Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Psychology of Metta

This is taken from "Metta: The Philosophy and Practice of Universal Love" by Acharya Buddharakkhita. It is excellent and covers the history, meaning and application of Metta, the practice of Loving Kindness. It has nothing to do with religion or doctrine and everything to do with softening one's heart and loving the world. You can read the entire piece by going to this link: Metta

I found section 5, "The Psychology of Metta" to be wonderful. If this broadens your understanding of Metta or if you know nothing of the practice but gain some insight into it from this posting that fills my heart! May you all be safe and protected. May you be peaceful and happy. May you be healthy and strong. May you experience ease of well being and except all the conditions of the world with wonder and joy.

Happy New Year!


The Psychology of Metta

The Pali commentaries explain:
 One loves all beings:
 (a) by the non-harassment of all beings and thus avoids harassment;
(b) by being inoffensive (to all beings) and thus avoids offensiveness;
(c) by not torturing (all beings) and thus avoids torturing;
(d) by the non-destruction (of all life) and thus avoids destructiveness;
(e) by being non-vexing (to all beings) and thus avoids vexing;
(f) by projecting the thought, "May all beings be friendly and not hostile";
(g) by projecting the thought," May all beings be happy and not unhappy";
(h) by projecting the thought, "May all beings enjoy well-being and not be distressed."
In these eight ways one loves all beings; therefore, it is called universal love. And since one conceives (within) this quality (of love), it is of the mind. And since this mind is free from all thoughts of ill-will, the aggregate of love, mind and freedom is defined asuniversal love leading to freedom of mind.
From the above passage it will be seen that metta implies the "outgrowing" of negative traits by actively putting into practice the correlative positive virtues. It is only when one actively practices non-harassment towards all beings that one can outgrow the tendency to harass others. Similarly, it is with the other qualities of inoffensiveness, non-tormenting, non-destroying and non-vexing in deed, word and thought that one can outgrow the negative traits of being offensive, of tormenting others, of destructiveness and of vexatiousness. Over and above such positive conduct and principled way of life, one further cultivates the mind through that specific technique of meditation called metta-bhavana, which generates powerful thoughts of spiritualized love that grow boundless, making consciousness itself infinite and universal.
Thoughts that wish all beings to be friendly and never hostile, happy and never unhappy, to enjoy well-being and never be distressed, imply not only sublimity and boundlessness, but also utter freedom of mind. Hence the appropriateness of the expression "universal love leading to freedom of mind."
As for the meanings of the five aspects opposed by metta, harassment is the desire to oppress or damage; offensiveness is the tendency to hurt or injure; torturing is a synonym of the sadistic tendency to torment, subjecting others to pain or misery; destructiveness is to put an end to or to finish, the trait of the extremist and the iconoclast; vexing is to tax, trouble or cause others worry and strain. Each of these tendencies is rooted in antipathy and malevolence, and provides a contrast with metta, both as a mode of conduct and as a psychological state or attitude of mind.
The substitution of a negative trait by the opposed positive course implies a very developed and mature approach to life. The ability to remain non-harassing, inoffensive, non-torturing, non-destructive and non-vexing means a very refined, beautiful and loving mode of behavior in a world where interaction between human beings creates so much tension and misery.
According to the Visuddhimagga, metta is a "solvent" that "melts" not only one's own psychic pollutants of anger, resentment and offensiveness, but also those of others. Since it takes the approach of friendship, even the hostile one turns into a friend.
Metta is characterized as that which "promotes welfare." Its function is to "prefer well-being" rather than ill. It manifests as a force that "removes annoyance" and its proximate cause is the tendency to see the good side of things and beings and never the faults. Metta succeeds when it loves, and it fails when it degenerates into worldly affection.
It will be clear from this analysis that only when one tends to see the good in people, and prefers the welfare of others, and accordingly is inoffensive (to remove any annoyance or hurt) and actively promotes well-being, does metta function as a solvent. It is said that the ultimate purpose of metta is to attain transcendental insight, and if that is not possible, it will at least effect a rebirth in the sublime sphere of the Brahma world, apart from bringing inner peace and a healthy state of mind here and now. Hence the Buddha's assurance in theMetta Sutta:
 Holding no more to wrong beliefs,
With virtue and vision of the ultimate,
And having overcome all sensual desire,
Never in a womb is he born again.
Love wards off ill-will, which is the most damaging of emotions. Hence it is said: "For this is the escape from ill-will, friends, that is to say, the freedom of mind wrought by universal love" (Digha Nikaya, III. 234).
In the practice of metta it is important to understand the emotions which nullify metta either by being similar or being dissimilar. The Visuddhimagga calls them "the two enemies — the near and the remote." Greed, lust, worldly affection, sensuality — all these are said to be the "near enemies" because they are similar in tendencies. The lustful also sees the "good side" or "beauty," and therefore gets involved. Love should be protected from it lest the masquerades of these emotions deceive the meditator.
Ill-will, anger and hatred, being dissimilar emotions, therefore constitute the "remote enemy." The remote enemy can easily be distinguished so one need not be afraid of it, but one should overcome it by projecting a higher force, that of love. But one has to be wary of the near enemy because it creates self-deception, which is the worst thing that can happen to an individual.
It is said that metta begins only when there is zeal in the form of a desire to act. Having commenced through earnest effort, it can be continued only when the five mental hindrances — sensual desire, ill-will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and doubt — are put down. Metta reaches consummation with the attainment of absorption (jhana).


  1. Found your page by accident..but then again...there are no 'accidents' ..
    Love that you are from Buffalo! We need more people like you here!

  2. Thank you so much Sharon! I just started reading Sbaeon Salzberg's "Loving Kindness-The Revolutionary Art of Happiness" today and it is simply amazing. All on Metta, loving kindness towards oths AND ourselves. Thank you for taking the time to read my posts!

    May you be peaceful and happy,



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