

discernment that knows how and when to engage. The far enemy is

aversion and greed: the liking and disliking, approving and disapproving

that occurs within our minds. Equanimity is the quality not shaken by

the movement of the worldly dhammas or the ways of the world.

A Foundation for One’s Practice

Cultivating the brahmaviharas means bringing these qualities (metta,

karuna, mudita, and upekkha) into consciousness. It is like exercising

muscles that have not been used. As you develop these qualities, you have

to consider whether your mind is getting clearer or more confused.The

correct practice of the brahmaviharas always leads to increased clarity

and joy. That is the nature of these qualities of mind.

The whole point of the Buddha’s teachings is to cultivate mental

qualities in order to gain happiness of mind. And the brahmaviharas—a

prime source for creating happiness—can thus lay the foundation for the

entire practice. Most of the terms the Buddha uses regarding the devel-

oping of practice are those that describe states of well being.We see this

in a sequence he sets out to illustrate the development of the mind.

Anavajjasukha is the state of mind resulting from abiding by the

moral precepts—the happiness of blamelessness or harmlessness, the

happiness of non-remorse.

Abhyasekhasukha is the happiness that ensues from training in sense

restraint—the composure one finds when one is not bent on gratifica-

tion or excitement of the senses.

Pamojja means the delight that results from being free of the five hin-

drances that hinder meditation (sensual desire, ill will, sleepiness or

drowsiness, restlessness, and skeptical doubt). Pamojja also refers to the

happiness that meditative states of tranquility can bring—an unalloyed

kind of happiness. It also includes the delight that arises from skilful

reflection on the true nature of things. Pamojja leads to piti (joy). Piti

leads to passadhi (the state of tranquility).When there is tranquility, sukha

(happiness) arises, and because of sukha, samadhi arises. Samadhi is the

firm meditative state of mind.The Buddha says in many discourses that

the happy mind is easily concentrated.

We see that happiness brings about samadhi, whereas usually we ap-

proach it the other way round.We often think, “If only I could get my

meditation together, then I would be happy,” whereas it should be:“How

do I gain true happiness so that my heart could be at ease?” It is a very

important truth that the Buddha points to in this sequence of shades of

happiness culminating in samadhi.

The result of samadhi is summed up in the recurring phrase “seeing

things as they truly are.” This is a description of a mental state where the

mind steps back from the sense of self. This state prepares the mind to

be truly still and unshakeable.When that happens, the mind moves into

nibbida. Sometimes this word is translated as boredom or disgust or re-

vulsion, but that does not really get it. It means a cooling of the heart

and turning away from things, leading to vimutti (freedom). Happiness

plays a great role in the development of the whole sequence, and the

brahmaviharas, which generate happiness, can serve as a powerful foun-

dation for one’s practice.

Similarly, the Four Noble Truths,while often characterized as a means

to investigate suffering, also result in the cultivation of happiness. The

qualities of happiness and joy are necessary for mental development.This

is seen in many aspects of the Buddha’s teaching.The Buddha very ex-

plicitly uses the Four Noble Truths as a tool. Over and over again he says,

“I teach only two things, suffering and the cessation of suffering.” Some

could say this is a miserable teaching, dwelling on suffering. But when

you investigate the teaching, you see why the Buddha sets it out like

that. Suffering is a very tangible quality. We can investigate it. It is some-

thing that we know and do not want. The whole range of sentient exis-

tence is subject to suffering, and the wish to escape from it is universal.

Many positive qualities are brought into being and are involved when

one is engaged in cultivating the boundless qualities of the brahmaviharas.

They lead to a sense of ease, security, and fearlessness. The Pali word for

fearlessness is abhaya. In Thai, it also has the connotation of forgiveness.

Developing the brahmaviharas engenders forgiveness, particularly in the

practice of loving-kindness and compassion. To open one’s heart to these

qualities, one needs to be forgiving. The holding of past grievances—the

constant refrain of “he did this; she did that; I did this; I can’t forgive

myself ”—is swept away. There is no room in the divine abodes for hold-

ing grudges and enmity towards oneself or others.

Generosity, or dana, is another natural result of the desire to promote

happiness and alleviate suffering.Three kinds of dana are mentioned: the

giving of material things such as food or money, the giving of Dhamma,

and the giving of forgiveness or fearlessness. Often we do not pay much

attention to the little things, such as our perceptions of ourselves and

others. We have to learn to really forgive so as to open our hearts to

these boundless qualities.

For instance, during that experience I had with Jay Siripongs, I asked

him if there was still anybody he had not forgiven.This was during the

last six hours leading up to the execution. We had spent the previous

four and one-half hours or so talking, chanting, meditating, laughing,

and generally having a buoyant time. Jay paused for a while and quietly

said,“I don’t think I’ve quite forgiven myself.” That’s not just him. All of

us are in that position. So it is very important to bring up into con-

sciousness areas where we have not forgiven ourselves and where we

have thus created limitations and constraints for ourselves.

Practicing the Brahmaviharas

As we have seen, the brahmaviharas are a means of uplifting the mind,

for brightening and bringing it joy. However, if the practice causes con-

fusion, then something is wrong in the practice.You have to review it

and look for the reason.This is where investigation comes in.

The “near enemies” and “far enemies” are terms to aid you when

reviewing your practice.They are guidelines to reflect back on the mind.

The Buddha instructs us to examine our minds to see the real nature of

the qualities and feelings. For instance, is it loving-kindness or affection?

This questioning is fundamental in the Buddha’s teaching. It can be so

skilful and useful to keep using the reflective capacity of the mind to

penetrate and understand how the mind works. He gives us the basis for

investigation—the Four Noble Truths are one skilful investigative tool.

Whichever practice one is cultivating (developing mindfulness, the

brahmaviharas, or any other meditation), ask, “Is there suffering or free-

dom from suffering that results from my practice? How does it work for

me?” That is always the bottom line in the Buddha’s teaching. “Am I

happier, or am I experiencing suffering? Is my mind clearer or more

confused? Is it peaceful or agitated?” These are the guidelines.

All of these qualities (the brahmaviharas, dana, and so forth) are thus

important tools of investigation in reflecting and understanding what

remains to be done in the task of purifying the mind. This teaching of

the brahmaviharas was something the Buddha taught everyone, regard-

less of societal divisions. In the Buddha’s time, caste was an important

actor in Indian society. Pointing out the universality of these qualities

to a brahmin who had come to argue with him, the Buddha asks,“What

do you think, brahmin? Is only a brahmin capable of developing loving-

kindness without hostility and ill will? Can a merchant or worker not

be able to do so?”

“No, Master Gotama, a merchant, nobleman, brahmin, or worker is

capable of developing loving-kindness, without hostility and without ill

will.” (M 93) This practice is accessible to anyone, regardless of gender,

age, position in society, or status as ordained or not.

The success of this practice depends on how you direct your mind,

how you experience and engage with the world, on your ability to assess

the benefit or the lack of benefit of this practice and then make use of

it for yourself. Don’t wait for these qualities to develop on their own.

You have to investigate your practice, recognize the results that you

experience, and then take whatever remedial measures are necessary.

This practice empowers us to change and develop ourselves. I would

encourage you all to take these brahmaviharas and experiment with,

learn from, and delight in them.

___________

REFLECTIONS AND PRACTICES

Reflections
1. Reflect on some of the more significant acts of goodwill or loving kindness
that you received from others. What made these significant for you? How did
they make you feel? Did they motivate you in any way? What did you learn
from experiencing these acts of goodwill?
2. Reflect on some of the more significant acts of good will or loving kindness
that you have offered to others. What made these significant to you? How did
you feel doing them? What did you learn from doing them?
3. Give some concentrated thought to what points of view you could draw on
which would help you have greater good will or loving kindness for others.
What aspect of another person can you consider that would incline you to feel
friendlier toward them? Please write up a list of five points of view,
reflections, or attitudes which would help you have more loving kindness
toward others.


Practices
1. For the next month begin your meditations with a ten minute period of
loving kindness. Notice how starting with loving kindness affects the rest of
your meditation.
2. For one week devote all your meditation sessions to doing loving kindness.
How does this affect your daily life?
3. When you are in some public situations, privately practice generating
thoughts and feelings of good will, well wishing, and loving kindness to the
people around you. How does doing this affect you?
4. Choose a person you are not getting along with. For three days focus your
loving kindness practice on generating whatever goodwill or loving kindness
toward this person that you can. Notice if and how your attitude toward this
person changes over those three days.

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