About Brahma and Brahmavihāra

Interesting observation! May I ask what the metta pericope is?

mettā­saha­gatena cetasā
ekaṃ disaṃ pharitvā viharati tathā dutiyaṃ tathā tatiyaṃ tathā catutthaṃ
iti uddhamadho tiriyaṃ sabbadhi sabbattatāya sabbāvantaṃ lokaṃ

mettā­saha­gatena cetasā
vipulena mahaggatena appamāṇena averena abyāpajjena pharitvā viharati

Can you point me to the English translation of that passage? :slight_smile:

These are just two examples, the pericope is found many times in the suttas.

AN4.126 (Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu’s translation)

There is the case where an individual keeps pervading the first direction—as well as the second direction, the third, & the fourth—with an awareness imbued with good will. Thus he keeps pervading above, below, & all around, everywhere & in every respect the all-encompassing cosmos with an awareness imbued with good will: abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.

MN52 (Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation)

Again, a bhikkhu abides pervading one quarter with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth; so above, below, around, and everywhere, and to all as to himself, he abides pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill will.

My notes: (I looked all these up to better understand the meaning)

BB: mind
TB: awareness
This is specifically the intentional aspect of mind. In fact, shortly after the mettā pericope in MN52 it is stated: “this deliverance of mind through loving-kindness is conditioned and volitionally produced”. Being that we are dealing here specifically with intentions and this is about a positive attitude, emotional feeling, or mind-state, I think ‘heart’ might be a good fit (for my current understanding).

BB: 'imbued with’
TB: ‘imbued with’ (also)
I think ‘connected to’ is justifiable. As many good mettā teachers have mentioned: it’s not enough to just say the words, one must actually “feel the feeling” and connect to it with the heart (…or heart-mind or the intentional aspect of mind).

BB: around
TB: all around
I’m still digging on this one , but I think it might relate to a specific ‘direction’ — across or the transverse plane.
…starting to think this may be all 4 directions ‘at once’.

BB: exalted
TB: expansive
"Grown great" might fit the theme of the passage?


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Despite a relatively tepid correspondence with the rest of the Nikāyas, I think the prescription in the Mettākathā Ps 2.4 of the Paṭisambhidāmagga is pretty powerful stuff. At the least we can see the origins of where conventional mettā meditation instructions come from.

There’s a translation (of the entire book at that!) by Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli from 1982 available here and the core structure of the mettā practice therein comes in the second paragraph:

(There are these three modes of spreading)
Atthi anodhiso pharaṇā mettā­ceto­vimutti,
Atthi odhiso pharaṇā mettā­ceto­vimutti,
Atthi disāpharaṇā mettā­ceto­vimutti.

(What are these three modes of spreading?)
Katihākārehi anodhiso pharaṇā mettā­ceto­vimutti?
Katihākārehi odhiso pharaṇā mettā­ceto­vimutti?
Katihākārehi disāpharaṇā mettā­ceto­vimutti?

(They are the five anodhiso, seven odhiso, the ten directional)
Pañcahākārehi anodhiso pharaṇā mettā­ceto­vimutti,
Sattahākārehi odhiso pharaṇā mettā­ceto­vimutti,
Dasahākārehi disāpharaṇā mettā­ceto­vimutti.

The three different ‘pervasions’ of mettā combine to form a total of 120 different meditations. Ie:

10 directions x (5 aspects of beings + 
                 7 divisions of beings)

Interestingly, at the crux of it, the text defines the meditations themselves as:

Sabbe ____ averā abyāpajjā anīghā sukhī attānaṃ pariharantu.

“May all ____ be free from enmity, distress and affliction (ill will), and may they live happily.” (tr. Ñāṇamoli)

“May all ____ secure averā, abyāpajjā, anīghā, and sukhī for [them]selves.” (More literally, I think)

Much of the text goes on to describe how the practice connects to some portion of the 37 bojjhaṇgas I think but there is a portion here that defines mettā even more explicitly.

But it is worth noting that the other three, karuna, mudita and upekkha, don’t appear though I wonder to what extent their opposites as from Nissāraṇīya Sutta AN 6.13 can be said to feature in the list of adjectives there either synonymously or not.

Are you talking about the “exalted deliverance of mind” that is distinct from the “immeasurable deliverance of mind” from MN 127 here?

Because of note from MN 127 is that we have alongside a description for immeasurable deliverance of mind much like the one in the “four directions/quarters” pericope, a description for ‘exalted’ deliverance of mind:

And what, householder, is the exalted deliverance of mind?
Here a bhikkhu abides resolved upon:

  1. an area the size of the root of one tree…
  2. …an area the size of the roots of two or three trees…
  3. …an area the size of one village…
  4. …an area the size of two or three villages…
  5. …an area the size of one major kingdom…
  6. …an area the size of two or three major kingdoms…
  7. …an area the size of the earth bounded by the ocean

pervading it as exalted: this too is called the exalted deliverance of mind.

However, in the sutta, Venerable Anuruddha points out explicitly that the two, immeasurable and exalted, are different things despite the householder who initiates the exchange thinking otherwise. Nonetheless, I’ve seen some teachers provide instructions that mirror this.


Thanks first of all for the source and the discussion of it!
The Ps is for me another example for why I dislike the abhidhammic-commentarial style. The prose is dry as sand, and the tendency to connect everything with anything (I exaggerate) in repetitive lists doesn’t at all induce confidence in me that the writers knew what they were talking about. But ok, tastes differ and it was not their purpose to entertain contemporary readers.

Like you said, karuna etc. are missing, which is in itself interesting. Also in modern discussions they hardly appear - metta is obviously the star of the show! (and upekkha is wondering “Hey, what about me??”). There are psychological reasons for it I guess (metta represents one form of ideal buddhism), but it undeniably also has a special position in the suttas as well (again upekkha says “And me too!”).

No, sorry, I was just freely writing without checking if it conflicts with other terms. I just meant that metta etc. is boundless and one of the highest states of mind known to us from the suttas, higher than the jhanas.

Indeed. The table really is their more natural form. Unfortunately it’s apparently a bit finnicky in the Discourse platform we have here to get tables to show up so we’ll have to make do with inline images or something somehow if we want to better talk about those things.

But the three factors here I think would be pretty interesting in practice.

Particularly as I understand the first, by relating to all beings with regards to aspects (odhiso?) that are common to all of us, namely that we live (sattā), that we breathe (pāṇā), that we are as we are (bhūta), that we individuate (puggala), that we develop and fall into personalities (atta­bhāva­pariyā­pannā).

This is an experimental reading of that bit that occurs to me now but I think there’s a real beauty to it if it’s correct.

And then there’s that list of eight things that pervading metta to these beings entails. As I mentioned, I’m pretty sure the various mettā prescriptions from various meditation teachers are coming from interpretations of this very text and looking at the source language of it gives us a way to personalize the practice with a measure of authenticity.

Yeah…it’s a tough cookie to crack I’m finding as well. The entirety of the teachings are so closely interrelated it’s so hard to disentangle one from the other.

Perhaps as reflected in SN 46.54, the sort of cosmic nature of the higher three has something to do with this relative obscurity. It’s been some time since I’ve reviewed MN 127 but I’ve found it rather breathtaking the minutiae that these texts go into regarding these cosmological things.

That’s all I got for now.

But I hope you find the right resources for your practice in the meantime!


I’m afraid the Vism was more influential than the Ps., even though the Vism refers to it explicitly (Vism IX.9 and IX.49 ff). Famously the Vism treats metta etc. as a means to reach jhana - a view that I think I found only once in the suttas. It does a pretty good job in giving different approaches to ‘mundane’ metta practice. It is so supportive in fact, that it’s probably mainly responsible for shifting metta from the extremely demanding boundlessness of the suttas - without which it wouldn’t have gotten the epithet ‘brahmavihara’ - to an approachable practice for everyone.

But I’m more interested in the boundless nature. The Vism faithfully explains the metta pericope (Vism IX.44-59), but it kinda skips the question of how an object-oriented practice is supposed to turn into a limitless conclusion.

The Vimuttimagga (VIII.5) has an interesting passage as the introduction to metta practice that seems at the wrong place, for it is too advanced?

That yogin is able to gain confidence by means of the heart of kindness. Through confidence that is free, he can establish his mind. Through establishing that is free, he can dwell in mindfulness. Through mindfulness that is free, through establishing that is free and through confidence that is free, he is endowed with the unshakable mind, and he understands the state of the unshakable (mind). That yogin by these means and through these activities develops the thought of loving-kindness for himself, repeats it and understands unshakability.

Is that a reference to anejja - imperturbability? But it goes on to increase metta in one direction/quarter:

…he should develop loving-kindness for the Community of Bhikkhus in (his) dwelling-place. After that he should develop loving-kindness for the deities in his dwelling-place. After that he should develop loving-kindness for beings in the village outside his dwelling-place. Thus (he develops loving-kindness for beings) from village to village, from country to country. After that he should develop (loving-kindness for beings) in one direction. That yogin "pervades one quarter with thoughts of loving-kindness…

Then it also goes into metta developing jhana…
Finally the Vism goes there too following the Vimt, just at the concluding parts of all ‘brahmaviharas’, not in the metta part:

Vism 103. The extension of the object takes place either in access or in absorption. Here is the order of it. Just as a skilled ploughman first delimits an area and then does his ploughing, so first a single dwelling should be delimited and loving-kindness developed towards all beings there in the way beginning, “In this dwelling may all beings be free from enmity.” When his mind has become malleable and wieldy with respect to that, he can then delimit two dwellings. Next he can successively delimit three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, one street, half the village, the whole village, the district, the kingdom, one direction, and so on up to one world-sphere, or even beyond that, and develop loving-kindness towards the beings in such areas. Likewise with compassion and so on. This is the order in extending here.


Nah, upekkha be like, “Indeed. Alright. OK. No problem.”


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lol, that’s why we forget about upekkha all the time - she’s fine with everything :sweat_smile:


I found it interesting that in SN46.54 it is said:

Come, bhikkhus, abandon the five hindrances, the corruptions of the mind that weaken wisdom, and dwell pervading one quarter with a mind imbued with lovingkindness

Abandon the five hindrances before developing mettā in the directions?

Why not? after all abandoning the hindrances is at many places the gateway to jhana too. Or do you find something else surprising here?

My impression was that the ‘directional’ practice of mettā was related to development, in other words, that’s how one should practice and develop mettā, etc. Seeing those directional instructions after abandoning the 5 hindrances would mean there is already some sort of samādhi before even starting the mettā practice.

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Ah, interesting. Is it established though, that suppressing the hindrances automatically brings about the first jhana? I can imagine both, that ‘separated from worldly desire and unwholesome teachings’ is included in abandoning the hindrances, or that it’s additional to it. Has it been checked already?

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I think one way to explore the question would be to explore the exact verb conjugations “pajahati” and “viviccati” in the two contexts.

Eg: Just in the DN 2 translation we have here by Bhikkhu Bodhi, we see a very slight inconsistency:

In the same way, great king, when a bhikkhu sees that these five hindrances are unabandoned within himself,


But when he sees that these five hindrances have been abandoned within himself,

Tumayto tumahto? I’m not so sure.

By the way, I have stopped using “abandon” for pajahati. Usually “abandon” in English is used in a negative sense, like an abandoned project, or abandoned children, and so on. When we make a New Year’s resolution to stop eating chocolate and checking Facebook every five minutes, we don’t “abandon” these things, we “give them up”.


Interesting, I guess I’m so used to the Pali, and the meaning, that I hadn’t thought about the problem with the connotation of ‘abandon’ but it’s a good point. How are you translating it, simply as ‘give up’?

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Yes, “give up” seems to work in most cases.


For me “give up” has a slightly more active/doing connotation. I would definitely have to give up chocolate, I couldn’t abandon it.

But if I abandon a hindrance I just stop feeding it and it dies away - or is able to arise and pass away without my getting entangled. Sort of like keeping your kitchen really clean so the ants just stop coming, rather than having to go after them in some way.

In order to give up a hindrance (if only I could!) I really have to do something - substitute metta for irritation, or reflect on the unwholesome consequences, etc.

I decided to cancel this reply since it is off-topic but when I hit cancel I was given the choice of “abandon” or keep. Giving up was not an option. :smile: