Metta, or meditating on goodwill

Metta meditation is an ancient practice championed by the Buddha as an effective antidote to fear and enmity. All schools of Buddhism engage in some form of metta, either as an aspiration or as a formal meditation, and it has become an especially popular practice in the West. The word metta comes from the ancient Pali language (the Sanskrit word is maitri); it may be translated as “goodwill,” “lovingkindness,” or “benevolence.”

In a well-known and beloved excerpt from his Metta Sutta (“Discourse on Lovingkindness”) the Buddha presents lovingkindness as a dynamic aspiration that counteracts any tendency to single out those we choose to care about:

Whatsoever living beings exist,
Without exception, whether weak or strong,
Whether tall & large, middle-sized, or short,
Whether very subtle or very gross,

Whether visible or invisible,
Dwelling far away or not far away,
Whether born already or not yet born
—May all beings be happy in themselves.

(Verses 4 and 5, trans. Andrew Olendzki)

In formal lovingkindness practice, meditators focus on the genuine happiness of all beings: ourselves, the beings we care about, and those we feel neutral about or don’t generally notice, as well as those who arouse reactions of fear, disgust, ill will, and aggression in us. Ultimately, all beings are included. If the heart and mind are filled with benevolence, there is no space left for negative emotions to arise and thrive.

Metta meditation may be practiced in silence, as a visualization, or by repeating verses such as “May all beings be happy and safe. / May they be well and at ease. / May they be filled with lovingkindness,” either silently in the mind or out loud.


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