Mettā (मेत्ता in Devanagari) is a Pāli word meaning unconditional and unattached loving-kindness. The Sanskrit is maitrī (मैत्री). It is one of the ten pāramitās of the Theravada school of Buddhism. The mettā bhāvanā (cultivation of mettā) is a popular form of meditation in Buddhism, practiced with mindfulness of breath, which provides concentration, so as to prevent the loss of compassion.
The object of mettā meditation is to cultivate goodwill and compassion towards all sentient beings. The practice usually begins with the meditator cultivating compassion and love towards themselves, then their loved ones, friends, teachers, strangers and finally their enemies. It is a good way to calm down a distraught mind because it is an antidote to anger. Someone who has cultivated mettā will not be easily angered and can quickly subdue anger that arises. They will be more caring, more loving, and more likely to love unconditionally.
Buddhists believe that those who cultivate mettā will be at ease because they see no need to harbour ill will or hostility. Buddhist teachers may even recommend meditation on mettā as an antidote to insomnia and nightmares. It is generally felt that those around a mettāful person will feel more comfortable and happy too. Radiating mettā contributes to a world of love, peace and happiness.
Metta meditation: the practice of loving-kindness
Metta signifies friendship and non-violence as well as “a strong wish for the happiness of others.” Though it refers to many seemingly disparate ideas, Metta is in fact a very specific form of love—a caring for another independent of all self-interest—and thus is likened to one’s love for one’s child or parent. Understandably, this energy is often difficult to describe in words; however, in the practice of Metta meditation, one recites specific words and phrases in order to evoke this “boundless warm-hearted feeling.” The strength of this feeling is not limited to or by family, religion, or social class. Indeed, Metta is a tool that permits one’s generosity and kindness to be applied to all beings and, as a consequence, one finds true happiness in another person’s happiness, no matter who the individual is.
The six stages of mettā bhāvanā are cultivating loving-kindness towards:
- A good friend
- A ‘neutral’ person
- A difficult person
- All four
- and then gradually the entire universe
- (Kamalashila 1996, p.25-26)
For #2 avoid choosing someone that you feel sexually attracted to, or that is much younger or much older than yourself, or who is dead. For #3 choose someone that you might come in contact with every day, but who does not give rise to strong positive nor strong negative emotions. For #4 traditionally choose “an enemy”, but avoid choosing the person that just wrecked your life, unless you are very well grounded in awareness. For #5 treat them as equals, equally deserving of loving-kindness.
The Metta Meditation is attributed as words of the Buddha.
- “Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
- May all beings be at ease.
- Whatever living beings there may be;
- Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
- The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
- The seen and the unseen,
- Those living near and far away,
- Those born and to-be-born,
- May all beings be at ease!
- Let none deceive another,
- Or despise any being in any state.
- Let none through anger or ill-will
- Wish harm upon another.
- Even as a mother protects with her life
- Her child, her only child,
- So with a boundless heart
- Should one cherish all living beings:
- Radiating kindness over the entire world
- Spreading upwards to the skies,
- And downwards to the depths;
- Outwards and unbounded,
- Freed from hatred and ill-will.
- Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
- Free from drowsiness,
- One should sustain this recollection.
- This is said to be the sublime abiding.”
- Kamalashila (1996). Meditation: The Buddhist Art of Tranquility and Insight. Birmingham: Windhorse Publications. ISBN 1899579052.