What Is Metta Meditation?

The cultivation of “metta” as a virtue dates back to times before the Buddha, so it would be a mistake to call it a uniquely Buddhist virtue. However, many practitioners of Metta meditation come to activity via the Buddhist traditions. “Metta” is usually translated as “loving kindness.” It expresses the concept of benevolence to all created beings, including acceptance of oneself.

Portions of the Metta Sutta, a Buddhist scripture, describes the activity of cultivating metta:

May all beings be happy and secure, may they be happy-minded….

Let none deceive another nor despise any person whatever in any place;
in anger or ill-will let them not wish any suffering to each other….

Just as a mother would protect her only child at the risk of her own life,
even so, let him cultivate a boundless heart towards all beings.
Let his thoughts of boundless loving kindness pervade the whole world:
above, below and across, without obstruction, without any hatred, without any enmity.

Metta Meditation: Goals

Goals of metta meditation may include:

Acceptance. Sometimes forms of metta meditation are applied in a therapeutic program to promote acceptance of oneself. This approach is designed to support those who are struggling with addiction, illness, depression, or even for those having difficulties with their role as parents.

Compassion and/or happiness. While the distinction may seem slight, some guided meditations and teachings may emphasize compassion as a desire for freedom from suffering (in self and/or others), or loving kindness as the desire for happiness (in self and/or others).

Metta Meditation: Methods

The basic teachings of Metta Meditation involve a simple mental recitation of set phrases to focus the mind on awareness of compassion or loving kindness. These recitations may be used in conjunction with mindfulness meditation. Joseph Goldstein has recommended using these metta recitations at the beginning and end of a mindfulness meditation.

Common recitations include:

“If I have hurt or offended anyone in thought or word, or deed, I ask forgiveness. And I freely forgive anyone who may have hurt or offended me.”

May I be happy. May I be peaceful. May I be free from suffering.

As I want to be happy, so may all beings be happy. As I want to be peaceful, so may all beings be peaceful. As I want to be free from suffering, so may all beings be free from suffering.

The range of loving kindness may also vary, depending on the learner’s ability to extend thoughts of loving kindness to others. Some programs begin by teaching to focus loving kindness on the self, then to loved ones, then on to created beings in general, and finally to enemies or people who may have caused us harm.

To Learn More:

Jack Kornfield: A Meditation on Lovingkindness

18 Science-Based Reasons to Try Loving-Kindness Meditation. A note – many reviews of studies done on metta meditation have been skeptical of conclusions drawn. In many cases the sample size was too small, or the studies lacked other forms of rigor.

Jack Kornfield. Guided Lovingkindness Meditation on Youtube. 58 minutes.

MBSR-based Lovingkindness Meditation on Youtube. Under 14 minutes.

Dr. Ron Siegel. The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems.