• TRADITION: Buddhism
  • NEED: Health, Stress Relief and Relaxation, Relationships, Positive Attitude, Spiritual Development, Performance
  • LEVEL: Beginner

Loving-kindness, or metta, is a simple but powerful practice that can transform the way we interact with others. This meditation will help you to become more compassionate, more tolerant, and more understanding of the human frailties we all share.

What’s behind the name of this meditation practice?
Loving-kindness, also called metta in Buddhist practices, is the heartfelt wish for the wellbeing of ourselves and others. It is innate open-heartedness toward friends, strangers, and even enemies that stems from the understanding of our shared humanity.
What’s the concept?
Practicing metta builds the heart’s capacity to love. The meditation isn’t meant to create positive thinking, and we may not feel particularly loving or kind when we’re doing it. Instead, it waters the seeds of good intentions. With regular practice, loving-kindness becomes a permanent state of being, revolutionizing our interactions with others. It is also the first step to personal healing, because it is impossible to truly love others before learning to love ourselves. “Metta is the ability to embrace all parts of ourselves, as well as all parts of the world,” says Insight Meditation Society founder Sharon Salzberg. “Practicing metta illuminates our inner integrity because it relieves us of the need to deny different aspects of ourselves.”
How did this meditation practice originate?
In Buddhism, loving-kindness is one the four brahmavihāras, or “sublime states” taught by the Buddha. He taught that meditating on loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity would liberate the mind from habitual patterns of reactivity. The Visuddhimagga, a foundational text of Theravada Buddhism, contains detailed instructions for meditating on the brahmavihāras.

In Judaism, loving-kindness is translated from the Hebrew word chesed, a core ethical value found in the Bible that describes God’s love. Chesed is the fourth of ten Sephirot on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, which mystically maps the path to God. In Christianity, Jesus, who implored us to “love our neighbors,” is the living embodiment of loving-kindness. The Greek concept of agape or divine love, dates from 2 BCE.
What’s unique about this meditation?
“Kindness leads directly to happiness.” That’s a quote from Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, known as the world’s happiest man. Loving-kindness meditation might be the most effective way to increase happiness, and it directly affects outward actions. There is no greater power in this world than love.
What are its chief benefits?
When researchers began to study loving-kindness, they expected to find the same benefits as any type of meditation. Instead, they turned up some surprising results. Loving-kindness meditation impacts our emotions, sense of connectedness, and physical health. It reduces physical inflammation and builds the storehouse of personal resources, such as self-acceptance and the ability to build positive relationships with others. As researcher Barbara Fredrickson noted, “The practice of [loving-kindness meditation] led to shifts in people’s daily experiences of a wide range of positive emotions, including love, joy, gratitude, contentment, hope, pride, interest, amusement, and awe.” Even small amounts of the meditation led to big changes that were both immediate and long-lasting.
Is there evidence of its effectiveness?
Let’s go back to that claim that Matthieu Ricard is the world’s happiest man. How do we know? Cognitive scientists observed Ricard’s brain waves as he meditated on loving-kindness in an MRI machine. The results were off the charts—his levels of upbeat activity registered -0.45 on scale where -0.3 is considered beatific. Another brain-imaging study compared scans of short-term and long-term meditators. Those with more experience showed more activity in two important brain regions: the insula, known as the compassion center of the brain; and the temporal parietal juncture, which is related to the ability to read the emotional states of others. Other studies demonstrated that loving-kindness meditation decreases chronic pain, curbs self-criticism and depression, boosts emotional intelligence, and even fights aging at a genetic level—chromosomal telomeres, which are shortened by stress, are much longer in people who practice loving-kindness meditation.
Are there any side effects or risks?
Are there any controversies?
How can it be learned?
Loving-kindness meditation is initially a sitting practice. Once learned, it becomes a quality of action: we learn to give it freely without any expectation of return.
Are there any charges for learning?
How is this meditation practiced?
We practice loving-kindness meditation by concentrating on our hearts while visualizing specific people or groups of people and extending love outward. Repeating a few resonant phrases will help you to open your heart. Our step-by-step guided meditation is available on this page.
Can anyone practice this meditation?
Anyone can practice this meditation. Loving-kindness is a universal concept, and it can be explored in any way that feels personally meaningful. For example, if you are a Christian, meditating on Jesus’s loving-kindness could add another dimension to the practice.
Who are the well-known practitioners?
The best-known teachers and authors in this field include:

Sharon Salzberg
Jack Kornfield
Gina Sharpe
Matthieu Ricard
The Dalai Lama
Is any equipment or material required for practice?
Loving-Kindness Meditation
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