Measured actions in the development of 'loving-kindness' meditation

I’d like to discuss the passage at sc40 in mn99 ( This is interesting because it describes some different aspects of mettā bhāvana.

  • It starts with a ‘directionality’ of the emotional cultivation. “The bhikkhu pervades one direction with [the intention/emotion/thoughts of love]”. Then proceeds on to each of the other 3 cardinal directions, then above and below (more directions relative to the meditator), and lastly all around. This division of directionality relative to the meditator, a segmenting of the space, and a gradual filling of the mental perception of space, is afaik unique in the Buddhist meditation methods. This has a ritualistic tone to it imo, and I can’t help but imagine that at least one monk in history practiced atop those ancient temples aligned to the 4 cardinal directions.

  • Then, the passage talks about how when heart/mind is developed in love to the point of release, no pamāṇakataṃ kammaṃ (measured actions) remain. This is where I have a question. What does this mean? Is it that usually we dole out emotions in measure, a bit at a time, and in this release there is no more measuring —love just flows on without reservation?

  • Lastly comes the metaphor of the drummer (or is it a conch horn trumpeter?) A skilled musician (of some class of instrument meant to project outwards in an even tone) could project their message to the four directions. So it is the simile for the mettā cultivator who should project their emotion/intention outwards in all directions of space.

Questions for discussion:

  1. What are your thoughts on the directions, space, and the possibly ritualistic nature of this meditation?
  2. What do measured actions mean in this context?
  3. Is the metaphor about a drummer or a conch horn blower? What kind of elements does the metaphor evoke?

Hi Matt,

Having a Wiki page for metta would be great, but I’m not sure that all these things would fit under a wiki page. The idea was to create a fairly simple, general introduction. So some background, major suttas, further reading and so on.

But as far as collecting all the resources there, I think that would make it too unwieldy. Instead, I would suggest that relevant material on Discourse be tagged “metta”, then a link to that tag can be provided. That is, if they are not already sufficiently described, which may be the case, I haven’t looked into it.

Similarly, if there are discussions of questions of interpretation and so on, best keep them, as here , in the Discussion section, with perhaps a summary of the issues and a link in the Wiki page.

Of course. I’ll work on it in that way. A/V can go in the A/V section tagged as metta and I’ll just link to the tag at the end of the wiki.

  1. Are the four cardinal directions associated in brahmin lore with the four castes? Or are they perhaps associated with the four elements that are in turn identified with different personality types? If so, then the instruction to permeate the four cardinal directions with these states of mind could be part of a general lesson to regard all human beings equally positively, without regard to social station or personality.

  2. On both measured actions and the drummer/horn blower, perhaps they are both aspects of the same idea. I know that just on an experiential practice level, when I do metta meditation in the way the suttas describe (effortfully “permeating” space with metta, “radiating” metta etc.), rather than in the subsequent commentarial way (thinking of individual people) it feels like one is dissolving or rupturing a kind of bounded body-space and opening up into something that feels unbounded, or at least not discernibly bounded. But also, one gets the impression from both the suttas and many traditional Buddhists that the view was that metta (and mudita, etc.) are literally something like waves or light that can be sent outward to have a real effect on the things that are in its path. That’s one reason why metta is regarded as protective.


Dear Friend,

[quote=“SCMatt, post:1, topic:3545”]
Is it that usually we dole out emotions in measure, a bit at a time,[/quote]
Who told you to dole out our your emotions? I hope, you haven’t trained that a lot. Leave the emotions as they are =). Don’t push or pull. :slight_smile:

yes, when you come to the 4th Jhana, there is no limitation anymore.

Jumbo Metta 4 U :heart:

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I was able to find this paper:
The Gods of the Directions in Ancient India: Origin and Early Development in Art and Literature (until c. 1000 A.D.)

Seems the main association with the directions was the gods, and there’s a similar assocation in later Buddhism: see lokapāla and Four Heavenly Kings. (edit: also in the early texts DN20 for instance)

This is probably the most relevant and interesting quote:

A highly interesting ritual aspect which throws light on their [the directions] conceptual importance is the ritual “mounting of the regions” (digvyāsthāpanam), which is done with the desire to attain the heavenly state. Thus the directions are conceived as forming the entrance to the celestial region, from which the whole world can be mastered. In connection with this, it has been maintained that, on a microcosmic level, ‘the regions’ (points of the compass) correspond to the covers of the embryo.

This seems to be very closely associated with the Buddha’s advice in MN99. The path to being born in the world of Brahmā, to entering that heavenly state, is to pervade the directions (with mettā). However, in the usual magnificent fashion the Buddha places the emphasis away from the gods and the ritual; towards an ethical/emotional quality.

I also found it interesting that the concept of the relative directions evolved over time. The author says that the earliest mentions of the directions only list the 4 cardinal; I would be willing to guess that this is the most primitive form of directionality in all other world cultures (among those that have such a concept). This concept progressed on to a 5th, 6th, the intermediary/ordinal directions: NW, SW, etc., and eventually there came to be 10 or more directions (including the zenith (overhead) and nadir (underneath)). In discussion of the directions relation to the triloka, she says “the sequence implies a progress towards the concept of totality.” This progress towards totality is also reflected in the Buddhist meditation.

On measured actions, and the boundary of this meat-bag I think it’s little known that in some circles of ancient Indian thought it was believed that whatever the consciousness contemplates it assumes the form of. Which is why seemingly boundless subjects like the sky or space are sometimes recommended for contemplation.

You may be right about the simile applying more to the measured actions, the “making known” of the message, pervading the space. Whether we interpret the musician as a conch-blower or drummer, they both play music and music can be “measured” — “In musical notation, a bar (or measure) is a segment of time corresponding to a specific number of beats in which each beat is represented by a particular note value .” In this way, I can’t help but also imagine the drummer being appropriate as a metaphor for the heart. Sidetrack, btw, but here’s another question: why is the hridaya/heart never mentioned in a spiritual context in the suttas?

I’m still a bit unsure about what exactly measured actions are though, if they are referring to the actual practice of the meditation/cultivation, or something else?

Do you have a reference for that? My understanding was this was a later idea.

Thanks so much, another paper for my reading list! It is a fascinating topic, which I think sheds some genuine light on the suttas.

But it is. It’s not used all that commonly, and doesn’t occur in many central doctrinal contexts. But it does feature in the description of giving up harsh speech:

They speak in a way that’s mellow, pleasing to the ear, kind, going to the heart, polite, likable and agreeable to many people.

And there’s a number of other interesting uses, mostly in verse. Among them, AN 10.6:

Atthassa pattiṃ hadayassa santiṃ,
I’ve reached the goal, peace of heart.

Thag 1.119:

Nibbānaṃ hadayasmiṃ opiya
Putting nibbāna in your heart.

Thag 2.2:

Nāhāro hadayassa santiko
But food doesn’t lead to peace of heart.

Thig 3.5 (and elsewhere) craving is said to be:

duddasaṃ hadayassitaṃ
Hard to see, nestling in the heart

There’s more, but I think you get the idea.

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Anyone else with ideas on what ‘pamāṇakataṃ kammaṃ’ are?

Mettā in Other Suttas [DN13]

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I was intrigued to note that all but one of the examples given come from verses of the elders, so I figured I’d join in the game with one from the Sutta Nipata: Snp 4.15 uses the same phrase as quoted here.

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Bhikku Bodhi says “limiting action” for pamāṇakataṃ kammaṃ and defines them as kammas of the sense-spheres (as opposed to the kamma of a liberation of the heart/mind). He goes on to say that when the mettā meditation is developed to the level of a brahmāvihāra (as a liberation of heart/mind), such that one can enter that liberation of mind at will; then, at death, that liberative kamma will take precedence over the limiting kamma of the sense-spheres and one will be reborn in the Brahma world.

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