How to teach metta in the sense of the early texts?

With all the attention to metta here recently, and reviewing how it’s usually taught (including watching those talks by V. Sujato mentioned in threads here, and others), the question arises (seemingly self-evident, though I’ve not seen it addressed anywhere):

How would one teach metta purely according to the early texts – i.e. how the Buddha taught it? That is to say, other than using the standard formula (wishes for self, respected ones, friends, neutral persons, enemies, etc.), which, as far as I can gather, goes back through the Vissudhimagga to the Vimuttimagga, but not documented earlier.

Corollary question: Possibly different methods for teaching beginners (such as lookie-loos attending first retreat) and more advanced practitioners?


This is an interesting thought experiment for sure. I wonder though if the result we will come up with, although based on the Suttas, may be too vague for most practitioners? It isn’t always so easy to “imbue the mind with lovingkindess” without some preparation or a more actionable framework than in the Suttas. Not saying there is anything wrong with the Suttas, just that the instructions to practice are less clear than for instance, breath meditation.

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Not to presume, though I’m sure some may be aware of Bhante Vimalaramsi’s Tranquil Wisdom Insight Meditation, which I tend to see as Buddhist Cognitive Behavioural Training Meditation.

He claims that this method comes from the EBTs, but as a novice layperson, I haven’t the expertise to review his studies.

He doesn’t necessarily follow the You->Friendly->Neutral->Meh->Dislike path, he has the meditater focus on themselves, than a Spiritual Friend, then later the 6 directions. If I have details wrong, please know I am a student and may not have the insight to state his instructions properly.

Would his instructions be close to the EBT’s?


I believe he bases his meditation technique on the Anupada Sutta - MN 111 . You can find the English translation here:

It seems, though, that it is not an EBT sutta, according to this thread:

I hope this is helpful.


I have been using Bhante Vimilaramsi’s Relax Step technique for some time and find it really helps as there does seem to always be tension associated with thinking, especially unwholesome negative thinking and even positive excited thinking.

He seems to take the relax step from the Anapanasati sutta where it says to tranquilize bodily and mental formations and he takes that and brings it into Metta practice as well. It’s definitely useful for me.

I have learned by asking questions here and my own inquiry, that it seems that whatever brings one progress (aka personality development in the direction of renunciation and peace) is a good way to practice. I like to follow the Buddha’s teaching as directly as I know how, but I suppose if the practice does not lead to more greed, hatred and delusion like the Kalama Sutta says, then the practice is good for that person.

I really appreciate being able to ask questions and get honest feedback here from monastics and lay people alike and consider it to shape my practice further.

Thank you all who have responded to any questions or comments I make. I appreciate you, truly.



This is where I think the agrarian nature of the Buddha’s society, the closer - unsanitised - proximity to death and illness, caused people to be more feeling based than thinking based; more concrete, less abstract.

Based on this, I feel it might have been easier to get in touch with how loving kindness feels on a sort of tactile level. Thus, perhaps it wasn’t as hard for people back then to get in touch with the feeling of metta and grow it. Perhaps when the Buddha spoke about metta, there was a shared knowledge that was already assumed and so he didn’t need to clarify it too much.

Today we are so in our heads. We’re less in in tune with the cycles of nature, especially our own. Everything seems to be at least touched or in some cases, immersed in, abstraction.

Thus to answer this question, I think we first need to recognise that, most of us, need to learn how to feel. To be truly present. Metta is an emotional state, to experience it or maintain or grow it, we need to feel it first. From this point, we might find we understand, feel, the Buddha’s words on metta in the EBTs in different and unexpected ways.

cjmacie, this is an absolutely beautiful question and I can’t wait to read the other answers you get. Thank you very much for this lovely thread! :hibiscus: :butterfly:

With metta, :heartpulse:


I think the multiplicity of approaches work. I found the words ‘may I be well etc’ helped me give rise to the emotion. Ajhan Brahm’s kittens have helped many people. Some others may be able to think of their children or loved ones and feel metta that way. The important thing is while there are many doorways they all lead to the same single emotion.

Metta like Uposatha practice seems to have been practiced by people of other religions at the time of the Buddha, making it a very flexible practice. In the hands of master at spirituality, it is akin to finding a heap of gold dust- to mold into a path to nobility, taking it to a greater level than seen before. It, even in his own experience, never lead to Nibbana on its own, but was always conjoined with insight (vipassana) in the Buddha’s Dhamma.

Ven Anuruddha for example practiced a metta meditation that started with himself and expanded outwards concentrically. There is a metta meditation in the EBT that talks of having metta towards one person (to begin with?). So such variations were allowed by the Buddha and he asked these to be formally memorized.


Can you share the respective passages? Thank you!

  1. “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. It is in this way, householder, that it can be understood how these states are different in
    meaning and different in name.

It extends further:

villages…an area the size of two or three villages and an
area the size of one major kingdom…an area the size of one major kingdom and an area the
size of two or three major kingdoms…an area the size of two or three major kingdoms and an area the size of the earth bounded by the ocean, pervading it as exalted. MN127

This sutta gives good hints of doing metta meditation when having the five hidnrences (defiled radiance), when the metta is only sent to all directions (appamana cetovimutti) and to a limitless distance ie the entire universe (mahaggatta cetovimutti)

Mind-deliverance (cetovimutti) might be metta jhana, and is certainly beyond the five hindrances according to this sutta. We also know that metta culminates in 4th jhana (and the other divine abodes in 1st, 2nd and 3rd immaterial jhana respectively). I wonder if there is a sutta which explicitly states that cetovimutti is that same as jhana?

with metta


In what sense can these quotations be said to have “started with himself”? Is this (M127.8) intended to document “a metta meditation in the EBT that talks of having metta towards one person”, or is there some other sutta passage?

M127 here deals with the s/w subtle distinction between “appamāṇā cetovimutti” (deliverance of mind “pervading” free of measure or limit) and “mahaggatā cetovimutti” (deliverance of mind by “resolving” on what appears to be a process of “extension”, from the narrowly perceived to a broader scope). No mention of directing towards persons.

M128 and M31 do speak of a metta quality of cooperative action (bodily, speech, mental) among fellow monks, but seemingly more as an established modus operandi rather than as a learning process.


Bhante Vimalaramsi’s (BV) approach appears s/w enigmatic. Overall it seems quite in line with the dhamma, and very helpful to many who follow his teachings. On the other hand, his ideas seems related to the EBT passages only with a bit of stretch of the imagination.

For instance, the claim that “The first four ‘R’s are the four right efforts…”.
1: Recognize that mind’s attention has drifted away …_
2: Release your attachment to the thought or sensation by letting the distraction be—…
3: Relax any remaining tension or tightness …
4: Re-smile. Put that smile back on your lips and in your heart. Feel again that happy feeling of Lovingkindness.

According to, for instance, M141.29, the four aspects of Right Effort are:
1: make effort, arouse, exert that unwholesome states of mind don’t arise;
2: likewise that such states are abandoned;
3: likewise that wholesome states will arise; and
4: likewise to continue, strengthen, increase,… by development of arising wholesome states.

Over all, BV appears to depict the process as rather easy-going, even passive, whereas the sutta passage emphasizes “…makes effort, arouses energy, exerts his mind, and strives.” Particularly in BV’s 3rd and 4th steps are, as he puts is “drawn directly from the sutta”, i.e. a sort of example or paraphrase, but then stating “Right Effort and the 6Rs are exactly the same” is overstatement, at the least.

Another example (as the above from pp.20-21, taken from his book “A Guide to Tranquil Wisdom Insight Meditation”, available at:
page 20:
When he was teaching, the Buddha worked largely with uneducated farmers and merchants. He had to have a simple, effective practice that was easy and worked quickly. He had to have a method by which everyone could experience the path and benefits for them-selves easily and immediately.

From what I’ve seen, the sutta-s depict the Buddha interacting largely with people well into, educated in “spiritual” matters – Brahmins, political leaders, well-heeled supporters, various accomplished ascetic and practitioners, even leaders of other sects – as well as various people of simpler background. His path may be cast as “simple” in some sense (e.g. “suffering and the end of suffering”), but “easy” is a significant stretch of the imagination.

Clearly, BV’s method is framed to followers by making it “easy”, not unlike, for instance, other proponents of “jhana-lite” variants, and it’s obvious in this book that it’s encouraged for readers to sign-up for DhammaSukha programs to get all the details.


My apologies if this is not of interest to you anymore! I haven’t yet found the time to read it, but Bhikkhu Analayo’s book “Compassion and Emptiness in Early Buddhist Meditation” which can be found on his webpage here might contain something of relevance to your question.

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Something we’ve done is to recite the Buddhas words on loving kindness, and then contemplate them.

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Did you choose a particular translation?

I think it was the one above - just reciting in English.

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From MN 21 Simile of the Saw

Even if low-down bandits were to sever you limb from limb, anyone who had a malevolent thought on that account would not be following my instructions. If that happens, you should train like this: ’ Our minds will remain unaffected. We will blurt out no bad words. We will remain full of compassion, with a heart of love and no secret hate. We will meditate spreading a heart of love to that person. And with them as a basis, we will meditate spreading a heart full of love to everyone in the world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will.’ That’s how you should train.