5. Ariya Metta Bhāvana (Loving Kindness Meditation)

Revised February 11, 2020

The top 10 posts in this section describe the fundamentals of Buddhist meditation. The rest of the posts in this section discuss meditation subjects. They clarify unresolved questions and help gain samādhi. The first 11 posts should be followed in that order, at least initially.


1. We all have acquired innumerable “bad kamma vipāka” in this cycle of rebirths (samsāra) that has no beginning. There is a very simple recipe for stopping many of such “bad kamma vipāka” from coming to fruition by “wearing out”  and ultimately removing the “kamma seeds” (kamma bīja) associated with them.

  • We acquire a bad “kamma seed” when we do something wrong to a living being, and we become indebted to that being. Just like we can become “debt-free” by paying off debts, we can pay off that debt. The problem is that we have become indebted to innumerable beings in previous rebirths. In the Mettā­saha­gata Sutta (SN 46.54) and other suttā, the Buddha has explained how much of this debt can be paid off by doing the Ariya Metta Bhāvanā and also by transferring merits to “all beings” when we do a good deed; see, “Transfer of Merits (Pattidāna) – How Does it Happen?“.
  • Here we focus on the  Ariya Metta Bhāvanā. First, some background material to clarify what this means. Also see, “Karaniya Metta Sutta – Metta Bhāvanā.”
Mundane Metta Bhāvanā

2. The standard or mundane Metta Bhāvanā (loving-kindness meditation) goes something like, “May myself and all beings are free of suffering, healthy, happy, and be free of all suffering”, or some similar (longer) passages.

  • Any type of such meditation is of course good. It makes your own mind calm down and makes you think about the (mundane) welfare of the other beings.
Ariya Metta Bhāvanā

3. However, the Ariya Metta Bhāvanā has a much deeper meaning. It is done with at least some idea of the complexity of “this world” with 31 realms and the status of the beings in those realms. In order to cultivate true compassion and loving-kindness one NEEDS TO FEEL the possible suffering in all those realms; see, “The Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma“:

  • The beings in the lowest four realms (apāyā) undergo unimaginable suffering, both physical and mental.
  • In the lowest five realms (the apāyā and the human realm), beings have physical bodies that are subject to sicknesses, body aches, and getting old before dying.
  • The sixth through eleventh realms are that of the devas. They have spontaneous births with fully formed (but less dense) bodies that are not subjected to sickness, aches, and pains. There are no visible signs of old age until close to death. But they also have all five physical senses just like in the lower five realms. But their “physical bodies” are much less dense. See, “Body Types in 31 Realms – Importance of Manomaya Kaya.”
  • The higher 20 realms that include rupa lōka and arupa lōka have even less dense bodies than the devas and do not have the physical sense faculties for taste, smell, and body touch. Thus any suffering they have is all mental, and not as intense as in the lower realms. However, they also die and reborn in lower realms.
The Difference With the Sōtapanna stage

4. Therefore, no living being is free of FUTURE suffering in any of the 31 realms, because unless the Sōtapanna stage of Nibbāna has been attained, even the beings in the highest realm can end up even in the apāyā (lowest four realms) in future rebirths.

  • And the only way to attain the Sōtapanna stage of Nibbāna is by comprehending the Three Characteristics of this world of 31 realms: anicca, dukkha, anatta.
  • The first level of understanding of anicca, dukkha, anatta leads to the Sōtapanna stage; when one attains the Sōtapanna stage, one becomes free from the apāyā FOREVER. This happens via the inability of the mind of a Sōtapanna to generate certain cittā with “apāyagāmikammic power; see, “Akusala Citta – How a Sōtapanna avoids Apayagami Citta” and “Conditions for the Four Stages of Nibbāna”.
Higher Stages of Magga Phala

5. When the next stage of Nibbāna (Sakadāgāmi stage) is attained, one becomes free of births in the lower five realms where suffering due to physical ailments and diseases are possible. Thus one PERMANENTLY becomes “healthy” by attaining the Sakadāgāmi stage.

  • At the Anāgāmi stage, one removes more akusala citta (and other fulfill other conditions; see, “Conditions for the Four Stages of Nibbāna”), and will never be born again in kāma lōka including the deva realm. Thus one becomes PERMANENTLY free of any physical suffering.
  • Then at the Arahant stage, all defilements are removed from the mind, and one will never be reborn in any of the 31 realms. The mind truly becomes free and one attains permanent niramisa sukha; see, “The Three Kinds of Happiness – What is niramisa sukha?” and other posts on niramisa sukha.
  • As you can see, the Ariya Metta Bhāvanā is similar in structure to the conventional one, but the words have deeper meanings. For example, by saying “be healthy” now it means to be healthy forever. That means not to be reborn ever with a body that is subject to diseases and old age.
Elements of the Ariya Metta Bhāvanā

6. Now we can see how the Ariya Metta Bhāvanā is formulated:

  • “May myself and all living beings attain the Sōtapanna stage and be free from suffering in the apāyā forever”
    “May myself and all living beings attain the Sakadāgāmi stage and be healthy forever”.
    “May myself and all living beings attain the Anāgāmi stage and be content (attain peaceful happiness)  forever”.
    “May myself and all living beings attain the Arahant stage and be free from all suffering and attain the full Nibbānic bliss”.
  • All four Brahma Vihāra (metta, karunā, muditā, upekkhā) cultivate with this Bhāvanā.
  • Of course, the Bhāvanā becomes increasingly effective as one starts to comprehend Tilakkhana better.
Just Chanting Is Not Enough

7. What matters is not the particular set of words used, but what is felt in one’s heart. In order to do that one needs to truly comprehend that there is REAL SUFFERING in this world, not only at the human or animal realms but in many other realms.

  • The impact of the Metta Bhāvanā increases gradually with an increased understanding of anicca, dukkha, anatta because then one realizes the dangers and suffering that all living beings face in future lives.
  • The potential of the Metta Bhāvanā is enormous. The Buddha said one could attain the Anāgāmi stage by correctly doing the Metta Bhāvanā. But that entails understanding anicca, dukkha, anatta, i.e., attaining the Sōtapanna stage or at least embark on the path to Sōtapanna stage.
  • However, even before attaining the Sōtapanna stage, one could reap many benefits by doing this correct Ariya Metta Bhāvanā; see, “Kamma, Debt, and Meditation“.
Essentials of Meditation

8. It is best to do Ariya Metta Bhāvanā and Vipassanā Bhāvanā (meditation on anicca, dukkha, anatta, and other dhamma concepts) in a sitting meditation session every day; see, “What do all these Different Meditation Techniques Mean?“.

  • Initially, 10-15 minutes would be good for formal meditation. That time will automatically increase as the niramisa sukha sets in and one starts seeing the benefits. Later on, one could stay in meditation for hours.
  • Of course, Ānāpānasati needs to be practiced the whole day. Ānāpānasati means being aware of what is “taken in” (āna) and what is “discarded” (āpāna.) See, “What is Anapana?” and other related posts in the meditation section.
  • Listening to discourses and reading about Dhamma are also forms of meditation. That should be done during quiet times so the key concepts can be absorbed.
Results Will Grow With Better Understanding

9. The Ariya Metta Bhāvanā is one of the most POTENT tools that we have. It is a simple concept, but the main difficulty is with the “Ariya” part. One needs to comprehend anicca, dukkha, anatta for the Bhāvanā to be fully effective.

  • Still, even the mundane version stated in #2 above is a good start. As one follows the Path and understands the concepts better (not the book knowledge), the javana power in one’s thoughts become strong, and the Bhāvanā becomes stronger and more effective.
  • In the Abhidhamma language, the most potent kusala citta is the “sōmanassa sahagata ñāna sampayutta asankhārika citta“, i.e., the “thought that arises with joy and wisdom automatically”. This thought also gets stronger with increasing wisdom and gets stronger as one gets to Sōtapanna magga, Sōtapanna phala, etc and optimum only at the Arahant stage.
  • Yet even when one is following the mundane eightfold path, this citta is there, at a lower strength. One needs to cultivate it. See, “Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart“, and “What is Unique in Buddha Dhamma“.

Next, “Ānāpānasati Bhāvanā  (Introduction)“, ……..

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