BuddhaSasana Home Page
English Section

Metta Sutta
( Discourse on Loving-kindness )

U Nandiya


Once the Bhagava ( Lord Buddha) was staying at the Jetavana monastery in the pleasance of Anathapindika at Savatthi. A group of monks received permission from the Lord to meditate in a distant forest during the period of Buddhist Lent. Each of the monks took shelter under a big tree as a temporary residence and an engaged themselves intensively in the practice of meditation.

On account of the spiritual power of their meditation, the tree deities could not stay in their trees-abodes above the monks, so they had to come down to the ground. Realizing that the monks would spend the whole rainy season there, the deities were much annoyed. So they tried to scare the monks away during the night by harassing them in various ways.

After living under such impossible conditions for sometime, the monks could not bear it any longer and rushed back to the Buddha and informed him about their difficulties. So the Buddha advised them to recite the text of loving kindness (Metta Sutta) and to radiate the spirit of love to all beings. On the full-moon day of Wagaung, the Buddha taught the monks the Metta Sutta. From that day till now, the full-moon day of Wagaung has been called as the 'Great or Grand Occasion of Metta.

Encouraged by this discourse, the monks returned to their respective places. They practised in accordance with the instructions given them to permeate the entire atmosphere with radiant thoughts of love, The tree-deities were much pleased to be affected by the power of love, and so let the monks (meditators) stay without any further disturbances.


Metta is the highest need of the world today, indeed it is more needed than ever before. Because in this new world, there are sufficient materials, money and brilliant wise men and scientists. In spite of these, there is no peace and happiness. It shows that something is lacking, That is Metta.

What is the Buddhist idea of Metta? The Pali word "Metta" means "loving kindness", not the ordinary, sensual, emotional, sentimental kind of love. Metta has been translated by modem translators into English as generous, mindness loving, loving kindness, sending out thoughts of love towards others" but according to the words of Buddha, Metta has a far wider significance, and a much more extensive implication than this. It means a great deal more than loving kindness harmlessness, sympathy.

What is love? Love is also defined in the Oxford Dictionary. According to it, love means warm affection, attachment, affectionate devotion, etc. These are synonymous terms for love and they all refer to sentimental worldly love. So, Metta has no full English equivalent. For this Metta is much more than ordinary affection or warm feelings. The Pali word Metta literally means "friendliness", but also means love without a desire to possess but with desire to help, to sacrifice self-interest for the welfare and well being of humanity. Metta is with out any selection or exclusion. If you select a few good friends and exclude a bad person, then you have not got a perfect grasp of Metta. Indeed Metta is not only benevolent thought, but also performing charitable deeds, an active ministry for the good of one and all.

In the "Metta Sutta" the Buddha has chosen the love of a mother for her child as an example. Imagine a mother's love when her child is hungry; she watches carefully to feed her child even be fore it asks her for food. When the child is in danger, she will risk her own life. So the Buddha taught us to love all beings as a mother loves her only child. If we can do this even to a small extent, the world will become happier and more peaceful place. In the Dighanikaya, it is said by the Buddha that almost every virtue such as unselfishness, loving sympathy and loving kindness is included in this "Metta".

Though we talked much about Metta and repeat the formula "Sabbe satta avera hontu, abyapajjha hontu etc;. "( May all sentient beings be free from danger; may they be free from oppression etc.), without Metta how can it be effective? This passage is not to be merely recited. The Buddha does not ask us to learn any of his teachings for recitation only. So the recitation of the "Metta Sutta" is good, but the Buddha did not mean it to be merely recited. He exhorted us to follow and practise the instructions in it so that we might realize Metta as the best state of heart in the world.

Therefore do not be satisfied with the mere recitation of the "Metta Sutta" but strive to know its meaning with a view to practising it and to make it suffuse your being. That is the most essential fact. Meditation does not mean merely to think about it, but to practise it in your daily life.

Discourse of loving kindness

This discourse of loving kindness serves as a mark of protection and as a subject of meditation. In the first part of the discourse are found virtues that should be practised by anyone who desires his own welfare, and in the latter part the method of practising Metta or good will is explained in de tail. The Buddha taught us to follow and practise the following principles:

He who is skilled in doing welfare, who wishes to attain the state of calm, (Perfect tranquility) must work to be efficient, upright, perfectly upright, easy to speak to, gentle and humble.

Contended, easily supportable, having few duties, simple in livelihood, controlled in sense prudent, modest and not greedily attached to families, he must not commit even the slightest sin for which other wise men might censure him.

He must contemplate so: May all beings be happy, may all beings be secure, may all beings be happy. He must radiate the measureless thoughts of loving kindness to whatever living beings there may be; feeble or strong, tall, medium or short, small, medium or large, thin, medium or stout, seen or unseen, those dwelling far or near, those who are born and those who are to be born- may all beings, without exception, be happy.

Let none be angry with another, let him not despise anyone in any place. By means of physical and verbal provocation or by frustrated enmity, in anger or ill-will let him not wish another's suffering.

Just as a mother would protect at the risk of her own life the life of her only son, even so let him spread boundless loving kindness to every corner of the world; above, below and across, unhindered without any obstruction, without any hatred, without any enmity.

While standing, walking, sitting or lying down, as long as he awake, without sloth (laziness) he should devote himself to this mindfulness of love. This, they say, is the "Highest Conduct" and this is called the "Noble living" (Holy life).

If the meditator, not falling into wrong-view (egoism), be virtuous and endowed with perfect insight, and expel his passion for sensual pleasure, then, of a truth, he will never be conceived in any womb again.

In the Dhammapada the Buddha said, "A beautiful word or thought which is not accompanied by corresponding acts is like a bright flower which bears no fruit. It would not produce any effect." So, it is action, not speculation, it is practice, not theory that matters. According to the Dhammapada, "will" if it is not followed by corresponding action does not count. Therefore, practice of the "Noble Principles of the Metta Sutta" is the essence of Buddhism.

In this connexion this "Metta" or Universal Love (Loving kindness) is generally taken to exist in connexion with other people, but in reality love for self comes first. It is not a selfish love, but love for self, pure love that comes first. By having pure love or "Metta" as we defined it for self; selfish tendencies, hatred, anger, will be diminished. Therefore, unless we ourselves possess "Metta" within, we can not share, radiate, send "Metta" to others. So meditation on love "Metta" is to be started within ourselves. According to Buddhism self-love comes first. By helping ourselves, we can help others effectively. The Buddha pointed out, "If a person cannot help himself well, he cannot help others well".

In the Dhammapada it says, "One should first establish oneself in what is proper then only he should advise another; such a wise-man will not be reproached!". If one cannot find happiness in himself, he cannot find happiness anywhere else. It is also said that people who cannot control themselves cannot find happiness.

According to the Buddhist method, training oneself comes first. Individual perfection must be first, so that the organic whole may be perfect. The state of the outer world is a reflection of our innerselves. The world is like a great mirror, and if you look at the mirror with a smiling face, you will see your own beautiful smiling face. If you look at it with a shrinking face, you will see your own ugly face. It means that "Every action must have equal and opposite reaction."

So if you treat the world properly, kindly, the world will treat you kindly. We should not expect other persons to treat us kindly first, we should start by ourselves treating them kindly,

This is the essence of Buddhist "Metta" Loving Kindness.

"May all beings be happy, may all beings be secure, may all beings be happy minded and may their hearts be wholesome."

U Nandiya

Source: The Buddhists' Three Jewels, http://www.buddhism.ndirect.co.uk/

[Back to English Index]