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Mettā (loving-kindness)

Mettā. (2009, March 21). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 05:03, May 13, 2009. All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free

Mettā (Pāli: मेत्ता) or maitrī (Sanskrit) has been translated as "loving-kindness,""friendliness," "benevolence," "amity," "friendship," "good will," "kindness," "love," "sympathy," and "active interest in others." It is one of the ten pāramitās of the Theravāda school of Buddhism, and the first of the four Brahmavihāras. The mettā bhāvanā ("cultivation of mettā") is a popular form of meditation in Buddhism.

The object of mettā meditation is loving kindness (love without attachment). Traditionally, the practice begins with the meditator cultivating loving kindness towards themselves, then their loved ones, friends, teachers, strangers, enemies, and finally towards all sentient beings. Commonly, it can be used as a greeting or closing to a letter or note.

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 mettā-full person will feel more comfortable and happy too. Radiating mettā is thought to contribute to a world of love, peace and happiness.

Mettā meditation is considered a good way to calm down a distraught mind by people who consider it to be an antidote to anger. According to them, someone who has cultivated mettā will not be easily angered and can quickly subdue anger that arises, being more caring, more loving, and more likely to love unconditionally. Recent neurological studies have shown that compassion meditation can increase one’s capabilities for empathy by changing activity in brain areas such as the temporal parietal juncture and the insula and increase the subject’s ability to understand the mental and emotional states of others as well as deal more effectively with external stressors.

Mettā meditation: the practice of loving-kindness

Mettā signifies friendship and non-violence as well as "a strong wish for the happiness of others", but also less obvious or direct qualities such as showing patience, receptivity, and appreciation. Though it refers to many seemingly disparate ideas, Mettā 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 Mettā 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, Mettā 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.

Visuddhimagga method: Six stages

Contemporary metta practice is often based on a method traditionally associated with the 5th c. CE Pali exegetical text, the Visuddhimagga. The full instructions for the theory and practice of mettā bhāvanā is available in the Visuddhimagga ("The path to purity"), Chapter IX, of the Buddhist scriptures.

The six stages of mettā bhāvanā meditation which are most commonly found involve cultivating loving-kindness towards:

  1. Yourself
  2. A good friend
  3. A ‘neutral’ person
  4. A difficult person
  5. All four
  6. and then gradually the entire Universe

For #2 avoid choosing someone to whom you feel sexually attracted, 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 a person who has just wrecked your life, unless you are very well grounded in awareness. For #5 treat them as equals, equally deserving of loving-kindness.

Pali Canon texts

In the Pali Canon, statements regarding the use of metta traditionally employ one or more of the following devices, often using a stock formula:

  • mental purification
  • a verse for wishing others well
  • pervading all directions and all beings with loving-kindness.

The well-known Kakacupama Sutta and Karaniya Metta Sutta use striking metaphors to give these traditional devices vitality. Other canonical material, such as in the Patisambhidāmagga, elaborate on these basic devices in a manner that is perpetuated by the later traditional commentaries. Other canonical sources, such as the Abhidhamma, underline the key role of metta in the development of wholesome karma.

Basic intention and verse

May these beings be
free from animosity,
free from oppression,
free from trouble,
and may they look after
themselves with ease!

Cunda Kammaraputta Sutta

In Cunda Kammaraputta Sutta ("To Cunda the Silversmith," AN 10.176), the Buddha explains that mental or intentional purity (manasā soceyyaṃ) is threefold: non-greed, non-ill-will and non-delusion. Regarding the manifestation of non-ill-will the discourse describes a virtuous person in the following manner (in English and Pali):

He bears no ill will and is not corrupt in the resolves of his heart.
[He thinks,] ‘May these beings be free from animosity,
free from oppression, free from trouble, and
may they look after themselves with ease!’

 

This basic statement of intention and verse can also be found in several other canonical discourses.

Basic radiating formula

In over a dozen discourses, the following description (in English and Pali) is provided for radiating metta in six directions:

"He abides, having suffused with a mind of loving-kindness
one direction of the world,
likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth,
and so above, below, around and
everywhere, and to all as to himself;
he abides suffusing the entire universe with loving-kindness,
with a mind grown great, lofty, boundless and
free from enmity and ill will."

 

In the Canon, this basic formula is expanded upon in a variety of ways. For instance, a couple of discoursesprovide the following description of "the path to the company of Brahmā" (brahmānaṃ sahavyatāya maggo) along with a memorable metaphor:

"What … is the path to the company of Brahmā? Here a bhikkhu abides pervading one quarter with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the forth; so above, below, around, and everywhere, and to all as to himself, he abides pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility, and without ill will. When the deliverance of mind by loving-kindness is developed in this way, no limiting action remains there, none persists there.
"Just as a vigorous trumpeter could make himself heard without difficulty in the four quarters, so too, when the deliverance of mind by loving-kindness is developed in this way, no limiting action remains there, none persists there. This is the path to the company of Brahmā."

Kakacupama Sutta (MN 21)

Incorporating facets of the above textual methods in a series of increasingly vivid similes, the Kakacupama Sutta ("Parable of the Saw Discourse," MN 21) provides the following culminating scenario:

"Monks, even if bandits were to savagely sever you, limb by limb, with a double-handled saw, even then, whoever of you harbors ill will at heart would not be upholding my Teaching. Monks, even in such a situation you should train yourselves thus: ‘Neither shall our minds be affected by this, nor for this matter shall we give vent to evil words, but we shall remain full of concern and pity, with a mind of love, and we shall not give in to hatred. On the contrary, we shall live projecting thoughts of universal love to those very persons, making them as well as the whole world the object of our thoughts of universal love — thoughts that have grown great, exalted and measureless. We shall dwell radiating these thoughts which are void of hostility and ill will.’ It is in this way, monks, that you should train yourselves."

Karaniya Metta Sutta (Sn 1.8)

In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.

Even as a mother
protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish
all living beings.

The Karaniya Metta Sutta (Sn 1.8) combines both the interpersonal and radiant aspects of canonical expressions of metta.

This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
… 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….

 

According to the Pali commentaries, the Buddha originally gave this instruction (of Loving-Kindness meditation) to Monks who were being harassed by the Tree Spirits of a forest in which the Monks were trying to meditate. After doing this meditation in the forest it is said that the Spirits were so affected by the power of Loving-Kindness that they allowed the Monks to stay in the forest for the duration of the rainy season.

Patisambhidamagga Mettakatha (Ps. 2.4)

May all beings be free from
enmity, affliction and anxiety,
and live happily.

Mettākathā (Ps. 2.4)

In the Khuddaka Nikaya‘s Patisambhidāmagga, traditionally ascribed to Ven. Sariputta, is a section entitled Mettākathā (Ps. 2.4, "Metta Instruction"). In this instruction, a general formula (below, in English and Pali), essentially identical to the aforementioned Cunda Kammaraputta Sutta verse (especially evident in the Pali), is provided for radiating metta:

"May all beings be
free from enmity, affliction and anxiety,
and live happily."

Sabbe sattā
averā abyāpajjā anīghā
sukhī attāna pariharantu.

In addition, this instruction categorizes twenty-two ways in which "the mind-deliverance of lovingkindness" (mettācetovimutti) can be radiated as follows:

  • five ways of "unspecified pervasion" (anodhiso pharaṇā):
  1. all beings (sabbe sattā )
  2. all breathing things (sabbe pāṇā bhāvapariyāpannā)
  3. all creatures (sabbe bhūtā bhāvapariyāpannā)
  4. all persons (sabbe puggalā bhāvapariyāpannā)
  5. all with a personality (sabbe attabhāvapariyāpannā)
  • seven ways of "specified pervasion" (anodhiso pharaṇā):
  1. all women (sabbā itthiyo)
  2. all men (sabbe purisā)
  3. all Noble Ones (sabbe ariyā)
  4. all non-Noble Ones (sabbe anariyā)
  5. all deities (sabbe devā)
  6. all humans (sabbe manussā)
  7. all born in lower realms (sabbe vinipātikā)
  • ten ways of "directional pervasion" (disā-pharaṇā):
  1. of the eastern direction (puratthimāya disāya)
  2. of the western direction (pacchimāya disāya)
  3. of the northern direction (uttarā disāya)
  4. of the southern direction (dakkhīṇāya disāya)
  5. of the eastern intermediate direction (puratthimāya anudisāya)
  6. of the western intermediate direction (pacchimāya anudisāya)
  7. of the northern intermediate direction (uttarā anudisāya)
  8. of the southern intermediate direction (dakkhīṇāya anudisāya)
  9. of the downward direction (hethimāya disāya)
  10. of the upward direction (uparimāya disāya).

Moreover, the directional pervasions can then be applied to each of the unspecific and specific pervasions. For instance, after radiating metta to all beings in the east (Sabbe puratthimāya disāya sattā …), one radiates metta to all beings in the west and then north and then south, etc.; then, one radiates metta to all breathing things in this fashion (Sabbe puratthimāya disāya pāṇā), then all creatures, persons, and so forth until such is extended for all those born in the lower realms.

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