"There is no love in 'Loving-kindness'" video

“There is no love in ‘Loving-kindness’” Video Title is almost click-bait rhetoric. But interesting talk, and I’m curious how Pali scholars especially might comment.

metta, mudita, karuna, upekkha

Hillside Hermitage Mar 14, 2020

His explanation of Brahmaviharas matches the ones given by Thanissaro Bhikkhu in The Sublime Attitudes

The Pali word for love is not mettā. It’s pema. As the Buddha points out, pema is partial by nature. When you love people, you tend to love anyone who treats them well, and to hate anyone who mistreats them. And there are cases where you love anyone who mistreats the people you hate (§1.1). For this reason, love is not a good basis for an attitude that is universally skillful toward all.
Because mettā is essentially an impartial wish for happiness, it’s best translated as goodwill.

The same discourse (§1.2) goes on to say that when you’re developing this attitude, you should protect it with all your vigilance and strength.
As a mother would risk her life
to protect her child, her only child,
even so should one cultivate a limitless heart
with regard to all beings.

This passage has to be read carefully and in context. It’s sometimes understood as saying that we should be willing to sacrifice our lives to protect all others, in the same way that a mother would sacrifice her life for the sake of her child. Putting aside the fact that such a requirement is simply impossible to carry out, there is nowhere in the Canon where the Buddha states this as a moral responsibility.

Personally I find it more convincing, especially since it works better for my own Brahmavihara practice to follow the instructions in the suttas than following the instructions of the Visuddhimagga.


Hi, while I am not a Pali scholar but merely a Pali student, I have found that video dialogue also interesting with some helpful advise relevant to my practice. There is a discourse by Buddha, on the topic of developing the 4 Brahma Viharas (sometimes called 4 Sublime states of mind, or 4-Aspects of the Universal Love), which leads to Cetovimutti. It is SN 46: 54

That discourse helped me to understand what the Buddha meant by that practice and its outcomes, and to improve my practice That Sutta is unique, I have not heard any Buddhist teacher use it in explaining the practice of these 4 states of mind.


The wordless interaction of the dog was priceless in its metta. :pray:
:service_dog: :heart:


Riffing on a english language saying and disney movie - all dogs get fortunate rebirths.

They don’t intellectualize; most of them just try to be Good and to give and inspire generosity, in all directions, as best they understand. Sadhu, ajahn doggies.

I think its true that metta may not ultimately depend on identification with or relationship to other beings. However, the story about the baby was disturbing. There’s i-making in arrogance.


I think the two monks (like Ajahn Thanissaro before them) are quite correct in their reading of Mettasutta’s “mother and her only child” simile. The grammar does indeed require that one’s unlimitedly mettāful state of mind (not “all beings”) be taken as corresponding to “the only child”.

As for their claim that there’s no love in lovingkindness, this strikes me as only trivially true. Ven. Ñāṇamoli has apparently decided from the outset that he’s going to limit the meaning of “love” to those senses that correspond to the Pali term pema (i.e., affection involving attachment). If you do that, then it does indeed follow that “there’s no love in lovingkindness”, but only because you’ve made it so by arbitrarily limiting the semantic range of “love” and disregarding all the reported senses of the word that don’t correspond to pema.


This is precisely what I was thinking about when I saw this. It seems like he’s limiting the semantic range of the word love to strictly mean a worldly kind of love. But the word love in English is used broadly, and in many contexts, especially religious ones, it has different, more refined meanings.


yes, and, AFAIK, that sort of broad usage is also not unique to english. I am thinking of philia and agape in greek, but I think many other languages might have examples.

:anjal: :meditation:


I realise this thread is two years old, but thought to address this point, as there seems to be a hole here that is immediately relevant to this more recent thread (where I’ve articulated the issues with translating metta as love). Below is a list of definitions for love in multiple dictionaries. It must be noted that all but one of the definitions I’ve found connect the word love to some form of attachment or define it as deeply personal. The only definition that is not related to attachment is offered right down the bottom of Mariam Webster. Oxford Dictionary and Dictionary.com don’t even offer this as an everyday definition.

There is an additional point to consider. Many times, when love is used in a non-romantic or spiritual way it is often prefixed by the word unconditional. The need for such a prefix is a clue that the word love in and of itself does not commonly have that meaning.

Given the evidence, the monks at Hillside Hermitage are not defining the word love arbitrarily.

Oxford Learner’s Dictionary

  1. A very strong feeling of liking and caring for somebody/something, especially a member of your family or a friend.
  2. A strong feeling of romantic attraction for somebody
  3. The strong feeling of pleasure that something gives you
  4. A person, a thing or an activity that you like very much
  5. A word used as a friendly way of addressing somebody

Oxford English Dictionary

  1. A feeling or disposition of deep affection or fondness for someone, typically arising from a recognition of attractive qualities, from natural affinity, or from sympathy and manifesting itself in concern for the other’s welfare and pleasure in his or her presence
  2. As an abstract quality or principle. (Sometimes personified.)
  3. As a count noun: an instance of affection or fondness. Also: †an act of kindness (obsolete).
  4. The benevolence and affection of God towards an individual or towards creation; (also) the affectionate devotion due to God from an individual; regard and consideration of one human being towards another prompted by a sense of a common relationship to God.
  5. Strong predilection, liking, or fondness (for something); devotion (to something).
  6. An intense feeling of romantic attachment based on an attraction felt by one person for another; intense liking and concern for another person, typically combined with sexual passion.
  7. An instance of being in love. Also in plural: love affairs, amatory relations.
  8. Sexual desire or lust, esp. as a physiological instinct; amorous sexual activity, sexual intercourse.
  9. A person who is beloved of another, esp. a sweetheart (cf. true love n. 4a); also (rare) in extended use of animals.
  10. As a form of address to one’s beloved and (in modern informal use) also familiarly to a close acquaintance or (more widely) anyone whom one encounters. Frequently with possessive adjective.
  11. An object of love; a person who or thing which is loved, the beloved (of); a passion, preoccupation.
  12. A charming or delightful person or thing.
  13. The personification of romantic or sexual affection, usually portrayed as masculine, and more or less identified with the Eros, Amor, or Cupid of Classical mythology
  14. epresentations or personifications of Cupid; mythological gods of love, or attendants of the goddess of love; figures or representations of the god of love. Frequently with modifying word.


  1. A profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.
  2. A feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.
  3. Sexual passion or desire.
  4. a person toward whom love is felt; beloved person; sweetheart.
  5. Used as a term of endearment, affection, or the like
  6. A love affair; an intensely amorous incident; amour.
  7. Sexual intercourse; copulation.
  8. Love, a personification of sexual affection, as Eros or Cupid.
  9. Affectionate concern for the well-being of others
  10. Strong predilection, enthusiasm, or liking for anything:
  11. The object or thing so liked
  12. The benevolent affection of God for His creatures, or the reverent affection due from them to God.

Mariam Webster

  1. Strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties
  2. Attraction based on sexual desire : affection and tenderness felt by lovers
  3. Affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests
  4. An assurance of affection
  5. Warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion
  6. The object of attachment, devotion, or admiration
  7. A beloved person : darling —often used as a term of endearment
  8. Unselfish loyal and benevolent (see benevolent sense 1a) concern for the good of another

I think it unwise to put much trust in the Merriam-Webster, which is a very third-rate dictionary and always has been. Even back in 1828 (a markedly less secular time than ours, in which the agape sense of love enjoyed great prominence and nearly every literate English-speaking Christian knew 1 Corinthians 13 by heart) we find the first edition of the MW absurdly relegating this sense of the word to 4th place, outranked by “courtship” and “patriotism”.

By contrast, in the 1785 edition of Doctor Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, “love” in the agapé sense was in second place.

Likewise in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary of 1939.

In fact in most British dictionaries the agapé sense continued to occupy the second or third place until the 1970s, when dictionary entries began to reflect the licentiousness and hedonism of the preceding decade.

I haven’t the interest to watch the video again, but as I recall, Ven. Ñāṇamoli wasn’t making the modest claim: “‘Love’ is a less than optimal way to translate mettā, for the desired sense of ‘love’ here is a tertiary one in modern English use, while the primary and secondary senses therein are undesired ones.” Had he been doing so, then your dictionary observations would be relevant to a discussion of this claim.

His actual claim, however, is that mettā simply isn’t love. But since this opinion can be sustained only by disregarding that sense of “love” which does correspond to mettā, clearly he’s committing a fallacy of definition.

I do concede, however, that “arbitrarily” was the wrong adverb to use. If Ñāṇamoli was aware of the circularity in his thinking, then the proper adverb would be “sophistically”. And if he wasn’t (which is surely the case) then it would be “unwittingly”.

Okay, let’s run with this argument and see where it leads us…

“There is an additional point to consider. Many times, when love is used in an erotic sense it is preceded by the word free (or passionate or hot or obsessive or playful or…). The need for such qualifiers is a clue that the word “love” in and of itself does not commonly bear this meaning.”

Clearly the argument leads to absurdity, for it can be applied to the word “love” in all of its senses (since each of them is commonly augmented with an adjective), thereby “proving” that no sense of the word is common.


Perhaps, to be charitable, the Venerable was unaware of the agápē Homeric/ Biblical sense of Love. English is not his first language.

In any case, this sense of the word seems to capture mettā perfectly.


I think you misunderstood what I was trying to say here. I was saying that the Meriam Webster dictionary had the only translation of love that might equate to metta. All of the others have connotations that are personal and/or to do with attachment; which is not metta.

In ignoring the Mariam Webster definitions, there is even less justification for using love instead of metta.

By contrast, in the 1785 edition of Doctor Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, “love” in the agapé sense was in second place.

2. To regard with the affection for a friend

Again, it is a personal love rather than a spiritual love. Also, once again, even if the definition were adequate it is subordinate to #1, which describes romantic love.

Likewise in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary of 1939.

This again proves my point.

1. That state of feeling with regard to a person which arises from recognition of attractive qualities, from sympathy or from natural ties and manifests itself in warm affection and attachment.

There are three ways in which love can arise, only one of which is compatible with metta - i.e. sympathy. This confuses matters.

Further, all of these ways manifest in attachment which is incompatible with metta.

(EDIT: I missed this definition)
2. In religious use, applied to the paternal benevolence and affection of God, to the affectionate devotion due to Him from His creatures, to the affection of one created being to another.

This love is highly personal and involves attachment. Further, God in the Bible is described as a jealous God. Even the affection of ‘created’ beings for one another stems from their assumption that they were created and have a personal relationship with the creator.

His actual claim, however, is that mettā simply isn’t love. But since this opinion can be sustained only by disregarding that sense of “love” which does correspond to mettā, clearly he’s committing a fallacy of definition.

Actually, he is not. Now that Mariam Webster has been excluded, every definition of love is personal or has connotations of attachment. Metta is not related to these. He is not being arbitrarily selective. He is simply being accurate.

Not at all. You’ve somewhat made my point for me. Love by itself doesn’t mean free, passionate, obsessive either. It is prefixed with those words to get the required specificity. In the case of prefixing unconditional, we are being even more specific because we are overriding the word love’s usual connotations of attachment or the personal.

The issue is that even with the Biblical sense of love, it is not impersonal. The Christian God (capital G) is described as a jealous God in the Bible. Further, the relationship with God is a personal one. So even this rendering of love cannot be equated with metta.

It is good to use whatever language works best for you.
For me, 1 Corinthians 13, as quoted by the Venerable, captures it beautifully.

Ultimately, mettā is a state of mind.

Yes, I agree, so long as the sutta in question can be read according to its intended meaning.

I agree with this also. The point of difference is in what state of mind. Love, as it is commonly used and defined, points to a state of mind associated with the personal (atta) and attachment (clinging). Metta points to a state of mind that is not personal (anatta) and does not involve attachment.

Using the word love on a personal level is fine if the appropriate distinctions can be made. However using it in a translation that is for general consumption makes little sense because of the aforementioned difficulties.

Is metta impersonal? I took it to be about beings:

May they be happy and safe!
May all beings be happy!

I can see what you mean.

To clarify, metta is not personal in two ways:

  • Firstly, the personal relationship with God (usually Abrahamic) that underpins this love is different from the motivations for metta. That is to say metta is different from love for a creator or for fellow beings because they are the product of the creator (e.g. children of God).
  • Secondly, the love that is felt for a friend, family member or someone we admire is also not metta, because it is limited only people who form part of our tribe.

In both cases, atta (as opposed to anatta) comes in because the love revolves around a constructed identity (e.g. God, or a group identity of some kind). This makes the goodwill that is associated with love partial, as opposed to impartial. Some are favoured over others, or if all beings are included it is usually because they are included in a constructed global identity.

The goodwill of metta on the other hand is not predicated on having or belonging to any kind of identity. The ‘being’ in ‘may all beings’ is simply an identifier to separate sentience from non sentience. It likely won’t be harmful to wish that inanimate objects also feel happy and safe (so perhaps you could say 'may all things be happy and safe), but the assumption is that our well wishing is directed at those who are capable of experiencing suffering and well being.

However, the key thing with metta is that there is no ‘catch’. It doesn’t matter if beings are believed to be created by God or the devil, or if beings belong to the human race, or whether we approve of the identity they have or belong to. It doesn’t even matter if the being is seen to be downright evil because metta isn’t a wish that they get what they want. Rather it is a wish for them to be free from the causes of suffering (i.e. greed, aversion and delusion), which results in relief and well being for everyone.

But mettā is a personal love, in the sense that it can (and in most of its occurrences does) have just a single being as its focus. Any arising of a wish for someone’s well-being and happiness is an arising of mettā, no matter whether it’s one being or many beings, and no matter who the being(s) might be.

In Buddhist cultivation it becomes a dhammically valued quality (a “spiritual love”, if you will) when it’s developed with regard to all beings, but it isn’t a quality that intrinsically has all beings as its focus.

For example, how does the Buddha bring Nāḷāgiri to a standstill?


bhagavā nāḷāgiriṁ hatthiṁ mettena cittena phari.
the Blessed One suffused the elephant Nālāgiri with a mind of mettā.

Not all sentient beings, not even all pachyderms. Just Nāḷāgiri alone – a single unruly elephant.

If mettā intrinsically and invariably had all beings as its focus, then all the words in bold below would be redundant. The Buddha could have saved his breath by just saying, “He abides with a mind of loving-kindness.”

He abides pervading one quarter with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth; so above, below, around, and everywhere, and to all as to himself, he abides pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill will.

(I’ll return later to the subject of dictionaries).


2. To regard with the affection for a friend

This implies that non-friends are excluded from love, which points to partiality. Affection tends to also have connotations of attachment too.

I agree that metta can have a single being as its focus. However the defining quality is there is no discrimination based on identity.

I went back to check the definition and see now that you are misquoting it. He says “affection of a friend”, not “for a friend”. And so it doesn’t exclude non-friends, but means, rather, that whoever is the object of this sentiment will be regarded by you as you would regard a friend.

Furthermore, you are quoting the second definition for the verb “love”. But mettā is a noun and when I referred earlier to Dr Johnson’s second definition, I meant that of the noun.

Just to clarify… suppose that Susan desires the welfare and happiness of cats, but has no particular interest in that of termites, while Maria desires the welfare and happiness of both equally.

Is it your view that Maria alone can be said to have mettā, and that Susan’s desire for cats’ welfare doesn’t count as such, i.e., it’s not just that her mettā is less abundant than Maria’s, but that on account of her indifference towards termites her good will towards cats doesn’t actually count as mettā at all?

I agree with you that impartiality between persons is a characteristic of mettā when it has been fully developed as an immeasurable. I don’t believe that the texts will support the claim that it’s a defining quality of mettā in general. But if you can cite one I should be interested to see it.