AN 4.125 mettā is directed to external object or not?


Idha, bhikkhave, ekacco puggalo 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.

Firstly, a person meditates spreading a heart full of love to one direction, and to the second, and to the third, and to the fourth. In the same way above, below, across, everywhere, all around, they spread a heart full of love to the whole world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will.

Is loka here referring to the external world? Or to the whole ‘sphere’ of ones own mind?

And the directions, and below and above and so on - are these referring to external directions, or the directions of ones mind, so to speak? I.e. that every part of ones own mind is pervaded (pharitvā) with/by mettā?


There’s a passage here suggesting it is to all external directions. The uposata practice of the jains are subject to some ridicule here:

"And what is the Uposatha of the Jains? There are the contemplatives called the Niganthas (Jains). They get their disciple to undertake the following practice: ‘Here, my good man. Lay down the rod with regard to beings who live more than 100 leagues to the east… more than 100 leagues to the west… more than 100 leagues to the north… more than 100 leagues to the south.’ Thus they get the disciple to undertake kindness & sympathy to some beings, but not to others. AN 3.70

Also this passage is useful:

“And what, householder, is the exalted deliverance of mind? Here a bhikkhu abides resolved upon an area the size of the root of one tree, pervading it as exalted: this is called the exalted deliverance of mind. Here a bhikkhu abides resolved upon an area the size of one village, pervading it as exalted…an area the size of two or three villages…an area the size of one major kingdom…an area the size of two or three major kingdoms…an area the size of the earth bounded by the ocean, pervading it as exalted: this too is called the exalted deliverance of mind. MN127

It is quite clear that this is not just a ‘mental’ exercise- it is meant to be clearly about external people out there.

with metta


Thanks @Mat, yes that does really sound like it is external then, when we consider these two suttas together.

Er, actually it still does seem to me to be a mental exercise. I see it as pervading the internal contruct of the external world, with mettā. If there was no perception or internal model of the external world, such as in one-pointed concentration, then I would expect there to be no mention of this type of exercise - just pervade the mind directly with mettā. And that is probably what this can lead to - and I do think I remember mettā being taught as a practice through which to enter jhāna. So I would think of this as pre-one-pointed-concentration in this sutta, where we still have an internal mental model of the external world, and by permeating the whole of that with mettā, we are thereby permeating our whole mind with mettā - no section of our mind unpervaded.

So long as we hold non-mettā towards any part of our internal contruct of the external world, the mind is fragmented in mettā practice. Still holding back.


It’s debatable whether the mind is limited in size or concept - or whether it’s even a meaningful question!


Hi Mat!
Did you see me make any mention of mind having size? And I don’t know what you mean by mind being limited by ‘concept’. Would you like to explain what you mean?

What problem do you have about mettā permeating your whole mind? Is this not familiar to your experience? For example, if you have a friend who has just done something bad to you, you might still love him, but you also have some anger towards him. In this situation, your whole mind is not permeated with mettā, because some of it has anger. The mettā is not all-pervasive.

This can be investigated also. We can attempt to fully love, either as a quality without object, or also works towards an object - try loving someone completely. Then go into your mind with your awareness and feel out the different aspects of your mind, and feel where mettā is absent. Where there is resistance or some kind of tension or blockage. If you let your awareness settle there, you can hold the intention of inviting mettā. In this way you can unbock those mental knots, even one by one. This exercise can be useful. And it also helps to get the sense of whether really ones whole mind is pervaded or not.


The mind doesn’t have directions, nor does it have a size:

We are expected to visualise a small area and make it large in our minds:

But, I agree your technique below is a rather useful one…


Did I say anywhere that it had size?
Although we may ascribe to a doctrine of mind having no direction, you can mentally radiate mettā directionally. Even though that’s a mental activity. So mental qualitie can be directed, even if the mind may not have directions. Still I do not see the connection between this and your original comment from 2 days ago.

Thanks for the quote, interesting! How about the possiblity that one is not visualising an area as such, but visualising mettā itself, as a quality, in your mind, but of that size.

Now, this is interesting. Because if we visualise mettā as the size of a tree, and we still have awareness of the world being larger than that, then we have a mind which has awareness of mettā, and non-mettā in the world generated in the mind which lies outside of the bounds of this small field of mettā, also generated by the mind. So the mind is experiencing itself as this world which is only partly permeated by mettā. And then, as you expand it to become limitless, the whole mind-created world is fully permeated with mettā. Which is to say that, the whole mind is permeated with mettā.

Could you perhaps tell me what sutta your quote was from? Was it the main one of this discussion? It’s been 11 months since this conversation was active so I’m a bit out of touch with the thread.


The quote is from the sutta in this thread, above:


“There is the case where an individual keeps pervading the first direction — as well as the second direction, the third, the fourth”—AN 4.125, Thanissaro

‘The first direction’ is a convention meaning ‘East’.