How is mettā best translated (IYHO)?

Sorry, a side questiin. Any chance to get Ven Analayo to become a member of this forum? It would be great to be able to have him interacting with us here and making the best use of the easy sutta reference and parallels SC makes available.

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Also an aside for anyone interested: Ven Anālayo will be offering an e-learning course this coming spring. This was also mentioned in another discussion on this site but it was awhile ago so some people may have missed it.

I highly recommend his courses!


I don’t know about you but I acknowledge I have to be constantly protecting my daily cultivation of right aspirations - letting go, benevolence/friendliness and nonviolence/compassion - from deeply ingrained habits of attachment/acquisition, I’ll will/fault finding and aggression/anger. :sweat:


We tried some time ago to get scholars (such as Ven Analayo) to become users on Discourse. Unsurprisingly, they were all very busy.

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Well sure! Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t think this is important - desire for the maintenance of arisen wholesome states, for their nondecay, increase, expansion, and fulfilment by development” is a part of right effort after all - I just don’t feel that this passage is saying that. Or at least, not only that perhaps.

Above Ven Dhammanando says that the ‘thought of metta’ presumably should be guarded as a mother her son. But this seems problematic to me.

The idea of ‘protecting’ metta seems strange to me. It’s not fitting with what I understand of metta and the nature of the mind. Because I think of protecting as guarding, concealing and holding something without wavering, and I don’t think of mind states like metta or even the thought of metta as something we can develop once, then it just stays there and we have to protect it. One is mindful, and ‘re-cultivates’ it, recollects it, throughout the day perhaps.

I use metta as my meditation object and it takes significant concentration and effort to generate and hold the feeling of strong metta (for me anyway :laughing:).

The idea of walking around all day doing that just feels comical to me because I wouldn’t get much else done. It’s like MN 19 on positive thoughts…

“As I abided thus, diligent, ardent, and resolute, a thought of non-ill will arose in me…a thought of non-cruelty arose in me. I understood thus: ‘This thought of non-cruelty has arisen in me. This does not lead to my own affliction, or to others’ affliction, or to the affliction of both; it aids wisdom, does not cause difficulties, and leads to Nibbāna. If I think and ponder upon this thought even for a night, even for a day, even for a night and day, I see nothing to fear from it. But with excessive thinking and pondering I might tire my body, and when the body is tired, the mind becomes strained, and when the mind is strained, it is far from concentration.’ So I steadied my mind internally, quieted it, brought it to singleness, and concentrated it. Why is that? So that my mind should not be strained.

Quite right, although in the example you give different actions are given for how the yogi should treat the mind, the simile is in regard to the spirit it is done in, it seems. For example, as you say, the yogi is not instructed to literally knead and sprinkle the mind with water, but with the same focus, thoroughness and completeness as the bathman, distribute rapture and pleasure throughout the body. Similarly, the simile is not instructing us to literally protect mind/metta as a mother, son, but to cultivate or spread the metta in as limitless and unstinting a manner.

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Can polls be set-up with “other” and fill-in-the-blank?

I would have cast for “good-will” (from Thanissaro B’s usage), or “benevolence” (from V. Analayo).

[quote=“Cara, post:30, topic:3832, full:true”]

Can you lay this out or provide evidence for this? I see people say this but I just don’t get it.[/quote]

Than-Geoff interprets the metaphor of a mother’s love as indicating the intensity, all-or-nothingness to be used in application of metta, not the aspect of motherly (attached) love.

Metta as jhana-object, according to Vism, goes only to the 3rd Jhana, because (as also in the case of karuna and mudita, it’s outwardly, dependently, so to speak, directed. 4th BV, uppekkha’s the only one that goes all the way.

If this is true then I agree. I don’t personally know Ajahn Thanissaro’s opinion and it has been presented in differing ways here. But as per my previous arguments, it sounds more like the simile applies to the intensity or the scope of the application of metta, rather than that we should protect our metta.

I think Sankhitta sutta AN 8.63 discusses the four brahmaviharas including metta as a basis for Jhanas 1-4. But regardless, you can be fully released from 1st jhana, so if metta is good enuogh for that, it’s still pretty powerful stuff! :smile:

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That’s not what he said, neither in the daylong on the brahmaviharas that he led nor in his book, where he goes into more detail. Below is some of that.


[quote=“Cara, post:75, topic:3832, full:true”]I think Sankhitta sutta AN 8.63 discusses the four brahmaviharas including metta as a basis for Jhanas 1-4. But regardless, you can be fully released from 1st jhana, so if metta is good enuogh for that, it’s still pretty powerful stuff! :smile:

Sure enough. Reminds me how variable interpretations are to be found, even within the Pali Canon.

That dawned on me with recently finding that the famous case – “sabbe dhamma anatta”, all dhammas rather than all sankhara, because Nibbana is a dhamma – is also relative to context. I.e. also, in AN 10.58: “chandamūlakā, āvuso, sabbe dhammā…” – “All phenomena are rooted in desire…” (trans Thanissaro B.).


Could be. My recollection was from an article in Tricycle. Will try to find it…
Or perhaps fabricate some relationship between the two interpretations… :wink:

  1. In appreciation for finding here the interpretation, as per Sylvester / V.Dhammanando and the talk by B. Gunaratana, that the metaphor of “protection of a mother to her only son” can be interpreted to the yogi’s cultivation, protection of the metta intent. Adding to the interpretation, as I recall it, by Thanissaro B somewhere – that the intensity, even to giving of the mother’s own life, should be emulated by the yogi in pursuing metta.

Having multiple such interpretations gives one a palette of possibilities for practice, according to what works for the individual, and useful in my case, as the popular version – that the mother’s love transfers to the yogi’s metta – is less helpful because of the strong admixture of pema-type qualities in the common understanding of the English “love” – love as based in wanting something.

  1. Another point is that I take these interpretations – e.g. of Sylvester / V.Dhammanando / B.Gunaratana and Thanissaro B. – as viewpoints, as educated guesses, so to speak. (When any such interpreter asserts that their interpretation is absolutely, and only, what the Buddha meant, then I take a step back.)

  2. Also to perhaps fish here for more information on the evolution of metta practice across the sutta and/or commentarial traditions. I’ve researched some: canvassing all mentions of metta / BVs in the main Nikaya-s (using the indexes in the Widsom Pub editions), and some scanning through the commentaries.

Trying to track-down the origin of the currently common “metta to yourself, to teachers, to close one, neutral, enemies, etc.” practice, it seems there’s nothing like that in the sutta-s; nor in, e.g. the Patisambhidamagga (ca. 1st-Century BCE). Earliest I’ve found is in the Vimuttimagga (ca. 1st-Century CE), which is elaborated in the Visuddhimagga (ca. 5th-Century CE).

It appears to me that working out the meaning of the mother-child passage is not a problem of translation, but of interpretation.

However, perhaps @Sylvester, or someone else has some cunning grammatical argument for preferring one or the other.

See post # 58

Sorry, cjmacie, I’m currently on my phone without wifi and thus can’t experiment. Perhaps this is something @sujato would know.

hi Chris

this option is for you

How is mettā best translated (IYHO)?

Thanks. However, I was wondering if it was clear that the cases of the verbs and so on made that interpretation the preferable one.

Thanks, good idea.

Perhaps an alternative way of polling would be to use this technique and let the users build the list of options, i.e. anyone interested enter a post describing their preference, and then people vote by “liking” such entries. Moderators or system’s people might later or occasionally compile a table of results for quick reference.

Revisiting this topic; I think it’s worth mentioning again as @Bhikkhu_Jayasara points out above that the etymology of mettā comes from mitta meaning ‘friend’.

Here’s another one for consideration — tenderheartedness. Mirriam-Webster defines tenderheartedness as “easily moved to love, pity, or sorrow”. Ok, maybe pity and sorrow don’t really fit the context, but being easily moved to compassion or joy certainly would. In the BrahmaVihāra context, I think it’s important that mettā should be related to karuṇā and muditā. What happens when a tender-heart that’s easily moved encounters suffering or genuine joy? A soft, gentle, tender heart — as a good friend — empathizes. That heart, upon contact with suffering becomes compassionate (karuṇāhi?) and upon contact with joy becomes cheerful (muditāhi?).


I also think it’s worth to revisit since metta is such an attractive part of the suttas… When I was going through the many references in the suttas, it occurred to me that we actually have no idea how metta was practiced. We’re trying to squeeze several aspects with little certainty

  • the four directions/quarters: I tried to interpret it in several ways (e.g. four lokas) but had to conclude that it really just means the geographical directions/quarters. It prepares the measureless aspect of the full metta, but - if taken seriously - shows such a highly advanced malleability of the mind that it surely is beyond the imagination of most of us.

  • like a mother to her only child: as grateful as I am for the straight images of the Snp, but the application of this one is limited. Personally (being male) I don’t even know how a mother feels regarding her only child, let alone how to extend this ‘same’ attitute to far away unseen beings. If I take my cultural background, mothers’ love seems to be concerned with their children eating a lot, they worry all the time, and want them to marry and have kids. Is that metta? should I extend this to bacteria?

  • animate or inanimate: Snp 1.8 speaks of pāṇabhūta = beings with breath/life energy. And sabbaloka, which is not the world of objects but rather strictly a realm of beings. Not saying that there’s a loophole to hate your neighbor’s SUV, but the sutta at least is about living beings.

  • a mind without ill-will: this looks like being related to metta, but is actually non-specific, being applied to mudita, karuna and upekkha as well.

My personal conclusion is that there is not much we know about practical metta meditation in the ebt. The little we do doesn’t really give us a manual. Also it leaves unclear the connection between the mundane root of ‘friend-lyness’ and the exalted measureless metta (we might as well speculate how it is to be in the fourth jhana).

My desire would be to turn from a scholarly approach to our gifted masters like LP Liem for example and ask them how to describe the fully developed metta. What they say in public speeches is often all-too relateable. I don’t listen to tapes much, but maybe our nice community can share what they heard from our highly developed teachers?