The following is an introduction to the Buddhist teaching on universal loving-kindness and a reprint of the Buddhist’s Metta Sutta. The Metta Suta is a beautiful mantra promoting self-awareness, empathy, and inner peace.
Metta, or loving-kindness, is one of the most important functions in Buddhist practices. Simply stated, metta is the heartfelt wish for the well-being of oneself and others. When describing metta, the Buddha used the analogy of the care which a mother gives her only child.
Loving-kindness is also understood to be the innate friendliness of an open heart. Its close connection to friendship is reflected in its similarity to the Pali word for friend, mitta. However, metta is more than conventional friendship; for it includes being open- hearted even toward one’s enemies.
Loving-kindness requires a tenderizing of the heart, which allows us to feel empathy toward the happiness and sorrow of the world. Metta practice is the cultivation of our capacity for loving- kindness. It does not involve either positive thinking or the imposition of an artificial positive attitude.
There is no need to feel loving or kind during metta practice. Rather, we meditate on our intentions and our state of mind, however weak or strong they may be. The purpose of practicing universal loving-kindness is to increase one’s inner fortitude and decrease suffering.
Bhakti, the Hindu word for loving–kindness is a part of embodying loving kindness in union with one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. At its heart, this loving-kindness practice involves giving expression to our wishes for the well-being and happiness of ourselves or others. Recognizing and expressing our goodwill has both a softening and strengthening effect on our hearts.
At times this evokes feelings of love, tenderness, and warmth. At other times this softening of the heart can expose difficult or painful buried emotions. Allowing all these emotions to surface in their own time is one function of loving- kindness practice unto the Self.
In metta practice we nurture the seeds of our good intentions. When we express wholesome intentions instead of expressing unwholesome ones, we instinctively develop the wholesome tendencies within us. When nurtured in regular practice in mindfulness our capacity for loving–kindness grows, sometimes in most unexpected ways.
Through commitment to a daily practice one day we find that loving-kindness becomes the operating motivation in a situation that previously triggered anger or fear. When we find difficultly in relating to others and ourselves with intentions of kindness, the practice of metta can provide a useful reference point to help us see what we are in fact feeling.
The absence of loving-kindness can be an important cue, not to provoke self-criticism, but to remind us to slow down and pay more careful attention to what is actually happening. The practices of mindfulness and loving-kindness support one another.
Metta practice complements mindfulness by encouraging an attitude of friendliness toward our experience regardless of how difficult it may be. Metta fosters a closeness in our relationships to others; mindfulness can help keep us balanced in those relationships. Mindfulness can bring freedom; loving-kindness ensures that our path to freedom is not aloof from the well-being of others.
This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech.
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied.
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
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.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.
Excerpt gratefully reprinted from The Issue at Hand by Gil Fronsdal,
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From the Heart,