The Loving Heart – the core of skilful emotions

I hope you are well and surviving the onslaught of wind and rain!  With it being cold, wet and nasty outside over this next month the focus of the class will be on cultivating a warm and loving heart!  Regulars will be  familiar with the Loving Kindness meditation but this is one of a set of four meditations for cultivating skilful emotions called the Brahma Viharas, or Divine Abidings. In traditional Buddhism it is said that to cultivate these states is to make one’s mind like those of the gods and lead to rebirth in the heaven realm. Whilst Buddhism does not teach that there is a creator God, it is said that those with refined mental states may be reborn in a god realm of pure consciousness and live there until the skillfull actions that led to that rebirth run out and they return to the human realm. Whilst we may no longer believe in gods and rebirth into different realms, we all know the hell of jealousy, envy and  hatred and how changing our state of mind changes our experience of the world. The Divine Abiding meditations counteract unskillful states of mind and instead cultivate skilful emotions.

Over the next few weeks we’ll explore each of the Divine Abiding meditation at the end of the evening. The four divine abiding are: loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. I’ve also included the Pali terms for any of you who would like to look then up in more detail. This week we’ll look in more detail at the core meditation, Loving Kindness.

Loving Kindness (Metta)

The Loving Kindness practice we usually finish with is said to be the root of the divine abiding meditations, for the other emotions are what arise when Loving Kindness comes into contact with the varieties of human experience. Each divine abiding meditation starts by connecting to loving kindness and then bringing this loving kindness into contact with a person who represents the emotion to be evoked.

Each meditation is said to have a near and far enemy.  The near enemy is an unskilful mental state that undermines the skilful state being cultivated whilst being mistaken as the skilful emotion itself.  The far enemy is the opposite of what is being cultivated.

The near and far enemy of Loving kindness:
Far enemy: ill- will

Near enemy: selfish affection

With loving kindness the clear unskillful emotion we might feel for another is ill-will or hatred. The practice is intended to help us let go of this and wish others well.  The near enemy is more subtle. We know when we’ve fallen into it as our response to someone backing away or not showing the gratitude we would expect is to think something like “after all I have done for you!” Rather than being an unconditional giving with a sense of the other person as a free individual, we are giving out of a desire to feel good, or get gratification from hearing how grateful the other is for our kindness. It’s giving in order to fill our own loneliness or emptiness rather than out of a wish for the other to be well and happy independent of us.

The Buddha described loving Kindness as being like the love a mother feels of r a her new born child – it is spontaneous and generous, loving the other  for who they are rather than with any motive of personal gain.

The Buddha’s teaching on Loving Kindness is contained in a scripture called the Karaniyametta Sutta.  There are various translations.  Below is a rendering that I pulled together though reading a number of these an choosing the translations that most resonated with me. I hope you enjoy reading it!

The Karaniyametta Sutta

One who wants to attain the Peace of Liberation cultivates these qualities: be gentle and polite, honest and harmonious in speech, practice living with integrity and honour, live simply, contentedly and with gratitude in your heart, leading an upright life [1] Living thus be free from being covetous, conceited, and from being caught up in distractions.

Avoid doing anything unworthy that will be disapproved of by people of good conscience.

Whilst meditating contemplate thus:

May all beings be happy and safe, and may their hearts be filled with joy.

Whatever living beings there may be; whether they are weak or strong, omitting none, the great and the mighty, medium, short or small, the seen and the unseen, those living near and far away, those born or to be born, may all beings be at ease.

Let none deceive another, or despise any being in any state. Let none through anger or hatred wish harm upon another.

Even as a mother protects with her life her child, her only child, so with a boundless heart let one cherish all living beings: spreading upwards to the skies and downwards to the depths, outwards and unbounded freed from hatred and ill-will.

Whether standing or walking, sitting or lying down, for as long as you are awake maintain this mindfulness of love in your heart. This is the noblest way of living and is known as like living in heaven right here and now.

By not holding to fixed views, greed and harmful sensual desires, the pure hearted one lets go of limiting self-views and is spontaneously ethical. Living thus you will certainly transcend Birth and Death to awaken to the Bliss of Liberation.



1. The Five Precepts are refered to in the sutta as ‘’living an upright life.’’ The five Precepts form the ethical base of Lay Buddhist practitioners throughout Asia and are often taken on by people in the West wanting to give an extra focus to their meditation practice.

The Five Precepts:

1. Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.

2. Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.

3. Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.

4. Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.

5. Suramerayamajja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.

The Metta Sutta is found in the Suttanipäta, vv 143-152. Often referred to as the Karanïya Metta Sutta, it was taught by the Buddha to a group of forest monks who were disturbed by tree spirits. He urged them to practise loving- kindness towards all beings. Then those spirits tolerated their presence happily.


Amaravati Chanting book, Amaravati publications (1994)

Thich Nhat Hanh, translation contained in a collection of translations of the Karaniya metta sutta published privately by Dharmacari Sunanda (1996)

Dharmacari Ratnaprabha

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