How is mettā best translated (IYHO)?

ok let’s try keeping in mind that the results lack the potential of having any bearing on Ven Sujato’s translation project[poll public=false]

  • Metta
  • Love
  • Friendliness
  • Amity
  • Loving-kindness
  • Sympathy

Can goodwill also be an option? This has the advantage of linguistically opposing ill will.


Can someone find Ven. Sujato’s explanation for why he started translating mettā as love? I found that rather convincing. If I remember correctly, he was at a Christian monastery and was reflecting on a statue of the Virgin Mary with baby Jeebus. He realized that just as the suttas say to develop mettā as a mother for her child, that a mother doesn’t have ‘friendliness’, ‘kindness’, or ‘goodwill’ toward her child, she loves her child.


That part of the Metta Sutta to which you refer has always stuck with me as well, particularly because I’ve always seen a mother’s love as quite suffused with attachment to her child (for my mother, at least).

In his recent book Compassion and Emptiness in Early Buddhist Meditation, Venerable Analayo makes this point on page 29:

In the early discourses metta does not seem to convey the feelings of love a mother has for her child, contrary to the position taken, for example, in the Visuddhimagga.

Referring to the stanza in question, he later writes:

The stanza describes the protection a mother would be willing to give to her only son, to the extent of being willing to risk her own life. Her love of her son is not the main theme here – the main point is protection. The providing and receiving of protection is in fact a recurrent aspect in the conception of metta in the early discourses.


I voted for “love” but also think “good will” is actually the best translation. I think the sentiment in the Christmas carol extolling “peace on earth; good will toward men” captures the Buddhist aspiration perfectly.

“Love” is used in a tremendous variety of related but distinct senses in English, but its by far most common senses refer to highly attached states of mind toward other human beings, states which lead to much distress and anxiety while the love relationship is preserved, and then to painful grief when the relationship is severed by separation of death. The Buddha, on the other hand, recommended the complete overcoming of grief and the tendency toward grief, but saw that realization as compatible with perfect metta. For example, Sariputta is portrayed in the suttas as having gone completely beyond any disposition to grieve, but also as unfailingly kind, gentle and good-willed toward those with whom he relates, and as having a wonderful relationship with Amanda, and others.

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I’m going to post a poll to determine whether we should use polls to determine translations for every important Pali word in question. :slight_smile:

Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. H. L. Mencken

Democracy! Bah! When I hear that I reach for my feather boa! Allen Ginsberg

The above quotes are offered with humor and respect. I couldn’t resist.


Yes I think Analayo is right. In the real world the relationships of mothers to their children is not so simple, pure and straightforward. It is often clouded by attachment, worry, jealousy, resentment and status seeking. Even the urge to protect might sometimes have selfish roots, and not spring from pure, other-directed good will.

One reason I love the Therigatha so much is that the actual women who composed those verses convey much more complicated relationships to their present and former children than might be gathered from a sentimentalized reading of the Metta Sutta. For example, even the famous commentarial narrative about Kisa Gotami makes it clear that part of her happiness over her son is due to the enhanced personal status she has achieved in her husband’s household from having successfully born him a son.

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i’m sorry this one slipped my mind, thank you for the reminder

@anon29387788, @Brenna

could you please help us add Goodwill option to the poll, since i lack sufficient privileges ?

thank you


I don’t practice metta much, but what I miss in many of the above terms is that ‘metta’ I believe is a quality of the heart-mind, not a quality of the relationship between me and another.

The associations I have with ‘love’ and ‘sympathy’ is that I’m used to see those applied to people (or rather objects, introjects…). My mantra with translating terms is ‘avoid misunderstanding’. So I would say ‘a heart full of love’ or ‘a heart full of friendliness’, or to push it even stronger ‘a heart radiating love’ etc. I feel it then doesn’t matter much which term we place there.

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“Love” according to the DPR comes from the root mid, which can also mean to be fat… I assume to grow fat with goodwill. It’s not clear how mid can be put into metta, at least for a basic n00b like myself, and the DPR is confusing regarding it:

n c
mettā: amity; benevolence. (f.)

Metta (adj. nt.) [cp. Vedic maitra “belonging to Mitra”; Epic Sk. maitra “friendly,” fr. mitra] friendly, benevolent kind as adj. at D iii.191 (mettena kāya – kammena etc.), 245 (˚ŋ vacī – kammaŋ); as nt. for mettā in cpds. of mettā (cp. mettaŋsa) and by itself at D i.227 (mettaŋ+cittaŋ), perhaps also at Sn 507.

Above is how Bhante G translates Metta, and explains it as coming from the said root, there is no “love” or “loving” in this translation… now however if you DPR mett(Ā) this is what you get:

n c
mettā: amity; benevolence. (f.)

Mettā (f.) [abstr. fr. mitra=mitta, cp. Vedic maitraŋ. According to Asl. 192 (cp. Expos. 258) derived fr. mid to love, to be fat: “mejjati mettā siniyhatī ti attho” love, amity, sympathy, friendliness, active interest in others.

The way I read this basically is that two different scholars or scholarly works (who/what is ASL?) say different things, and its kind of up to yo to decide what works within the context of the teachings.

I greatly prefer the Thanissaro Bhikkhu translation of “boundless/limitless goodwill”, as imo it fits much more with what the Buddha was saying in the suttas, and you don’t have to spend extra time explaining all the reasons why metta does not equal the english word love, which is Pema

Pema (nt.) [fr. prī, see pīṇeti & piya & cp. BSk. prema Jtm 221; Vedic preman cons. stem] love, affection

EDIT: I also agree with Bhante Analāyo in that " like a mother protects her only child" means that you protect your metta, because a mind without metta sucks and is downright oppressive and it makes much more sense given the rest of the suttas where the Buddha takes seriously the harm a mind of ill-will can do. Bhante G also says the same thing as Bhante Analāyo regarding this particular phrase.


What is the motivation for protection?
Are the brahmā vihāras about emotive qualities or about protection?

I think the inner attitude of benevolence, kindness, and friendliness naturally includes the wish to protect, to keep oneself and others safe from harm and affliction, and to foster wholesome prosperity for oneself and others.

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How about ‘benevolence’?

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Protection and metta go hand in hand with each other in the suttas, as for example in the Metta sutta Sn 1.8.


Not sure if this is the one you’re referring to but there’s some discussion here.

i too don’t get the connotation of attachment in metta which i do in love and there certainly shouldn’t be any, it’s Dhamma after all

metta is much cooler and not in vain appears in one set with equanimity, which is the opposite of passion (& aversion)

his simple Dhamma talk on metta was an eye opener for me

why would the Buddha use metta for love? i believe there were enough words for love in the language he spoke

in the poll i deliberately avoided it since it’s usually reserved for abyapajjha

lolable quotable

but that’s a much better, and should i say dhammic, vehicle of influencing the ruling class than taking up arms



Unfortunately, polls can’t be edited after the first five minutes. And thus, you would have to recreate the poll itself in order to add another option.

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bummer, thank you, i hoped we could circumvent the cunning system

it even says contact the moderator, so i did

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What is the motivation for protection?
Are the brahmā vihāras about emotive qualities or about protection?

The Brahmā Vihāras are about going against the defilements in our own mind. They are part of the overall practice of right effort in gradually abandoning ill-will, greed, and cruelty in our minds(wrong intention), and replacing them with right intention, goodwill, letting go, compassion(right intention).

The motivation to protect our mind is having a light mind here and now, and a mind that does not lead to actions that cause suffering now and in the future, as well as rebirth into woeful states in future lives.

and indeed just as the simile of the acrobat professes, in doing this you take care of yourself, and in taking care of yourself you take care of others, and in taking care of others, you take care of yourself.


since Goodwill option can’t be added as polls don’t allow subsequent editing, Goodwill voters please simply like the first post

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