Mettā - Practice of Universal Love


- Practice of Universal Love

by Ācārya Buddharakkhita


The Pali word mettā is a multi-significant term meaning loving kindness, friendliness, goodwill, benevolence, fellowship, amity, concord, inoffensiveness and non-violence.

The Pali commentators define mettā as the strong wish for the welfare and happiness of others (parahita-parasukha-karaṇa). Essentially mettā is an altruistic attitude of love and friendliness as distinguished from mere amiability based on self-interest.

Through mettā one refuses to be offensive and renounces bitterness, resentment and animosity of every kind, developing instead a mind of friendliness, accommodativeness and benevolence which seeks the well-being and happiness of others.

True mettā is devoid of self-interest.

It evokes within a warm-hearted feeling of fellowship, sympathy and love, which grows boundless with practice and overcomes all social, religious, racial, political and economic barriers.

Mettā is indeed a universal, unselfish and all-embracing love.

Mettā makes one a pure form of well-being and safety for others. Just as a mother gives her own life to protect her child, so mettā only gives and never wants anything in return.

To promote one’s own interest is a primordial motivation of human nature:

When this urge is transformed into the desire to promote the interest and happiness of others, not only is the basic urge of self-seeking overcome, but the mind becomes universal by identifying its own interest with the interest of all. By making this change one also promotes one’s own well-being in the best possible manner.

Mettā is the protective and immensely patient attitude of a mother who forbears all difficulties for the sake of her child and ever protects it despite its misbehaviour.

Mettā is also the attitude of a friend who wants to give one the best to further one’s well-being.

If these qualities of mettā are sufficiently cultivated through mettā-bhāvanā - the meditation on universal love - the result is the acquisition of a tremendous inner power which preserves, protects and heals both oneself and others.

Apart from its higher implications, today mettā is a pragmatic necessity:

In a world menaced by all kinds of destructiveness, mettā in deed, word and thought is the only constructive means to bring concord, peace and mutual understanding.

Indeed, mettā is the supreme means, for it forms the fundamental tenet of all the higher religions as well as the basis for all benevolent activities intended to promote human well-being.

This article aims at exploring various facets of mettā both in theory and in practice.

The examination of the doctrinal and ethical side of mettā will proceed through a study of the popular Karaṇīya Mettā Sutta, the Buddha’s “Hymn of Universal Love.”

In connection with this theme we will also look at several other short texts dealing with mettā.

The explanation of mettā-bhāvanā, the meditation on universal love, will give the practical directions for developing this type of contemplation

as set forth in the main meditation texts of the Theravada Buddhist tradition, the Viśuddhimagga, the Vimuttimagga and the Paṭisaṁbhidā-magga.

The Karaṇīya Mettā Sutta
Hymn of Universal Love

1. Karaṇīyam-atthakusalena
Yan taṁ santaṁ padaṁ abhisamecca
Sakko uju ca sūjū ca
Suvaco c’assa mudu anatimānī

Who seeks to promote his welfare,
Having glimpsed the state of perfect peace,
Should be able, honest and upright,
Gentle in speech, meek and not proud.

2. Santussako ca subharo ca
Appakicco ca sallahukavutti
Santindriyo ca nipako ca
Appagabbho kulesu ananugiddho

Contented, he ought to be easy to support,
Not over-busy, and simple in living.
Tranquil his senses, let him be prudent,
And not brazen, nor fawning on families.

3. Na ca khuddaṁ samācare kiñci
Yena viññū pare upavadeyyuṁ
Sukhino va khemino hontu
Sabbe sattā bhavantu sukhitattā

Also, he must refrain from any action
That gives the wise reason to reprove him.
(Then let him cultivate the thought:)
May all be well and secure,
May all beings be happy!

4. Ye keci pāṇabhūt’atthi
Tasā vā thāvarā vā anavasesā
Dīghā vā ye mahantā vā
Majjhimā rassakānukathūlā

Whatever living creatures there be,
Without exception, weak or strong,
Long, huge or middle-sized,
Or short, minute or bulky,

5. Diṭṭhā va yeva adiṭṭhā
Ye ca dūre vasanti avidūre
Bhūtā vā sambhavesī vā
Sabbe sattā bhavantu sukhitattā

Whether visible or invisible,
And those living far or near,
The born and those seeking birth,
May all beings be happy!

6. Na paro paraṁ nikubbetha
Nātimaññetha katthaci naṁ kañci
Byārosanā paṭighasaññā
Nāññamaññassa dukkham-iccheyya

Let none deceive or decry
His fellow anywhere;
Let none wish others harm
In resentment or in hate.

7. Mātā yathā niyaṁ puttaṁ
Āyusā ekaputtam-anurakkhe
Evam’pi sabbabhūtesu
Mānasaṁ bhāvaye aparimāṇaṁ

Just as with her own life
A mother shields from hurt
Her own son, her only child,
Let all-embracing thoughts
For all beings be yours.

8. Mettāñ ca sabba-lokasmiṁ
Mānasaṁ bhāvaye aparimāṇaṁ
Uddhaṁ adho ca tiriyañca
Asambādhaṁ averam-asapattaṁ

Cultivate an all-embracing mind of love
For all throughout the universe,
In all its height, depth and breadth -
Love that is untroubled
And beyond hatred or enmity.

9. Titthaṁ caraṁ nisinno vā
Sayāno vā yāvat’assa vigatamiddho
Etaṁ satiṁ adhiṭṭheyya
Brahmam-etaṁ vihāraṁ idhamāhu

As you stand, walk, sit or lie,
So long as you are awake,
Pursue this awareness with your might:
It is deemed the Divine State here.

10. Diṭṭhiñca anupagamma sīlavā
Dassanena sampanno
Kāmesu vineyya gedhaṁ
Na hi jātu gabbhaseyyaṁ punar etī’ti

Holding no more to wrong beliefs,
With virtue and vision of the ultimate,
And having overcome all sensual desire,
Never in a womb is one born again.