Metta towards myself in suttas?

We know the practice where we direct metta towards ourselves - but is this based on suttas at all? I found this specific practice only in the Visuddhimagga.


From a recent paper from Venerable Analayo:

The idea of directing mettā to oneself might be related to a particular term used in the standard Pāli description of the meditative radiation. Different editions of the Pāli discourses vary in the spelling of this term, which can occur either as sabbatthatāya or as sabbattatāya. The difference involves a single letter, which is either an aspirated th or else an unaspirated t (after sabbat- and before -atāya). An aspirated and an unaspirated consonant can easily be confused with each other.

The meaning of the two terms, however, is quite different. The first mentioned reading sabbatthatāya conveys the sense “in every way.” The other reading sabbattatāya, which is the version accepted by the Visuddhimagga (Vism 308), can convey the sense “to all as to oneself.” In the standard description of the radiation, the term in question occurs between sabbadhi, “everywhere,” and sabbāvantaṃ lokaṃ, “the entire world.” The repetition of near synonyms occurs with high frequency in oral Pāli texts, making it fairly probable that the term under discussion expresses a meaning closely similar to what precedes and what follow it. This supports the sense “in every way” as the more likely reading. In fact, the alternative idea “to all as to oneself” does not seem to be attested anywhere else in the Pāli discourses (Maithrimurthi 1999). A comparative study of parallels to Pāli descriptions of the boundless radiation confirms the impression that the original idea would have been “in every way” (Anālayo 2015). Given that the Visuddhimagga opts for the other reading, the variant “to all as to oneself” might have triggered, or else at least supported, the arising of the idea that the practice should be directed toward oneself.

Anālayo, B. Immeasurable Meditations and Mindfulness. Mindfulness 10, 2620–2628 (2019).


Here’s an example from SN 46.54:

Ven. Sujato:

‘Come, mendicants, give up these five hindrances, corruptions of the heart that weaken wisdom, and meditate spreading a heart full of love to one direction, and to the second, and to the third, and to the fourth. In the same way above, below, across, everywhere, all around, spread a heart full of love to the whole world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will.

Ven. Bodhi:

‘Come, bhikkhus, abandon the five hindrances, the corruptions of the mind that weaken wisdom, and dwell pervading one quarter with a mind imbued with lovingkindness, likewise the second quarter, the third quarter, and the fourth quarter. Thus above, below, across, and everywhere, and to all as to oneself, dwell pervading the entire world with a mind imbued with lovingkindness, vast, exalted, measureless, without hostility, without ill will.


Thanks, that answers my question, basically confirming that the explicit practice of self-metta is an innovation of the Vism. The ‘variant reading’ also goes against the rest of the suttas which don’t mention self-metta.

Of course there is a general wish to be well in the suttas, otherwise sutta-Buddhism wouldn’t make sense. But still, metta seems to be a specific practice, not explicitly with oneself in mind but rather other beings.


My impression is that there explicit references to other beings in suttas about kamma, e.g. AN 2.211:

They have a kind heart and loving intentions: ‘May these sentient beings live free of enmity and ill will, untroubled and happy!’

but that the standard brahmavihara descriptions don’t contain any reference to beings, oneself or others, just radiating or pervading with a mind filled with metta, compassion, etc.

I.e. they don’t seem to assume that you have anyone in particular in mind when doing metta, as far as I can tell.

Edit: But see SN 46.54 which I quoted from above. There the brahmaviharas are done after having given up the hindrances, i.e. as an advanced practice.

Most of us are doing metta as a form of wholesome kamma / right effort as described in AN 2.211 I think.

It might make sense to do it more explicitly towards beings a la “may all beings be well” at that stage.


I would also say that developing metta to oneself pertains to an earlier factor of the path: right thought (samma-sankappo), which is threefold:

And what is right thought?
It is the thought of renunciation, good will, and harmlessness.
This is called right thought.


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Yes, of course you’re right. The brahmaviharas are an abstract meditation. But in the mettasuttas AN 8.1 and Snp 1.8 we find good evidence that metta as an applied principle referred to other beings.

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Sorry that I stay technical here, but I was looking explicitly for metta, while I’m sure there are many similar terms that somehow fit, eg abyāpāda in SN 45.8.

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Fair enough. I will not be able to give you a sutta which equates abyapada to metta, and the same would apply for avihimsa and karuna. Maybe someone more skilled in pali, bhante @Dhammanando?

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That was actually a good idea. In several suttas overcoming byāpāda is either a condition for metta meditation, or the two are presented as opposing terms (SN 42.8, SN 42.11, SN 46.51, AN 1.17, AN 6.13, AN 9.1, AN 9.3, DN 33, DN 34). But also in AN 3.66 and AN 10.219 the two (abyāpāda and metta) seem to be synonymous.

Still, is abyāpāda applied to myself in the sense of “May I be well, may I be free from suffering”?

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That’s a good point, Erik. As I’m sure you know, the brahmaviharas sometimes stand in the place of the jhanas in some accounts of the gradual training (i.e., occurring after overcoming the hindrances). And yet MN 97 seems to indicate that the brahmavihara radiation wasn’t intended only as an advanced practice.

In that sutta, Sāriputta teaches that meditation to Dhanañjāni on his deathbed, and Dhanañjāni must have practiced it correctly because he was reborn in the Brahmā realm. But the sutta’s descriptions of Dhanañjāni paint him as a very busy, somewhat immoral householder. To me, it seems unlikely that he was a meditator at all, much less an advanced one.


If I may request: please keep the discussion focused on ‘Metta directed to myself’, including synonyms for metta.


I agree, and I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from taking up brahmavihara practice at any level :slight_smile:

Good point!


AN 8.1 talks about compassion for all creatures. This would include oneself as well, right?


I can’t think of a passage in the first four Nikāyas which explicitly equates mettā with abyāpāda and karuṇā with avihiṃsā.

Here are a few from the Khuddaka Nikāya and the Abhidhamma Piṭaka, which do make this equation.

  1. The definition of adosa kusalamūla in Peṭakopadesa 125.

Tattha katamaṃ adoso kusalamūlaṃ? Yā sattesu vā saṅkhāresu vā anaghāto appaṭighāto abyāpatti abyāpādo adoso mettā mettāyanā atthakāmatā hitakāmatā cetaso pasādo, ayaṃ adoso kusalamūlaṃ.

Herein, what is the wholesome root of freedom from hate? Any freedom from annoyance, freedom from aversion, freedom from willing ill, freedom from ill will, freedom from hate, lovingkindness, kindly-loving, desire for good, desire for welfare, confidence of heart, with respect to living beings or formations is the wholesome root of freedom from hate.

  1. The definition of bhāvanā in Peṭakopadesa 149.

Tattha katamā bhāvanā? Mettāsevanā abyāpādavitakkabhāvanā. Karuṇāsevanā avihiṃsāvitakkabhāvanā.

Herein, what is development? The cultivation of lovingkindness is the development of thoughts free from ill-will. The cultivation of compassion is the development of thoughts free from cruelty.

  1. The definition of adosa in Dhammasaṅgaṇī 188-9.

Tattha katamo adoso? Yo adoso adussanā adussitattaṃ metti mettāyanā mettāyitattaṃ anuddā anuddāyanā anudāyitattaṃ hitesitā anukampā abyāpādo abyāpajjo adoso kusalamūlaṃ: ayaṃ vuccati adoso.

What is the absence of hate?
The absence of hate, hating, hatred; love, loving, loving disposition; tender care, forbearance, considerateness; seeking the general good, compassion; the absence of malice, of malignity; that absence of hate which is the root of good (karma). This is the absence of hate.

The Group of Pairs

  1. The definition of abyāpāda-dhātu in Vibhaṅga 86.

Tattha katamā abyāpādadhātu? Abyāpādapaṭisaṃyutto takko vitakko …pe… sammāsaṅkappo: ayaṃ vuccati ‘‘abyāpādadhātu’’. Yā sattesu metti mettāyanā mettāyitattaṃ mettācetovimutti: ayaṃ vuccati ‘‘abyāpādadhātu’’.

Therein what is the element of absence of ill-will? The mentation, thinking, (See above). right thought, associated with absence of ill-will. This is called the element of absence of ill-will. That which in beings is loving, act of loving-kindness, state of loving-kindness, loving-kindness that is mental freedom (from ill-will). This is called the element of absence of ill-will.


  1. The Niddesa to the 13th verse of the Sāriputtasutta (untranslated).

Mettāya phasse tasathāvarānī ti.
Mettā ti yā sattesu metti mettāyanā mettāyitattaṃ anudayā anudayanā anudayitattaṃ hitesitā anukampā abyāpādo abyāpajjo adoso kusalamūlaṃ.

And it seems to be strongly implied in…

  1. The Kathāvatthu’s debate on the mutual consecutiveness of the wholesome and the unwholesome.

Akusalamūlaṃ paṭisandahati kusalamūlanti? Āmantā. Kāmasaññāya anantarā nekkhammasaññā uppajjati, byāpādasaññāya anantarā abyāpādasaññā uppajjati, vihiṃsāsaññāya anantarā avihiṃsāsaññā uppajjati, byāpādassa anantarā mettā uppajjati, vihiṃsāya anantarā karuṇā uppajjati, aratiyā anantarā muditā uppajjati, paṭighassa anantarā upekkhā uppajjatīti?


  1. The definition of mettācetovimutti in the Mettākathā chapter of the Paṭisambhidāmagga.

Sabbesaṃ sattānaṃ pīḷanaṃ vajjetvā apīḷanāya, upaghātaṃ vajjetvā anupaghātena, santāpaṃ vajjetvā asantāpena, pariyādānaṃ vajjetvā apariyādānena, vihesaṃ vajjetvā avihesāya, sabbe sattā averino hontu mā verino, sukhino hontu mā dukkhino, sukhitattā hontu mā dukkhitattāti: imehi aṭṭhahākārehi sabbe satte mettāyatīti: mettā. Taṃ dhammaṃ cetayatīti: ceto. Sabbabyāpādapariyuṭṭhānehi vimuccatīti: Vimutti. Mettā ca ceto ca vimutti cāti: mettācetovimutti.

It is lovingkindness (mettā) since it treats kindly (mettāyati) in these eight aspects, namely: by rejecting in the case of all beings their oppression for their non-oppression, by rejecting their injury for their non-injury, by rejecting their disappointment for their non-disappointment, by rejecting their deprivation for their non-deprivation, by rejecting their harrassment for their non-harrassment, with the thought: ‘Let all beings be free from enmity and not inimical, have pleasure and not pain, have bliss in their hearts and not pain in their hearts’. It is will (ceto) since it wills that (cetāyati). It is deliverance (vimutti) since it is delivered (vimuccati) from all obsession by ill-will. Lovingkindness (mettā) and will (ceto) and deliverance (vimutti): these are deliverance of will by lovingkindness.


Thank you once again for your attention, time and reply bhante. :anjal:

Perhaps not directly relevant to the OP, except tangentially; insofar as the descriptions of the emotional development radiation practices mention “the world” (loka), they are probably referring to ‘the world of experience’. A translation such as “In the same way above, below, across, everywhere, all around, spread a heart full of love to the whole world” (SN46.54), might make it seem to the modern mind that the abstract notion of “all beings” are to be brought to mind :peace_symbol:, but perhaps it’s more the sense of fill your whole mind/experience (especially your abstract concept of space) with this emotion. I remember encountering this problem when studying Schopenhauer with a group, we kept hearing “the world” as the physical/material world with it’s beings, when he meant the ‘world of experience’. Of course, this is hard to convey with translation, I’m sure.

PS - An interesting little bit regarding how the radiation practice relates to space is found in Bhikkhu Analayo’s “Compassion and Emptiness” book: I can’t find the direct quote right now, but it goes something like “mahaggatena” (grown great) meant when the mind was able to dwell on a large area like a room, and is used elsewhere in the suttas apparently. It’s like a stage before appamāṇa (boundless), not a synonym, and is also mentioned in the culasunnata sutta I think.


The problem with this theory is that when in the Visuddhimagga Buddhaghosa imagines someone objecting to the idea of developing mettā for oneself…

… does it not conflict with what is said in the texts? For there is no mention of any development of it towards oneself in what is said in the Vibhaṅga: “And how does a bhikkhu dwell pervading one direction with his heart filled with loving-kindness? Just as he would feel loving-kindness on seeing a dearly loved person, so he pervades all beings with loving-kindness” (Vibh 272); and in what is said in the Paṭisambhidā: “In what five ways is the mind-deliverance of loving-kindness [practiced] with unspecified pervasion? May all beings be free from enmity, affliction and anxiety and live happily. May all breathing things … all who are born … all persons … all those who have a personality be free from enmity, affliction and anxiety and live happily” (Paṭis II 130); and in what is said in the Mettā Sutta: “In joy and safety may all beings be joyful at heart” (Sn 145). [Does it not conflict with those texts?]

… he does not reply by citing any of the sutta passages that contain the word sabbattatāya, which is what we should expect him to do if this was the source of the idea.

On the contrary, he admits that the canonical texts cited by the objector don’t mention attani bhāvanā, but explains that this is because the texts in question are describing the development of mettā that gives rise to jhāna rather than the preliminary arousing of mettā.

Then, in support of attani bhāvanā, he cites the Mallikāsutta. Here’s his reply in full:

It does not conflict. Why not? Because that refers to absorption. But this initial development towards oneself refers to making oneself an example. For even if he developed loving-kindness for a hundred or a thousand years in this way, “I am happy” and so on, absorption would never arise. But if he develops it in this way: “I am happy. Just as I want to be happy and dread pain, as I want to live and not to die, so do other beings, too,” making himself the example, then desire for other beings’ welfare and happiness arises in him. And this method is indicated by the Blessed One’s saying:

“I visited all quarters with my mind
Nor found I any dearer than myself;
Self is likewise to every other dear;
Who loves himself will never harm another.”
(S I 75; Ud 47)

So he should first, as example, pervade himself with loving-kindness. Next after that, in order to proceed easily, he can recollect such gifts, kind words, etc., as inspire love and endearment, such virtue, learning, etc., as inspire respect and reverence met with in a teacher or his equivalent or a preceptor or his equivalent, developing loving-kindness towards him in the way beginning, “May this good man be happy and free from suffering.” With such a person, of course, he attains absorption.

One further point of interest is that the understanding of sabbattatāya reported by Anālayo isn’t the only one acknowledged by Buddhaghosa. In his more expansive treatment of the term in the Sammohavinodanī, he offers two:

Sabbattatāyā ti sabbesu hīnamajjhimukkaṭṭhamittasapattamajjhattādippabhedesu attatāya ‘ayaṃ parasatto’ ti vibhāgaṃ akatvā attasamatāyāti vuttaṃ hoti.
Atha vā sabbattatāyā ti sabbena cittabhāvena īsakampi bahi avikkhipamānoti vuttaṃ hoti.

Sabbattatāya (“equally”): to all classed as inferior, medium and superior, friendly, inimical, neutral, etc., just as to oneself (attatā); equality with oneself (attasamatā) without making the distinction “this is another being” is what is said.

Or alternatively, sabbattatāya: with the whole state of the mind, not allowing oneself to be distracted outside even a little, is what is said.
(Vibh-a. 377-8; Dispeller of Delusion II 114)


According to a certain logic, yes. But I’d say that I’m not a ‘being’, I’m the subject. For example when on uposatha I vow not to kill any being, I don’t mean that I won’t commit suicide. Anyhow, I understand if your logical argument satisfies you but for me it’s not explicit enough.

Wow! Really? :confounded: