A complete guide to lovingkindness meditation

The Metta Bhavana, or Development of Lovingkindness, practice is one of the most ancient forms of Buddhist practice, one that has been passed down in an unbroken line for over 2,500 years.

We’re often taught as children that we should love others. Religious teachings say, for example, that we should “love others as ourselves.” But how do we learn to love others? And what happens if we don’t particularly like, never mind love, ourselves? The development of lovingkindness meditation practice is the practical means by which we learn to cultivate love for ourselves and others.

The practice helps us to actively cultivate positive emotional states towards ourselves and others, so that we become more patient, kind, accepting, and compassionate.

It’s part of a series of four practices which lead to the arising of:

  • lovingkindness
  • compassion (empathizing with others’ suffering)
  • empathetic joy (rejoicing in others’ wellbeing and joy)
  • and equanimity (patient acceptance of both joy and suffering, both our own and others’).

The metta bhavana is the foundation practice for this series of meditations.

The practice, leading as it does to the realization of compassion, is central to Buddhism, to the extent that the Dalai Lama has said “My religion is kindness.” While this statement may appear almost platitudinous, it’s actually indicative of something profound about spiritual practice.

How to get started

  1. Read our introduction to lovingkindness
  2. Learn techniques for cultivating lovingkindness
  3. Start cultivating lovingkindness

Much of our unhappiness comes from the desire to be happy at the expense of others. It’s really very ironic that in grasping after happiness in this way we end up causing ourselves pain. It’s like sticking your hand into what you think is a cool stream in order to find relief on a hot day, only to discover that the water is boiling.

Buddhist theory teaches, and practice demonstrates, that happiness comes from empathizing with others and from seeing their wellbeing and their suffering as being important as our own.

It’s not that we set aside our own needs entirely and become martyrs in the popular sense of the word, but that we recognize that one of our needs is to help others meet their own needs. In meeting our need to help others meet their needs we find that we become happier: a layer of self-induced (and selfishness-induced) suffering starts to dissolve.

Realizing this and working it out in our lives through the practice of kindness is a major part of Buddhist practice. In fact we could say, as the Dalai Lama implies, that developing a sense of connectedness with others and overcoming selfishness is the essence of the spiritual path.

138 Comments. Leave new

  • Dear Bodhipaska, thank you very much for this website. I have been meditating for 1 year it’s changing my life..it’s amazing,
    I have a question: Recently I had romantic breakup and of course at times it’s hard to deal with the pain and attachment. I read that you shouldn’t practice loving kindness towards someone you’re still attracted too, however I feel that if I could forgive her it would help me greatly. Do you think it’s worth a shot, or it will only probably cause me further pain?
    Best wishes

    • Hi, Antonio.

      Sorry for the late reply. The advice to cultivate lovingkindness toward someone you’re sexually attracted to is really directed at beginners who might confuse romantic attraction (which is conditional upon the other person being attractive and, usually, liking us back) for kindness (which is dependent only upon our having empathy for the other person as a feeling being). There’s no problem with cultivating kindness toward a parter or former partner if you’re a little more experienced.

      Since this person evokes pain in you, I’d suggest observing the pain as a pattern of sensation in the body. As best you can, see it as being like any other sensation. But because it’s painful, send it some compassion. Talk to it compassionately, as you would talk compassionately to a suffering person. A lot of our difficulties with break-ups are with a) the mental reactions we have to our pain because we’re not mindful, and b) not being compassionate to our own pain.

      I wish you well!

  • Hi Bodhipaksa,

    I’ve been practicing Loving Kindness Meditation for a while now and, although I can see positive changes, it’s also created a lot of self-hatred due to the fact that it’s made me aware of the extent that love, acceptance, and tolerance are sometimes missing in my encounters with others. I know I’ve been very kind and still am in many ways, but I’ve developed very high expectations for myself to be all loving and have created an all or nothing mindset. I guess I’ve developed a belief that I should feel loving feelings all the time for everyone forgetting that I’m only human and as a human my emotional self is very complex – old resentments, prejudices, biases, preferences, can’t help bit feel annoyed over nothing, judgements etc. As much effort as I’m putting into this, I can’t seem to completely rid myself of these negative feelings. I’m trying to find a balance, but am finding it very difficult. Before I started this I had a lot more tolerance for myself, i.e. I accepted that it’s okay to not like someone, now it’s inconcievable. Can you please tell me what the Buddha said about cultivating loving-kindness knowing that as humans it is sometimes so difficult since we’re all so capable of feeling the exact opposite and since our feelings are often so hard to change? Did he say anything about embracing our humanity through this process? I hope this makes sense. Many thanks in advance.

    • Hi, Jenny.

      I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve been suffering in this way. To develop self-hatred through lovingkindness practice is obviously not what’s intended. It sounds like something is going drastically amiss as far as self-metta is concerned, and I’m wondering what that practice actually looks like for you. What happens when you realize you’ve been beating yourself up for not being metta-ful enough? Do you recognize that you’re suffering and find some kindness for yourself? That’s certainly what I’d suggest.

      We’re all imperfect. We’re all working with our biological, family, and social conditioning, which includes the habits of anger, judgement, etc. It’s not our fault that we have these traits. There’s no point blaming ourselves for having them. But we can accept that we’re imperfect and make an effort to act more kindly in the future. That effort will, of course, be imperfect as well :)

  • […] learn how to cultivate peace in our lives. Meditation — especially mindfulness meditation and lovingkindness meditation — is a simple tool I use to help me find peace. Combine that with open ocean waters, a sunny day […]

  • I came across your sight yesterday as I was seeking answers in the ‘obvious’ benefits of a meditation practise, and how to recognise them. Then was reminded about Metta practise, which I’d been introduced to by a lovely Buddhist practitioner who was conducting weekly classes on developing a meditation practise at the Buddhist Library. So I decided to include it at the end of my meditation practise, and begin my own 100 day practise of 20 minutes meditation, simply noticing the gaps between the chatter, followed by 10 mins of metta practise. Simple first stages, focussing on the heart then repeating, may you be well, may you be happy, may you be at ease. Today is day two, and halfway through the metta practise my body felt like it had somehow separated, and I was in a vast space. There was no longer mind chatter, all I could hear were my words as I repeated slowly, may you be well, may you be happy, may you be at ease. With long gaps in between. I felt an extraordinary sense of peace, like I’ve never experienced before, and the pain I often feel in my lower back, and next simply did not exist. There was no sense of a body, more like hovering, or floating in a great sea of space. So difficult to explain, but my goodness, the peace. Can you please point me in the direction of describing the stages of metta practise, and the effects that one can feel. I’d like to understand how this works exactly, because in my experience it did. And so quickly….

    • I’m glad that you had that experience, Margarita. Sometimes these kinds of things happen early on, and I just want to caution you that the next time you do the practice it will almost certainly be very different. The problem is that now you’ll be going into the practice with subtle or not-so-subtle expectations, which weren’t present before. Last time, you sat with an openness to whatever might arise. This time your mind, quite involuntarily, will have associated the two ideas “did metta bhavana” and “had a mind-blowing sit.” Pavlovian conditioning sets in very quickly where “rewards” and “punishments” are involved.

      What can often happen is that people get very disappointed when the same experience doesn’t manifest again.

      Technically, what you were experiencing was first jhana (or dhyana in Sanskrit). It’s very cool. And it’s something we can learn to cultivate. I’d done a lot of writing about this, but so far it’s all been for online events that aren’t publicly available. I have an online course focusing on jhana. You can join the course by becoming a sponsor of Wildmind’s meditation initiative.

  • […] word translated in the two versions as either “love” or “lovingkindness” is metta. These days my own preferred translation of this term is “kindness.” Metta is the […]

  • I was looking to see if you had a daily email for the two main types of daily meditations you recommended to readers here.

    Maybe you can recommend how to or when to use the two different kinds of meditations as well as the differ stages of each.

    • I’m afraid we don’t have a daily email for those practices, Leigh. The short story about how to use the meditations is that it’s best, in most circumstances, to do them on alternate days, unless you’re really in need of one or the other.

  • How do I subscribe to the 2 daily meditations you recommend for most of us?

    • I don’t know what you mean by “subscribe” to them, Leigh. You’ll find a fairly full description of each meditation here on the site. Use the links on the left to navigate through the various stages of each practice.

  • […] tell myself this all the time, I do long loving-kindness meditations …… I try so hard to put my love, my kindness, my compassion, at the […]

  • Thank you Bodhipaksa I really appreciate that, it’s what I needed to hear, reading it I totally agree with you, just to point out though she was the one who said she was leading me on, although before she said it I probably did think it! Great article though it will put me on a better path not just for relationships but life.

    • Thank you, Euan. It’s lovely to see such receptivity. I wish you all the best with your future relationships.

  • Great thank you very much Bodhipaksa! What section of the website will I be able to find the blog post? And what will it be titled?

    Thanks again for your time, all the best, Euan.

    • I’ll post a link here so that you receive a notification (I assume you clicked the little box to receive email notifications of replies).

    • Hi, Euan. I’ve finished the post, which you can see here. It may make for uncomfortable reading, I’m afraid, but I hope it’s helpful.

  • Hey Bodhipaksa,
    I only started meditating in December 2014 and was seeing this girl for a while, we went on a couple of dates, the first went well and the second went ok. We continued messaging each other but she seemed less keen, then today she told me she felt we didn’t click and didn’t want to meet again. She said I paid her too many compliments and was too nice. I’m just so angry because I felt like she was leading me on and we had been speaking for at least two months as I first met her in December but I went home to university and so didn’t see her again until 2 weeks ago where we had the two dates and I thought things seemed to be going well. I just want to know what I’m supposed to think I guess. From what I’ve learned for my short period of meditation is that we should love each other, but when someone tells me they don’t want a relationship because I’m “too nice” it makes me question what I’m doing. Like should I stop being nice to girls I want potential relationships with, and how am I supposed to not get angry at her for me being too nice. What is so wrong with the world that people don’t like being treated nicely, it perplexes me.
    Sorry if this doesn’t read smoothly, I’m writing this immediately after I found out and my almost immediate reaction was to question how I am supposed to think like a Buddhist when bad things happen to me for being too nice.

    Thank you for your time, all the best, Euan.

    • Hi, Euan.

      I think this is an important topic, and I’m going to address it in a blog post, hopefully tomorrow.

      All the best,

  • Thank you so much for your reply.
    I know it’s not a big thing but I just want to make sure I’m on the right path.

    Take care.

  • Hi Bodhipaksa,
    I’m new to meditation and wish to explore further into becoming a Buddhist.
    I’ve been through a relationship breakup last year and the anguish has made me quite ill and I suffer from anxiety almost every day.
    I use Mindfulness of Breathing twice daily having learned the technique from you excellent book on this website.
    I want to learn the Walking Meditaion and I’ve just starting on the Metta Meditaion. My question is that how should I proceed in the longer term? I love meditating every day but as there are different ones, when would you choose one meditation over another?
    Also, what books can I read to start? I want to get on the right path to enlightenment but there is so much out there.

    Thank you :)

    • Hi, Ian.

      I’m sorry to hear about your breakup and the pain that it’s led to.

      The advice I give is to alternate the mindfulness of breathing and lovingkindness practices daily, unless there’s a strong need to do one rather than the other (e.g. if you’re in a bad mood then focus on metta). That’s enough to keep most people going for a couple of years, at least, although if people want to take on another practice I’ll sometimes suggest doing the six element practice once in a while — not daily, but perhaps eery week or two.


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