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

Even supposing of a friend, it is still problematic due to the connotations of affection.

From Oxford languages:

Affection: a gentle feeling of fondness or liking.

Suppose I say I have a gentle feeling of fondness or liking (i.e. affection) of a friend for my enemy. How would this make sense? I would be saying that the liking or fondness I have for a friend is the liking or fondness I have for an enemy. Metta has nothing to do with liking or fondness.

On noun vs verb. I’m not sure it matters too much once metta is translated as love. e.g.

  1. Have metta for all beings will be translated into
  2. Have love for all beings which, because English allows it, will eventually turn into the short-form
  3. Love all beings

This is another reason why translating metta as love is problematic.

The word metta or even the commonly used translation of loving-kindness, on the other hand, are generally not used as verbs. I.e. you would not say:

  • Metta all beings; or
  • Loving-kindness all beings

However, if one knew the difference between the noun and verb forms of love and one were careful to use the noun form and one knew Dr. Johnson’s specific definition of it then I suppose one could translate love as metta. But this is a rather unlikely prospect. The definition of words is largely a matter of what exists in the collective psyche, especially for a language that is currently in use and evolving. It doesn’t matter that love might have had a better definition decades or centuries ago. All that matters is that it doesn’t have such a definition now - i.e. it is not used in that way now by the masses.

Susan’s preoccupation with cats doesn’t automatically discount her metta. If she has metta and happens to be focused on cats, the metta will be directed towards the cats. However, we can devise a test to see if what she has is truly metta or something more partial.

Susan is currently focused on cats. But let’s suppose Susan comes across some termites and her focus shifts to them. Let’s further suppose that she understands that termites are sentient beings. If that feeling of ‘metta’ disappears on account of her focus shifting (i.e. the wish for the living beings’ welfare evaporates as she focuses on the termites), then the metta she had towards the cats would not have been metta at all, on account of it being partial. On the other hand, if the feeling of metta does not disappear on account of her focus shifting, then the metta she had for the cats was true metta.

To be fair, to have metta in an impartial way is difficult so it is likely that what most people believe is metta has some partiality to it in practice. However the further on the path to arahantship someone gets, the more this partiality could be expected to fall away.

Interesting test, but not terribly practical unless one has the good fortune to be omniscient. Take Susan, for example …

Let’s suppose she fails the dhamma012 mettā test: she sees a termite and her response is, say, equanimity, disgust, fear, hunger or whatever, rather than kindness. Since she’s responded differently to the termite than to the cat, her good will towards the cat doesn’t count as mettā (in your peculiar conception of it).

Nor is it likely that Maria will fare any better, for though she may feel and act with the greatest tenderness and good will towards both cats and termites alike, who can say whether these feelings would survive an encounter with, say, an alderfly or an earwig or an aphid?

It would seem that in your conception of mettā there’s actually no possible test for establishing whether or not Maria has it. It’s something that can’t even be known by a third party who’s mastered cetopariyāya-ñāṇa, for though such a person might see that right now Maria’s state of mind is one of unalloyed tenderness and good will towards cats and termites, that’s not enough. To be able to attribute mettā to Maria in an epistemically reliable fashion, our mind-reading yogi perforce must possess an impossibly vast knowledge of counterfactuals: what Maria’s state of mind would be if she were faced with an alderfly, an earwig, an aphid, a howling peta, a bristling asura, a needle-skinned yakkha, a fire-breathing nāga…etc. Unless he knows that her kindness will remain intact throughout all of these imagined encounters, he will have no grounds for calling it mettā.

And it gets worse … for it means I can’t even know whether I have any mettā myself! When resentful at a monk who’s taken more than his fair share of the monastery’s honey, I can say with certitude, “Right now I lack mettā,” but when feeling kindly towards an injured cat that I’m nursing I can never say with certitude, “Right now I have mettā,” for (as in Maria’s case) the putative factualness of this will not depend merely upon what my state of mind is, but upon what it might be in the presence of some other class of sentient being.

If this is how you conceive mettā, it’s little wonder that you can’t cite any sutta passage in support of it.

Thankfully the Buddha has left us with some more sensible ways for assessing whether we’re developing mettā or not:

“Here, a bhikkhu might say thus: ‘I have developed and cultivated the liberation of the mind by loving-kindness, made it my vehicle and basis, carried it out, consolidated it, and properly undertaken it, yet ill will still obsesses my mind.’ He should be told: ‘Not so! Do not speak thus. Do not misrepresent the Blessed One; for it is not good to misrepresent the Blessed One. The Blessed One would certainly not speak in such a way. It is impossible and inconceivable, friend, that one might develop and cultivate the liberation of the mind by loving-kindness, make it one’s vehicle and basis, carry it out, consolidate it, and properly undertake it, yet ill will could still obsess one’s mind.”

See also AN11.15 & MN104. And for those prone to unwelcome encounters with amanussas, SN20.3 & SN20.5.

And an interesting one from the SN commentary:

“Because of his own hating mind someone might nurture enmity even towards an arahant who lacks meditation on lovingkindness and compassion. But no one could nurture enmity towards one who is endowed with liberation of mind through lovingkindness and compassion. So powerful is the meditation on the divine abodes.”

A possible instantiation of this commentarial claim is the late Cambodian Patriarch, Preah Mahā Ghosananda. He was regarded by teachers across multiple Theravada meditation traditions as a master of the four immeasurables and is the only monk I know whom I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about.


To clarify, the test is not intended for me to make value judgements on others; I can’t know what happens in someone’s mind. Rather, any person can do this test for themselves to understand the degree to which the goodwill they feel is partial.

There would be no test that I could apply by which I could be sure that Maria has metta. However, Maria should know as she develops on the path. The question you pose is similar to one posed by a commentor on another thread: how does an arahant know that that they won’t be reborn? What if they still have some kamma left? The answer that makes sense to me is that the arahant has directly seen the factors that lead to more becoming and uprooted them, so they don’t need to see into the future. Similarly with metta. Once you know the factors that lead to partiality and uproot them, you know that your metta has been perfected.

As mentioned above, the point is not to attribute metta to others (although we may do this in a limited sense as we try and see whether a teacher is worth learning from… after all many people took the Buddha to be their teacher even though they didn’t have any direct knowledge of his awakening). Primarily the point is to fully develop metta in ourselves. Here, even we may not realise that our goodwill is partial until we meet a being that causes that goodwill to disappear. However eventually we must get to the stage where we know for sure that our goodwill is not partial.

Actually it does.

It’s a bit like the turkey who believes the farmer is his friend. The farmer feeds it every day and takes care of it and give the impression that he cares. The farmer doesn’t suddenly become an enemy when he later strangles the turkey to turn it into meat. However it is only when the farmer strangles the turkey that the turkey realises that the farmer was never its friend.

The fact that no metta arises to another being in the future is an indication that your ‘metta’ for Maria is partial - likely based in an attribute or characteristic you like about them. You are simply unaware of this fact until you meet a being whose attributes you do not like.

My point is that sometimes you don’t know that there is still some ill will in your mind until you meet a particular situation. For example, in the situation of Maria, you may be unaware that if Maria’s characteristics were to change, your goodwill towards here might disappear on account of that change. So then you know that there is some latent ill will that has been covered up by your partiality towards her.

Thank you for this, it is interesting. It suggests that there is an element of fabrication to metta as well. I will think on this.