Cultivating Metta. What Works Best?

Yes, I would agree that a first step to experiencing metta toward a person must consist in not experiencing anger, hatred or a desire to harm toward them. And maybe that’s all there is to upekkha. But that can’t be the last step for metta. There must be a further positive component. After all, if one sees a person being led away to a death camp, and one serenely regards the scene with nothing but a robot-like absence of affect, that in itself can’t constitute metta, karuna or mudita.

If you did that there wouldn’t be enough time for the other meditations.

Of course not. While the far enemy of upekkha is hatred, the close enemy of it is indifference.
With metta, we wish the best for all people. Maybe an Arahant or someone courageous would speak up when seeing a perseon being lead away to a death camp, even if he risks his own life by doing so.

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For many years I had the same questions.

Then one day, I figured it out. Look at the prototypical dog in a developed western country. No one ever taught them what suttas they should read or study, or how to first visualize dogs in their family, then ones they feel neutral towards, and then cats which they might feel animosity towards, and then one quarter of the universe, then the other… No complicated stuff.

But they do a pretty convincing job of spreading good will don’t they? Their body language seems to say, “hey! how you doing? good to see you! have a good day! Want to be friends?”

Or you see a stranger on the street with a beaming smile, may not even be directed towards you, but its contagious right?

So it simply boils down to be happy and energetically spread that feeling out. Treat all living beings the way you wish to be treated, reduce the flavor to its essence and it can take you into jhana. Or you can get into jhana first and then spread out that feeling energetically. You don’t really need to be taught how to do metta. The hard part may be to be genuinely happy. If you can do it, just don’t block it and let it spread out. I found that if I wasn’t able to be happy, I could at least partake in happiness of others and vicariously do metta that way.

With asubha practices, if you practice it enough you become desensitized like a coroner who cuts up dead bodies every day. Just like you take a shit and eat 5 minutes later and it doesn’t shake you up right? But always remember Vesali sutta SN 54.9, where scores of monks committed suicde from doing asubha. If you think you might be one of them, don’t do asubha yet.


I think we need to distinguish between metta as just a practice “technique” and metta as a state of mind that is supposed to be permanently realized as that practice is perfected.

That sounds wonderful. However I remember reading a sutta about the mind state of an enlightened monk, and it contained numerous positive mental states. I think this makes sense as mental states are impermanent and it requires more than one positive mental state to overcome various negative mental states.

Compassion will arise when the universality of suffering is seen clearly in the lives of the people and beings around us. They are bags of excreta, no doubt, but they still suffer. Their happiness, joy, laughter and the trophies they carry around with overt possessiveness are empty of anything lasting when everyone has only one thing to look forward to in life: decay. But I doubt that calm, equanimous sympathy for all beings will arise just like that - a mountain of delusion has to be climbed before that happens, IMO.

Viewing one’s body as loathsome is essential (at least to me) in reducing conceit and vanity. The desire to be seen as desirable is a terrible burden and almost all of one’s youth is spent in vain pursuits. To me, the key realization that needs to arise is that health is a complete mirage.

I think this is a very fine line - trying to balance aversion and compassion.

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You can go like “whatever is out there, whatever experiences are being had; may those be good experiences, may they also lead to what is good for a long time”.

The way I understand it, is that metta is the intention behind that wish. Intending good for others is just beautiful in itself.

You can go “Anyone out there, whatever they are, may they experience those things that are genuinely to their benefit, whatever that may be.”

IMO it’s basically about learning how to generate and sustain an intention/wish that others have good things happen to them.

With metta! :smile:


I’m reading through some of the Madhyama Agamas, and in MA 15, I came across this part which I thought was very interesting:

Therefore, a man or woman, whether layperson or renunciant, should always diligently practice liberation of the mind through loving-kindness.

[same for compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity]

This is the first time I’ve seen the metta meditation explicitly recommended for laypeople.

Metta (or the brahmaviharas in general) makes a lot of sense to me as a lay practice. On the surface at least, it doesn’t seem as disruptive towards lay-life/sensual pleasures as many of the other practices.

Of course it’s a great practice for monastics as well, but they can go hog wild with renouncing sensual pleasures in a way that would probably be more difficult for a lay person.

With much metta :anjal:

How about the advice to the Kalamas?

“Thus, Kālāmas, when we said: ‘Come, Kālāmas, do not go by oral tradition … But when you know for yourselves: “These things are wholesome; these things are blameless; these things are praised by the wise; these things, if accepted and undertaken, lead to welfare and happiness,” then you should live in accordance with them,’ it is because of this that this was said.

“Then, Kālāmas, that noble disciple, who is thus devoid of longing, devoid of ill will, unconfused, clearly comprehending, ever mindful, dwells pervading one quarter with a mind imbued with loving-kindness … with a mind imbued with compassion … with a mind imbued with altruistic joy … with a mind imbued with equanimity, likewise the second quarter, the third quarter, and the fourth quarter. Thus above, below, across, and everywhere, and to all as to himself, he dwells pervading the entire world with a mind imbued with equanimity, vast, exalted, measureless, without enmity, without ill will.

Who is that ‘noble disciple’ though? First it’s

[when X arises] in a person …

and then it switches over to ‘that noble disciple’, which I’m guessing is ariyasāvako in the Pali.

Was that person always a noble disciple? Or did he become one when practicing the brahmaviharas?

Overall it feels a bit more descriptive to me, but my perception could be wrong.

Edit: For example in AN5.57:

“Bhikkhus, there are these five themes that should often be reflected upon by a woman or a man, by a householder or one gone forth.

This is what I take to be explicit in the sense of ‘lay-followers do this too’

This is a question I asked on SC before that got no answer so far. Ven. Thanissaro often translates ariya savako as “disciple OF the noble ones” for contexts where the teaching seems to apply more broadly, rather than the standard “noble disciple (implying at least stream entry)”.

I find the simile in the Satipatthana Sutta about the bag of various grains helpful as a guide to the attitude with which to approach this practice. What kind of attitude would you have looking into a bag of various grains? I also find it helpful to think of asubha as “not-beautiful” rather than foul/disgusting because the latter tends toward aversion.

Furthermore, a monastic examines their own body, up from the soles of the feet, down from the hairs of the head, and surrounded by skin, as full of various kinds of impurities: ‘In this body there are head-hairs, body-hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, bone-marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesentery, undigested food, feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, spit, snot, synovial fluid, and urine.’

It is as if there were a bag with openings at both ends, filled with various kinds of grains, such as hill rice, wheat, mung beans, peas, millet, and white rice. And someone with good eyesight were to open it and examine the contents: ‘This is hill rice, this is wheat, these are mung beans, these are peas, this is millet, and this is white rice.’

In the same way, a monastic examines their own body, up from the soles of the feet, down from the hairs of the head, and surrounded by skin, as full of various kinds of impurities: ‘In this body there is head-hair, body-hair … urine.’

In this way they meditate by observing an aspect of the body inside … This too is how a monastic meditates by observing an aspect of the body.

Ven Premasiri told me that there are two variations: Ariya savako and Ariya puggala, and the latter were stream entrant and higher. Ariya savaka was higher than the unlearned worldling (assutava putajjana), though I am at a loss to identify the sutta references.