What is Metta: Meditation Explained

by | 11 Apr, 2024

A serene landscape with a lotus flower in the foreground

Metta, often translated as loving-kindness, is a type of meditation that originates from Buddhist traditions. It is a practice of cultivating an attitude of benevolence and love towards oneself and others. This form of meditation is not only about sitting in silence but also about actively generating feelings of goodwill and kindness.

Metta meditation is a journey of self-discovery, self-love, and a deeper understanding of others. It is a practice that can bring about profound changes in the way we relate to ourselves and the world around us. It is a path towards inner peace, compassion, and a more fulfilling life.

Origins of Metta

The practice of Metta meditation originates from the Theravada Buddhist tradition. The word ‘Metta’ comes from the Pali language, which was the language spoken by the Buddha. In Pali, ‘Metta’ means ‘loving-kindness’ or ‘benevolence’.

The practice of Metta is mentioned in several Buddhist texts, including the Metta Sutta, a discourse attributed to the Buddha himself. In this sutta, the Buddha describes Metta as a state of mind that one should cultivate to attain enlightenment.

The Metta Sutta

The Metta Sutta is one of the most important texts in the Buddhist tradition. It is a discourse in which the Buddha explains the practice of Metta. The sutta describes Metta as a state of mind that is free from anger and ill-will, and filled with goodwill towards all beings.

In the Metta Sutta, the Buddha gives a detailed description of how to practice Metta. He instructs his followers to cultivate thoughts of goodwill towards all beings, regardless of whether they are friends, enemies, or strangers. This includes not only humans but also animals and all other forms of life.

Metta in Other Buddhist Traditions

While Metta originates from the Theravada tradition, it is also practiced in other Buddhist traditions. For example, in the Mahayana tradition, the practice of Metta is often combined with the practice of compassion (Karuna). In this tradition, Metta and Karuna are seen as two aspects of the same practice, which is to cultivate a mind that is free from anger and ill-will and filled with love and compassion.

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the practice of Metta is often included in the practice of Tonglen, which is a meditation practice that involves taking in the suffering of others and giving out happiness and peace. In this tradition, Metta is seen as a way to cultivate compassion and empathy towards others.

The Practice of Metta

The practice of Metta involves cultivating thoughts of goodwill and kindness towards all beings. This is done through a process of visualization and repetition of specific phrases. The practice is usually done in a seated position, with the eyes closed, and can be done for a few minutes or for longer periods of time.

metta

The practice begins with cultivating Metta towards oneself. This is done by visualizing oneself as being happy, healthy, and at peace, and by repeating phrases such as ‘May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful and at ease.’ The idea is to generate feelings of love and kindness towards oneself.

Extending Metta to Others

Once one has cultivated Metta towards oneself, the next step is to extend these feelings of goodwill to others. This is done by visualizing specific individuals and repeating the same phrases of goodwill towards them. The individuals can be friends, family members, colleagues, or even people with whom one has difficulties.

The practice of extending Metta to others is not about changing the other person or trying to make them behave in a certain way. Rather, it is about changing one’s own attitude towards them. It is about cultivating a mind that is free from anger and ill-will, and filled with love and kindness.

Extending Metta to All Beings

The final step in the practice of Metta is to extend these feelings of goodwill to all beings. This is done by visualizing all beings in all directions – north, south, east, west, above, and below – and repeating the phrases of goodwill towards them. The idea is to cultivate a mind that is filled with love and kindness towards all beings, without exception.

Extending Metta to all beings is a powerful practice that can bring about profound changes in the way we relate to the world. It can help us to overcome feelings of anger, resentment, and hostility, and to cultivate a mind that is filled with love, compassion, and understanding.

Benefits of Metta

The practice of Metta has many benefits, both for the individual practitioner and for society as a whole. On an individual level, Metta can help to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. It can also improve one’s relationships with others, increase one’s self-esteem and self-confidence, and promote a sense of well-being and happiness.

On a societal level, Metta can help to promote a culture of kindness and compassion. It can help to reduce conflict and violence, and to create a more peaceful and harmonious society. It is a practice that has the potential to bring about profound changes in the way we relate to ourselves, to others, and to the world.

Scientific Research on Metta

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the scientific community in the benefits of Metta and other forms of meditation. Numerous studies have shown that Metta can have a positive impact on mental health, physical health, and overall well-being.

For example, research has shown that Metta can help to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. It can also improve one’s relationships with others, increase one’s self-esteem and self-confidence, and promote a sense of well-being and happiness. Other studies have shown that Metta can have a positive impact on physical health, including reducing blood pressure and boosting the immune system.

Metta and Mindfulness

Metta is often practiced in conjunction with mindfulness, another form of meditation that originates from the Buddhist tradition. Mindfulness is a practice of paying attention to the present moment, without judgment. It is a practice of cultivating awareness and understanding.

While mindfulness is about cultivating awareness, Metta is about cultivating love and kindness. The two practices complement each other and can be practiced together. For example, one can practice mindfulness to become aware of one’s feelings of anger or resentment, and then practice Metta to transform these feelings into love and kindness.

Conclusion

Metta is a powerful practice that can bring about profound changes in the way we relate to ourselves, to others, and to the world. It is a practice of cultivating love and kindness, of overcoming anger and ill-will, and of creating a mind that is filled with goodwill towards all beings.