More on mettā

For those of you new to the idea, the previous post may have been a bit confusing. Mettā (Pali word) is often translated as loving-kindness, friendliness, good will, benevolence, or similar words. An essential quality of mettā is boundlessness.

Shakespeare wrote, in The Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

In the same way, mettā is a joy for those who give (radiate) it and for those who encounter it. It cannot be rationed in the same way that rain can’t be – it falls on both the worthy and the unworthy. Mettā can’t be given to some and withheld from others; it is unconditional.

Mettā is the first of the four brahmāvihāras, or sublime (mental) states, also called the boundless states. The other three are karunā (compassion), muditā (sympathetic joy), and upekkhā (equipoise). All four share the characteristic of having no boundaries, of being a specific form of unconditional love, and all four can be developed by all of us. For some people, they are the foundation of the path to awakening. They are an essential ingredient for progress on the path and can help us balance our sometimes overactive minds.

We could think of mettā as unconditional care for ourselves and all others, karunā as unconditional care for those who are suffering, muditā as unreserved pleasure in the joy or good fortune of others, and upekkhā as a steady mental state, being at peace with all that is.

Most of us have some experience of each of these states; they occur naturally. We might also feel more inclined to one of them than the others, compassion for instance. We might also feel that we are lacking in one area and could give attention to it with the intention of developing it. For example, if we committed ourselves to an attempt to respond to others’ good fortune with sympathetic joy rather than envy or “sour grapes”, we might (gradually) find our mind a pleasanter place to abide.

Mettā is said to be, and is, always an appropriate state of mind. We can’t design a situation in which mettā is out of place.

In the full speech quoted above, the quality of mercy is connected with forgiveness, a recurring theme in Shakespeare’s plays. Similarly, to embody the sublime states, we have to give up any grudges, any withholding of our acceptance; the barriers have to come down.

For more on mettā, visit this site:

About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
This entry was posted in Sublime states. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to More on mettā

  1. charlescviii says:

    Just to second Martin Wargent: my inbox, like everyone’s, is flooded with messages. But yours get read immediately. Not a single post of yours has failed to bring benefit and insight. Not a word is irrelevant or unnecessary.

    The post above distills and illuminates the essence of Metta in ways that (for me) listening to hours of podcasts on the brahmāvihāras has not done.

    To Wargent’s “lucid, interesting, relevant, personal and insightful” I would add inspiring and energizing.

    Thank you for sharing the fruits of your practice and your insights. May the number of people your blog reaches keep rising.

  2. Martin Wargent says:

    I hope that you are getting plenty of good feedback about your posts. They’ve become most welcome arrivals in the inbox: lucid, interesting, relevant, personal and insightful. Thank you for the care that you put into all this.

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