by Ajahn Brahm
word for loving-kindness is metta. It refers to an
emotion, to that feeling of goodwill that can sustain
thoughts wishing happiness for another, and that is
willing to forgive any fault.
My favorite expression
of metta is encompassed by the words "the door
of my heart is fully open to you, forever, whoever
you are and whatever you have done." Metta is
love without a self, arising from inspiration, expecting
nothing back in return, and without any conditions.
The Buddha compared metta to a mother's love for her
child (Sn 149). A mother might not always like her
child or agree with everything it does, but she will
always care for her child and wish it only happiness.
Such an open-hearted, non-discriminating, and liberating
kindness is metta.
In metta meditation
you focus your attention on the feeling of loving-kindness,
developing that delightful emotion until it fills
the whole mind.
The way this is achieved
can be compared to the way you light a campfire. You
start with paper or anything else that is easy to
light. Then you add kindling, small twigs, or strips
of wood. When the kindling is on fire you add thicker
pieces of wood, and after a time the thick logs. Once
the fire is roaring and very hot, you can even put
on wet and sappy logs and they are soon alight.
accurately be compared with a warm and radiant fire
burning in your heart. You
cannot expect to light the fire of loving-kindness
by starting with a difficult object, no more than
you can expect to light a campfire by striking a match
under a thick log. So do not begin metta meditation
by spreading metta to yourself or to an enemy. Instead
begin by spreading loving-kindness to something that
is easy to ignite with loving-kindness.
I prepare myself for
metta meditation by grounding my mindfulness in the
present moment. Then I initiate metta meditation by
imagining a little kitten. I like cats, especially
kittens, so my imaginary kitten is to loving-kindness
as gas is to a flame. I only need to think of my little
kitten and my heart lights up with metta. I speak
to the kitten on my chest:
never feel alone again. Never feel so afraid. I will
always look after you. I love you, little kitten.
Wherever you go, whatever you do, my heart will always
welcome you. I give you my limitless loving-kindness
At the end of the mental
exercise, my eyes still closed, I focus the attention
on the region around my heart and feel the first warm
glow of the emotion of loving-kindness. My kitten
is like the paper that you use to start the campfire.
You may not like kittens so choose something else.
Whatever you choose as your first object of metta,
make it an imaginary being and not a real one.
After the first flames
of metta have been established in this way, let go
of your imaginary creature and put in its place a
real person, someone very close to you emotionally
such as your partner, a well-loved relation, or even
your very best friend. It must be someone for whom
it is easy to generate and sustain loving-kindness.
In the metaphor of the campfire, they will be the
thin pieces of wood called kindling. Once again use
your inner speech to paint a picture around them in
your mind. They too need your friendship and your
love. They are also emotionally vulnerable, subject
to the disappointments and frustrations of life. Using
your inner commentary say:
I sincerely wish you happiness. May your body be free
from pain and your mind find contentment. I give you
my love with no conditions. I'll always be there for
you. You will always have a place in my heart. I truly
care for you." - or similar words of your own
Use whatever phrases
arouse the warm glow of metta in your heart. Stay
with this person. Imagine they are right before you
until the metta grows bright and constant around them.
Now briefly place your attention on your body near
your heart and feel the physical sensation associated
with metta. You will find it feels delightful.
Let go of the image
of that person and substitute that of another close
acquaintance, creating the feeling of metta around
them by using your inner speech in the same way: "May
you live in happiness ..." Imagine them right
before you until the metta glows bright and constant
Next substitute an entire
group of people, perhaps all the people who live in
your house. Develop the caring glow of metta around
them in the same way: "May you be well and happy..."
In the simile of the campfire, you are now putting
on the logs.
See if you can imagine
metta to be a golden radiance emanating from a beautiful
white lotus flower in the middle of your heart. Allow
that radiance of loving-kindness to expand in all
directions, embracing more and more living beings
until it becomes boundless, filling up all that you
can imagine. "May all living beings, near or
far, great or small, be happy and at peace ...."
Bathe the whole universe in the warmth of the golden
light of loving-kindness. Stay there for a while.
In the simile of the
campfire, the fire is now roaring and very hot and
can now burn the wet and sappy logs. Think about your
enemy. Visualize someone who has hurt you badly. You
will be astonished that your metta is now strong enough
for you to forgive them. You are now able to share
the healing golden glow of loving-kindness with them
you have done to me, revenge will not help either
of us, so instead I wish you well. I sincerely wish
you freedom from the pain of the past and joy in all
your future. May the beauty of this unconditional
loving-kindness reach you as well, bringing you happiness
When the fire of metta
burns strong, nothing can withstand it. Next, there
is one final "wet and sappy stick" to be
tossed into the fire of metta. Most meditators find
that the hardest person to give loving-kindness to
... is themselves.
Imagine that you are
looking at yourself in a mirror. Say with your inner
speech and with total sincerity:
"I wish myself
well. I now give myself the gift of happiness. Too
long the door of my heart has been closed to me; now
I open it. No matter what I have done, or will ever
do, the door to my own love and respect is always
open to me. I forgive myself unreservedly. Come home.
I now give myself the love that does not judge. I
care for this vulnerable being called 'me.' I embrace
all of me with the loving-kindngess of metta."
Invent your own words
here to let the warmth of loving-kindness sink deep
inside of you, to the part that is most frightened.
Let it melt all resistance until you are at one with
metta, unlimited loving-kindness, like a mother's
care for her child.
Before you end the metta
meditation, pause for a minute or two and reflect
on how you feel inside. Notice the effect that this
meditation has had on you. Metta meditation can produce
Softening of the Mind
Metta meditation softens
the mind and turns it toward care, goodwill, and acceptance.
You become more selfless, less concerned with your
own needs and more willing to peacefully interact
with others. The emotion that is metta feels delightful
and pure. As you develop it repeatedly, it soon remains
constant in your heart. You become a compassionate
person, and your kindness is a source of joy to all
beings and to yourself.
you to embrace another being just as they are. Most
people find this impossible because of their faultfinding
mind. They only see part of the whole, the part that
is flawed, and refuse to accept it. Loving-kindness,
on the other hand, embraces the wholeness of something
and accepts it as it is. Through the practice of metta
meditation, you find yourself becoming less conscious
of the faults in yourself and other beings, and more
able to embrace them just the way they are. This ability
to see the beauty in an object and ignore its flaws
is a powerful aid to all types of meditation.
grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in London.
Scholarships got him to Cambridge University where
he garnered a degree in Theoretical Physics. Eventually
disillusioned with the world of academe, he trained
as a monk in the jungles of Thailand under the highly
esteemed Buddhist master Ajahn Chah. A monk for over
thirty years, Ajahn Brahm is a revered spiritual guide
and the abbot of one of the largest monasteries in
the southern hemisphere, regularly drawing multinational
audiences of thousands.