What is the practical difference between metta and karuna?

What is the practical difference between metta ( loving kindness ) and karuna ( compassion )? If we feel loving kindness towards somebody, wouldn’t that include compassion towards them?


You extend metta to an enemy and you extend karuna to a sick person.
It is important you understand the near enemy and the far enemy of Brahama Viharas.



Metta does overlap with compassion. Karuna is more the emotion we feel when someone is in some difficulty. Sympathy might be better. Kindness also has some relevant connotations, as does compassion.

with metta


What is/are the EBTs that tell us about the enemies of the brahma vihara?

P.S.: I did some googling and found people saying that the specific terms near enemy (āsannapaccatthika) and far enemy (dūrapaccatthika) appears to only have matches in the commentaries and later texts (including VIsuddhimagga). Is anyone able to confirm ?


@Gabriel_L In http://www.wiseattention.org/blog/2012/09/07/learning-meditation-from-the-buddha-a-meeting-with-ven-analayo/ this is what Venerable Analayo said regarding the abodes of Brahma:

Being an ‘anger-type’ I thought it was important to develop metta. (loving-kindness). In Thailand I followed the Visuddhimagga approach of sending metta to oneself, a friend, a neutral person and an enemy, and verbalising good wishes. I found I got stuck in ideas, and when I turned to the suttas I saw that the Buddha just says that, ‘with a mind full of metta’ (that is an attitude or feeling of loving-kindness) ‘he radiates metta in all directions’. There’s no verbalisation, no particular people, just this radiation. That made an incredible change in my practice and from then on it evolved very strongly.


Good question. I can’t recall reading it in Sutta.
Ven @Dhammanando perhaps can answer this question.

Thanks for the replies. I’ve organised a day retreat for my local group, and we are going to focus on the four brahmaviharas. I used to do metta bhavana, but I’m not that familiar with the other three.

I like “sympathy” for karuna.

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Stepping back, looking at the 4bv (brahma vihara), there’s a progression in wisdom, depth, subtlety as you progress through the 4.

Here’s an example of a practical difference: Someone could be motivated with the emotion of good will for everyone to be happy, wishing everyone has their wishes fulfilled, getting their dream job, getting their dream partner, getting dream kids, etc.

But with more wisdom, one sees that mere having wishes fulfilled, is only going to lead to short term happiness, and may even be just a spring loaded trap for much bigger dukkha bundled with it (getting a dream job means higher pressure, stressful job. Getting a dream wife means other people are jealous, hitting on her, trying to steal her from you… etc.)

So compassion, or wishing people be free of dukkha, is a wiser more subtle emotion, since wishing for people to be free of dukkha would eliminate the wish for them being happy based on things that would simply lead to more dukkha.

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I have always liked the idea that compassion includes an action component. While Metta may be the cultivation of unconditional love for ourselves and others, compassion requires both the recognition of a person’s plight, and the willingness to act in order to relieve the suffering.

What comes to mind is the Buddha’s behavior when he encountered the monk with dysentery. He not only felt love for this monk, but out of compassion recruited Ananda to lift the man by the head and feet, and carry him to a bed where he could be attended to. He then admonished the monks to care for each other, with the understanding that this act of active caring supports the life of the Sangha. This, to me is karuna…a recognition of suffering and a willingness to act to mitigate it in a wise way.


I have always loved this story. I think it goes really well with the recollection of the Buddha.

In the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya’s and Sarvastivada Vinaya’s versions of the story, the Buddha’s compassionate actions towards the sick monk, which are basically the same in both versions, are more detailed; Venerable Ananda isn’t mentioned in both versions of the story at all.

According to the two mentioned Vinayas, the Buddha helps the sick monk in getting up, wipes dirtiness on the sick monk’s body, and washes the said sick monk’s body. Next, the Buddha washes the sick monk’s robes and dries them. After that, the Buddha throws away old and soiled grass bedding. Then, the Buddha sweeps the sick monk’s dwelling and plasters it with mud (the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya version says that these actions make the sick monk’s dwelling clean). In addition, the Buddha spreads fresh grass (and spreads a robe over said fresh grass according to the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya version). The Dharmaguptaka Vinaya and Sarvastivada Vinaya depart from each other from this point onward: in the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya version, the Buddha lays the sick monk down on the new bedding and covers him with another robe; while in the Sarvastivada Vinaya version, the Buddha helps the sick monk both in getting up and putting the robes on the said sick monk.


The terms are from the Visuddhimagga and Atthasālinī, though in the case of “far-enemy” I think the basic idea is prefigured in much earlier texts like the Paṭisambhidāmagga and the Sallekhasutta.

An equivalent term for “near-enemy” is “deceitful state” (vañcaka dhamma or just vañcaka) which has its provenance in the Nettippakaraṇa-related literature, starting with Dhammapāla’s Nettippakaraṇa Atthakathā. The list of these is much longer than Buddhaghosa’s āsannapaccatthika, numbering thirty-eight in all:

Five hindrances

  1. appaṭikkūlasaññā > kāmacchanda
  2. paṭikkūlasaññā > byāpāda
  3. samādhi > thinamiddha
  4. vīriyārambha > uddhacca
  5. sikkhākāmatā > kukkucca
  6. ubhayapakkhasantīraṇa > vicikicchā


  1. iṭṭhāniṭṭhasamupekkhana > sammoha
  2. attaññutā > attani aparibhavane māna
  3. vīmaṃsā > hetupatirūpakapariggahena micchādiṭṭhi
  4. virattatā > sattesu adayāpannatā
  5. anuññātapaṭisevana > kāmasukhallikānuyoga
  6. ājīvapārisuddhi > asaṃvibhāgasīlatā
  7. saṃvibhāgasīlatā > micchājīva
  8. asaṃsaggavihāritā > asaṅgahasīlatā
  9. saṅgahasīlatā > ananulomikasaṃsagga
  10. saccavāditā > pisuṇavācā
  11. apisuṇavāditā > anatthakāmatā
  12. piyavāditā > cāṭukamyatā
  13. mitabhāṇitā > asammodanasīlatā
  14. sammodanasīlatā > māyā sāṭheyyañca
  15. niggayhavāditā > pharusavācatā
  16. pāpagarahitā > paravajjānupassitā

Three kinds of stinginess

  1. kulānuddhayatā > kulamacchariya
  2. āvāsaciraṭṭhitikāmatā > āvāsamacchariya
  3. dhammaparibandhapariharaṇa > dhammamacchariya

Three vices mentioned in the Adhimāna Sutta

  1. dhammadesanābhirati > bhassārāmatā
  2. apharusavācatāgaṇānuggahakaraṇa > saṅgaṇikārāmatā
  3. puññakāmatā > kammārāmatā


  1. saṃvega > cittasantāpa
  2. saddhālutā > aparikkhatā
  3. vīmaṃsanā > assaddhiya

Three predominances

  1. attādhipateyya > garūnaṃ anusāsaniyā appadakkhiṇaggāhitā
  2. dhammādhipateyya > sabrahmacārīsu agārava
  3. lokādhipateyya > attani dhamme ca paribhava

Four divine abidings

  1. mettā > rāga
  2. karuṇā > soka
  3. muditā > pahāsa
  4. upekkhā > kusalesu dhammesu nikkhittachandatā

Sadhu Bhante. Thanks for your time and the information! :anjal:

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This essay does an excellent job of explaining in detail the four:


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Metta - universal unconditional love including our enemies. Ordinary love should be replaced with loving kindness because there is a very thin line between love and hatredness. When the loved person or thing changes hate takes over instantly,unknowingly.

Karuna : has totally different meaning in “Dhamma” than the ordinary compassion we show it to sick or poor person. When we are on the eightfold path if some one hurts us we treat them with deep compassion because they did it out of ignorance. That’s why compassionate mind is the most powerfull state of mind that has the ability solve any mental conflict.


The “practical” difference is that metta is pretty much 100% safe for everyone, while karuna, as an intensive meditation practice, would be counter-indicated for a small percentage of people.

Why? Because some people tend to over-identify with suffering. They can lose themselves in the pain of others, and without noticing it, fall into despair, and in one case I have known, even suicide.

The problem here is that without a strong enough sense of self, of happiness and maturity and knowing your own worth, developing compassion can, in these small number of people, be a substitute for proper emotional and spiritual growth, a phenomenon known more generally as “spiritual bypassing”, of which this is one form.

In the general population I would guess that the percentage of people like this would be small, however they do tend to gravitate to spiritual circles, so the number in monasteries and meditation centers is somewhat larger. As long as the meditation is not too intense, and there are experienced people around to check how people are going, it should be fine. But this is why I would recommend focussing mainly on metta as a mainstream “good for everyone” practice, and introduce karuna more judiciously.