About Metta

In Pali (the language of Buddhist texts) “metta” means loving-kindness. In Sanskrit, a word with a similar meaning is “maitri.”

The Pali word metta is a multi-significant term meaning loving-kindness, friendliness, goodwill, benevolence, fellowship, amity, concord, inoffensiveness and non-violence… True metta is devoid of self-interest. It evokes within a warm-hearted feeling of fellowship, sympathy and love, which grows boundless with practice and overcomes all social, religious, racial, political and economic barriers. Metta is indeed a universal, unselfish and all-embracing love.  — Acharya Buddharakkhita

A key point in understanding the meaning of the word metta and the intention behind the practice is that in this use, loving-kindness is not a feeling one might have. Rather, it’s something cultivated through practice. As noted below, this is not the same as trying to “be nice.”

The classic explanation is that Metta is a wish for all beings to be happy, and Karuna is a wish for all beings to be free from suffering. Wish is probably not the right word, though, because wishing seems passive. It might be more accurate to say directing one’s attention or concern to the happiness or suffering of others. Developing loving kindness is essential to doing away with the self-clinging that binds us to suffering (dukkha). Metta is the antidote to selfishness, anger, and fear… Being “nice” often is about self-preservation and maintaining a sense of belonging in a group. We are “nice” because we want people to like us, or at least not get angry with us. There’s nothing wrong with being nice, most of the time, but it’s not the same thing as loving kindness… As long as your “practice” is about you being a nice person, you are just play-acting. This may seem paradoxical, but unselfishness begins by gaining insight into yourself and understanding the source of your ill will, irritations, and insensitivity. — Barbara O’Brien, ThoughtCo