What is Metta?

Metta (Maitri in Sanskrit) is the Pali word for benevolence, friendly attitude and loving-kindness. Together with Karuna (compassion), Mudita (joy) and Upekkha (equanimity), Metta forms the Four Brahma Viharas, also known as Divine Abodes, Sublime Attitudes, Immeasurable Qualities, or Heart Practices. In Buddhist tradition, Metta Bhavana is a practice that helps us to cultivate loving-kindness, compassion and forgiveness.

Metta is one of the most transformative and therapeutic practices known to mankind today. It helps to awaken us from the delusion of separation; heal our physical bodies, emotions, and relationships; and create a life infused with love, joy, compassion, and forgiveness. Through meditation, contemplation, immersive self-reflections, acts of kindness and mantras, we learn how to love and be compassionate to our own selves, and how to love and be compassionate to other living beings.

The cultivation of Metta usually consists of several steps: first you cultivate it towards yourself, and then toward other people. As with forgiveness, metta towards others works only when you know its flavor. When you really know how to be deeply loving and kind towards yourself, your heart is ready to love all living beings. 

Metta Meditation

Traditionally, in the initial practices of Metta Bhavana you use mantras or affirmations, that you direct to yourself and contemplate upon:

May I be happy

May I be safe

May I be at ease

When you develop a solid foundation and create a kind and loving relationship with yourself, you can direct your mantra towards someone you love and care for:

May you be happy

May you be safe

May you be at ease

Eventually, you can practice by including everybody — the people who you love, the people who are neutral, and eventually the people who you find impossible to love, because they provoke painful emotions or hurt you.

However, as previously mentioned, the first and the most important step is to learn how to genuinely feel loving-kindness towards yourself. This often requires you to find the words for your mantra that really resonate with your heart. 

To design your personal mantra, you can start by listing wishes and desires that are important to you now. For example, if you are going through a process of physical healing, you may create a sentence that expresses your true desire to heal and feel better, like “May I be healthy”, or “May my kidneys heal.” The more specific and personal your words are, the better they will eventually work for you.

Create your personal Metta practice

STEP 1: Design your mantra 

Write about 10 things you wish for yourself. Make sure you write sentences that can be easily memorized and pronounced without resistance. Then choose 1-3 sentences that resonate with you most.

Examples:

May I be calm

May I find inner peace

May my body be healed

STEP 2: Articulate your mantra

To practice, you can find a quiet place, sit in a comfortable position, soften your body and go through a few rounds of Anapanasati (mindful breathing) or a similar technique to find your stillness and become more aware of the present moment. Then start repeating your mantra. 

You can repeat your mantra silently in your head, whispering, or in a  form of chanting so you can actually hear the sound of your healing words. You can also place your hands on your lips or on your throat to feel the rhythm and the healing vibration of your mantra.

Remember: 

Your body and heart might need time to absorb your mantra. Try to be patient and welcome whatever comes — be it something sweet and pleasant, or something disturbing and painful. It may happen that during the first few weeks your body or your mind will be rejecting your Metta practice, which is quite normal. Accept it and continue. Eventually, your heart will start to melt and open itself to boundless compassion, infinite joy and pure loving-kindness.

Lean more about Metta with Tara Brach:

Loving Kindness

Read Metta Sutta online with Nalanda Buddhist Society Malasya:

Metta Sutta

Learn about Brahma-Viharas with Dough’s Secular Dharma videos:

Intro to Brahma-Viharas

Why to become a Metta Meditation Teacher:

Teach meditation (article)