Metta: Early Buddhism and Buddhaghosa: Doug Smith

I won’t be posting each and every video that Doug produces, but this vid on Metta I felt very worth including here. Thanks again, @dougsmith . I offer this posting to invite comments and discussion of the themes of this fine video Doug has produced.

Doug provides a very nice history of the developments through time of Metta as a practice, from the time of the Buddha through the Visuddhimagga. Doug also nicely references the incoporation of Metta into modern practices of the development of self-compassion and self-care.

Doug describes the practice of Metta as depicted in the Visuddhimagga as an “innovation” by Buddhaghosa, this being the more familiar practice of Metta cultivation for ourselves and the three other individuals ( loved one, neutral, and hostile person). Having not studied the Visuddhimagga, and seeing the practice of Metta through the Early Texts and the Metta Sutta, I can’t fully agree that the Early Texts were silent as to the cultivation of Metta for oneself. It seems Metta was a pre-Buddhist practice of the Jains, and known to the Brahmins, and was incorporated by the Buddha in, perhaps, a more or less mature form. The Metta bhavana within the Buddha’s time would, by necessity and implication, develop from a foundation of Metta for oneself, and that Metta would then be cultivated with others as the object. One can’t “trumpet” this quality unless one has the “music” in one’s own heart, it seems to me. This may not be described in specific terms in the early texts ( but for "all beings) , but I do feel that the bhavana of Metta for oneself would be integral, or at least very much implied in the early Suttas. Again, I am reluctant to write this as I do not have the history of quality scholarship that Doug has invested, and I am not a student of the Visuddhimagga. I may, in fact, be talking out of my a** here, which would not be first for me.


Thanks very much for your comments @AnagarikaMichael. I should have made clearer in the video that the innovations were probably not Buddhaghosa’s in particular, but that they instead went back to the earlier texts from which he drew.

I have also to thank Andy Olendzki for his work on the development of mettā meditation, from which I have drawn indirectly over the years. (As I best recall, he feels that mettā towards oneself is, in a sense, inappropriate, or that it would have been seen as such in the early teachings). That said, any errors are my own. You may well be right that I’ve overlooked materials, and if so I hope folks will let me know either here or at YouTube in the comments section! :anjal:


Gosh, no, Doug…no suggestion that you overlooked anything. I just enjoyed your presentation, and it invited in me some thought about this history. Perhaps others will weigh in, and I thank you for opening the door to what could be some very interesting discussion. Of course, on some level, it’s difficult to say anything about this history with absolute certainty, at least in certain subjects. Aside from Bhante Sujato’s scholarship, I have enjoyed some of Prof. John Peacock’s talks on the Brahmaviharas, and his view of them brought to light some interesting aspects of these practices from the pre-Buddhist and Buddhist periods. Good stuff, and thanks again, Doug. :anjal:


Dear @AnagarikaMichael and Doug, thanks for posting and making this video. Personally I always find it very inspiring to see people talking about metta; in fact the first two posts of this thread was enough to make me go meditate! :hatched_chick:

Doug, in the video you mention that the metta technique offered by Buddhaghosa’s may be easier to follow. However, I know anecdotally that some people actually find the EBT pervading technique easier to follow.

In my own practice I find the EBT technique less complicated, because I don’t have to invoke complicated feelings about the people I know personally.

You might also be interested to know that in the saw parable (e.g. MN 21), regarding the saw-bearing bandits:

‘Neither will our minds become perverted nor will we utter an evil speech, but kindly and compassionate will we dwell, with a mind of friendliness, void of hatred; and we will dwell having suffused that person with a mind of friendliness; and, beginning with him, we will dwell having suffused the whole world with a mind of friendliness that is far-reaching, widespread, immeasurable, without enmity, without malevolence.’

The practice of metta here, as far as I can see, actually starts with the bandit who is carving your limbs, and then out to the whole world.

In the EBTs, the brahmaviharas are also cast as a spiritual path that has been known in the past, e.g. AN 7.66 (excerpt):

Bhikkhus, in the past, there was a Teacher called Sunetta, one free of greed who helped to cross the ford…

Then the Teacher Sunetta developed loving kindness for seven years. Having developed loving kindness for seven years, he did not come to this world for seven forward and backward world cycles. During the forward world cycles he was born a radiant god and during the backward world cycles was born in an empty Brahma paradise…

Bhikkhus, that Teacher Sunetta with long life and long standing was not released from birth, decay, death, grief, lament, unpleasantness and displeasure, I say not released from unpleasantness.

What is the reason? For not realizing and experiencing four things. What four?

Not realizing and experiencing the virtues, concentration, wisdom and release of the noble ones.

The feeling I get from reading the EBTs is that the brahmaviharas are great, but it’s stressed that in themselves they only lead to a good rebirth, and not the end of suffering. So the brahmaviharas are not ‘the ultimate teaching’ like the Buddha’s dhamma is.

Also interestingly, according to MA 27, by practicing the brahmaviharas “again and again, a male or female lay follower can eradicate sensual desire and relinquish thoughts related to sensual desire”.

With metta!


Thanks very much for your reply, Erik! Yes, I am familiar with MN 21, it’s a good point to note that this includes mettā towards a particular person, and does indicate that the practice found in the Visuddhimagga isn’t so far from what is found in the suttas. And yes, I should probably have said more about the fact that mettā practice probably predates the Buddha. (There are so many nuances!)

I didn’t get into Gombrich’s notion that the brahmavihāras are liberative; I will probably do a later video on that topic. But that said, I agree with what you say.

Your MA 27 citation is interesting as well! Of course, the brahmavihāras shouldn’t involve sensual desire, but I hadn’t thought of them as a practice for eliminating sensual desire. Perhaps through upekkhā?

With mettā. :anjal:


Ohh, this reminds me of MA 16, where it is said that someone who practices the “liberation of the mind through loving kindness” will “definitely attain the fruit of non-returning”.

It could be interesting to see if all the accounts of brahmavihara practice which did not lead to the ending of suffering are described without this “liberation of the mind” phrase. I suspect the phrase refers to using brahmavihara to get into the right samadhi of the Noble Eightfold path.

Also, MA 16 mentions that “whether layperson or renunciant” one should “diligently practice liberation of the mind through loving-kindness”. It’s nice to see laypeople being explicitly mentioned in this way.[quote=“dougsmith, post:5, topic:5284”]
Your MA 27 citation is interesting as well! Of course, the brahmavihāras shouldn’t involve sensual desire, but I hadn’t thought of them as a practice for eliminating sensual desire. Perhaps through upekkhā?
I think this would be interesting to explore. There is a certain pleasure in practicing metta, perhaps this can be developed to the point where one gets one’s thrills there rather than in the 5 senses?

It seems to me that one’s brahmavihara practice would just have to result in more pleasure than that of the 5 senses for it to work.

With metta!

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It is a very good video.
However, many commentators fail to mention the Buddhist Metta in its full context.

"Then again, a monk keeps pervading the first direction[2] with an awareness imbued with good will, likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth. Thus above, below, & all around, everywhere, in its entirety, he keeps pervading the all-encompassing cosmos with an awareness imbued with good will — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, without hostility, without ill will. He reflects on this and discerns, ‘This awareness-release through good will is fabricated & intended. Now whatever is fabricated & intended is inconstant & subject to cessation.’ Staying right there, he reaches the ending of the mental fermentations. Or, if not, then — through this very Dhamma-passion, this Dhamma-delight, and from the total wasting away of the first five Fetters — he is due to be reborn [in the Pure Abodes], there to be totally unbound, never again to return from that world.


Very nice video, presentation & transmission, Doug. :slight_smile:

The EBTs state the brahmavihāras are liberative (e.g. AN 11.15; MN 43) however, contrary to Gomrich’s take on DN 13, MN 43 states brahmavihāra is not the foremost liberation, i.e., Nibbana.

There is the case where a monk keeps pervading the first direction — as well as the second direction, the third & the fourth — with an awareness imbued with good will…This is called the immeasurable awareness-release (cetovimutti; liberation of mind).

And what is the emptiness awareness-release? There is the case where a monk, having gone into the wilderness, to the root of a tree, or into an empty dwelling, considers this: ‘This is empty of self or of anything pertaining to self.’

Now, to the extent that there is immeasurable awareness-release, the unprovoked awareness-release is declared the foremost. And this unprovoked awareness-release is empty of passion, empty of aversion, empty of delusion (cetovimutti suññā rāgena, suññā dosena, suññā mohena).

MN 43

Kind regards :seedling: