Loving kindness meditation, also known as maitrī or mettā meditation, is a beautiful and life-changing element of the Buddhist tradition. It is meditation practice designed to uncover boundless, unconditional love for ourselves and all beings.
In this article, we’ll examine what loving kindness meditation is and how it works, and we’ll present loving kindness meditation scripts from three wonderful contemporary Buddhist teachers.
Loving Kindness Meditation: What Loving Kindness Is
Loving kindness is the English translation for the Pali word mettā, from the Sanskrit word maitrī. Loving kindness is the genuine, boundless, wholehearted wish for the happiness and welfare of oneself and all beings.
Loving kindness (Sanskrit maitrī, Pali mettā) is the genuine, boundless, wholehearted wish for the happiness and welfare of oneself and all beings.
Loving kindness is not passive or lukewarm, but is an active benevolence, strongly felt. We don’t just agree with the philosophy: we feel, viscerally, our well-wishes for ourselves and others.
Most radically, loving kindness is universal in its caring. Benevolence does not pick and choose: we wish fervently and actively for the well-being of ourselves, and of all other beings—not just “the good ones,” the innocent ones, the nearby ones, or even the mammals.
Loving kindness is universal: we wish fervently and actively for the well-being of ourselves and of all other beings—not just “the good ones,” the innocent ones, the nearby ones, or even the mammals.
This universal quality makes loving kindness one of the Four Immeasurables in Buddhism, along with compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. These are four virtues of mind that are by nature boundless—they cover everyone and everything, with no omissions or asterisks.
A few notes on the terminology itself: in English, loving kindness is often hyphenated as loving-kindness, or even run together as lovingkindness; both these spellings help emphasize that it’s a single virtue, rather than “kindness which, separately, is loving.” Also, English writers often spell the word mettā as metta, without the bar over the vowel, and do the the same with maitri for maitrī. These are all the same thing, so whether you’re here to learn metta meditation, maitri meditation, loving kindness meditation, or loving-kindness meditation, you’re in the right place.
Loving Kindness Meditation: How the Practice Works
When someone mentions “meditation” in a Buddhist context, by default they mean mindfulness-awareness meditation. In that meditation practice, we open to whatever arises in mind, but we do not intentionally generate specific thoughts, feelings, or images.
Loving kindness meditation works differently. It uses as its foundation the mindfulness—the steady, relaxed attention—that we develop in our core sitting practice, but it does involve generating specific thoughts, ideas, feelings, and emotions.
In contrast to mindfulness-awareness practice, loving kindness meditation involves generating specific thoughts and emotions.
Loving kindness meditation achieves this through a few common elements:
- Contemplation, bringing into mind and remaining with specific thoughts and feelings.
- Visualization, enacting a particular scene within one’s imagination.
The repetition of specific phrases, such as “May all beings be free from suffering and the root of suffering,” can also have something of a mantra quality to it, in terms of reinforcing our meditation experience with sound, although it is not exactly a mantra as formally practiced.
If your main meditation experience has been mindfulness-awareness practice, I highly recommend loving kindness meditation, to begin working with an active heart-opening practice. These practices make a beautiful complement to more formless practices like mindfulness-awareness practice.
However, if you are more used to mindfulness-awareness practice, being so “active” or “directed” with the contents of mind may feel strange or suspicious at first: Shouldn’t we just be letting what happens, happen? Why are we cooking things up?
By wishing for the welfare of ourselves and others, we’re not ginning things up. Rather, we’re connecting with the innate benevolence of our true nature.
The truth is that, by wishing wholeheartedly for the welfare of yourself and others, you’re not getting lost in a daydream, ginning things up, or “biasing the jury.” Rather, you’re connecting with—uncovering—the innate, boundless benevolence that really resides within our true nature, which is buddha nature or tathagatagarbha. In that sense, mindfulness-awareness practice, metta meditation practice, and all other valid practices do the exact same thing: they never create anything new, but they do help us discover different aspects of who we are.
Loving Kindness Meditation: Start with Self-Love
Loving kindness meditation practice should be grounded first in loving kindness for ourselves.
Loving kindness meditation practice should be grounded first in loving kindness for ourselves.
Each of the guided loving kindness meditation practices below begins explicitly with offering love and wishing well-being for oneself, before moving on to making the same offerings—even using the same language—for all beings.
Self-love is intrinsic to loving kindness, maitri, or metta—not as a project or obligation, but by nature. It’s true that without self-love, you will be unable to fully extend warmth and care to others; but this could make it seem like self-love is a “necessary step,” a match that we’ll need to light in order to start a fire. Self-love is not really a “step” like this, though. Self-love is intrinsic to the way we really are, just like the sun’s light also lights itself up, automatically.
Self-love is intrinsic to loving kindness—not as an obligation, but because it is innate to our nature, the way the sun’s light also lights itself up, automatically.
However, self-love can be much easier said than done: we do encounter obscurations that can obstruct our experience of it—sometimes, tragically, for almost our entire lives. So if you’d like to work with self-love specifically, please read our article on self-love meditation, which has a lot of resources and guided meditations exclusively for developing self-love.
Loving Kindness Meditation and Egolessness
As you probably know, Buddhism teaches egolessness, meaning that the separate, permanent self we usually experience does not actually exist. This teaching and loving kindness meditation can seem puzzling placed next to one another. Why should I develop “self-love”: kindness for a self that does not exist, and is often described as a painful and harmful illusion? And, thinking about it a bit more, why should I develop love for other beings, if they too don’t have a self for the love to stick to?
In my experience, as we practice more, this problem solves itself; it’s not actually a divide-by-zero error at the heart of Buddhism. So the best thing may be simply to hang with the question. However, if it’s helpful, below is a bit of my personal exploration of this topic:
Rather than being a separate, isolated ego, our nature is mind itself. Ego is a set of experiences that arise in and dissolve into that broader mind. Those and other experiences come and go, and mind itself is what they come and go within.
Mind is not a cold or blank expanse. It has innate qualities, and one of these qualities is a boundless, unconditioned benevolence.
As expressed in the teachings on Buddha nature, as well as in many other teachings, mind is not a cold or blank expanse. It has innate qualities, such as being peaceful and open. Perhaps its most wonderful quality, and perhaps the quality that sums it up best, is its goodness. Mind is naturally good, and included in this goodness is an open, boundless, unconditioned benevolence.
From the standpoint of the nature of mind, loving kindness is simply mind shining naturally with love.
This innate benevolence is what loving kindness meditation practice connects us with. So from the standpoint of the nature of mind, loving kindness practice is simply mind shining naturally with love. This love is like warm sunshine: the sun shines warmly and abundantly on everyone and everything—including itself, of course—without bias, and without any notion of fixed or unchanging entities to shine upon.
With this introduction to loving kindness meditation, below are guided meditations from three great contemporary Buddhist teachers.
1. Loving Kindness Guided Meditation: Metta Meditation with Thich Nhat Hanh
The late Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh is legendary for many dimensions of his Buddhist teaching, including his metta meditation practice. The audio file below is wonderful to listen to—for his words themselves, and also for the exquisite quality of both his speech and the space between it.
I’ve made the audio transcript into a metta guided meditation script, below. You can also view, print, or download this metta meditation script as a PDF.
This moment is a happy moment.
Love meditation in the Buddhist tradition should be directed to yourself. Before you can love someone else, the practice of self-love.
Focus our attention on what we really want. Should be aware of what we really want.
And the Buddha proposed like this:
May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and in mind.
May I be safe and free from accidents.
May I be free from anger, unwholesome state of mind like fear and worries.
May I know to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love.
May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.
May I learn how to nourish myself with joy each day.
May I be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
May I not fall into the state of indifference or be caught in the extremes of attachment or aversion.
May he or she be peaceful and light in his or her body and mind.
May he/she be safe and free from accidents.
May she be free from anger, unwholesome state of mind like fear and worries.
May she know to look at herself with the eyes of understanding and love.
May all beings be peaceful and light in their body and mind.
May all beings be safe and free from accidents.
2. Loving Kindness Guided Meditation: Maitri Practice with Pema Chödrön
Pema Chödrön’s beautiful loving kindness meditation is oriented around the following two traditional phrases, repeated both for oneself and for all others:
“May I/they enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.”
“May I/they be free of suffering and the root of suffering.”
Below is an audio file of Pema Chödrön’s maitri meditation, along with a loving kindness guided meditation script made from the audio transcript. You can also access this script as a PDF.
First, arouse the wish, May I be happy. May I enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.
Just arouse that feeling of love and kindness towards oneself: May I be happy, may I enjoy happiness and the root of happiness. The eyes can be open or closed.
Sincerely, from the heart, wish, May I enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.
You may feel the need to do this for a long time, but at this point I’d like to say that whenever you feel ready, move on to a person or people that you feel gratitude towards. And arouse the wish, the sincere wish, May they enjoy happiness and the root of happiness. And if you want to go back and forth between yourself and this person or these people, that’s okay.
We’ll spend quite a bit of time with this. Actually say their name.
By contemplating in this way, may the love and gratitude that you feel for this person or these people, may it expand and grow, may it get stronger.
When this feels genuine, when it feels true, not contrived, when you can really feel gratitude and love, radiate that out.
Now to your good friend, say their name, say their names, and wish that they enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.
And when you feel ready, radiate out further to people who you feel neutral about. You can say their names, visualize their faces, or just have a general sense, and wish that they enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.
And when you feel ready, extend further to people that you feel have negative feelings toward. You can say their names, visualize their faces, and arouse the wish that they enjoy happiness and the root of happiness, knowing that this would benefit both of you, and you would benefit from this as well as they would benefit from this.
And when you feel ready, wish, May I be free of suffering and the root of suffering, may this person I love be free of suffering and the root of suffering, and my good friend and neutral people, and the one whom I feel negativity toward, may we all be free from suffering and the root of suffering.
And keep touching back in on the feeling that you have for your loved one, for yourself, and see if you can spread it out, radiate it out.
Then when you feel ready, radiate this sincere wish, this feeling of love and gratitude this feeling of wishing for beings to enjoy happiness and the root of happiness, extend it out to all all beings everywhere.
Just have a sense of this feeling of love radiating out, unlimited friendliness radiating out in all directions.
And then in this atmosphere of loving-kindness and unlimited friendliness, in this atmosphere of maitri, just return to your regular sitting practice, just being with the breath as it goes out. Labeling your thoughts when they come up, but in this environment of maitri, do the regular practice.
3. Loving Kindness Guided Meditation: Maitri Practice with Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche
Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche is a beautifully compassionate Tibetan Buddhist teacher, and one of Pema Chödrön’s teachers. He offered a maitri guided meditation practice on a podcast.
Similar to Pema Chödrön’s meditation, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche offers a slightly different translation of the traditional expression of maitri:
May all beings find happiness and the conditions of happiness.
Below is the audio transcript as a loving kindness guided meditation script, and you can also view or download this loving kindness meditation script as a PDF.
So I would like to request all here to be comfortable in your chair or on your cushion.
And then just take a deep breath.
And then take another deep breath.
And then take another deep breath.
Then, to think, all of the seven to almost eight billion human beings that we have in this one planet as our home, we all want happiness. Just as how every day you want happiness, every single human being is waking up and they also do desire and want happiness.
Just as how you feel such happiness could enhance your life, they also feel such happiness could enhance their life as well.
So all the happiness that everyone dreams of, just like you, with the conditions that are in their mind, make a wish that all those happinesses comes to be true in their lives. May the conditions naturally be there to bring that happiness in each and everyone’s life.
May Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas, the great sages, make them come true.
May I be able to also help in that process.
May I have the means and power and a good heart to provide that for all.
May I be blessed with such means and power to provide happiness to all.
And then with this, just repeat in your mind the line, May all beings find happiness and the conditions of happiness, over and over and over.
Then, similarly, all of the seven to eight billion human beings also every morning, just as you wake up, would not want any pain in their mind, in their physical body, in their life. And each wishes, longs to be free from the pain and the conditions of the pain.
Now, all of the beings who are suffering in mind, in the physical, or in their life, any suffering, may all of them be immediately be free from suffering.
With this in mind and heart repeat the line, May all living beings be free from suffering and the conditions of suffering, over and over and over.
Loving Kindness Meditation: Enjoy, Not in Moderation
As one of the Four Immeasurables, loving kindness is boundless and universal. I hope this article, and the guided loving kindness scripts and PDFs above, have helped you begin to connect with this wonderful virtue of mind. Thank you for reading!