There are definitions of metta and karuna here: What are metta and karuna?

There's a meditation.

I'm wondering how to practice these socially, though, e.g. as a lay person when talking with people individually or in a group (or perhaps even as a monk talking with people).

In particular what type of view should you try to have of (or see in) people?

My question is sparked by this comment:

I posted the way of the Buddha, which is metta plus asuba. Asuba alone won't work. Metta is to view women as mothers, sisters & daughters rather than to view them as sex objects. If you can see that sexual promiscuity of women diminishes & often destroys the capacity for good motherhood, then you might understand the teachings of Gotama better. In summary, asuba is not really necessary for laypeople. It is generally pointless suggesting asuba to a layperson who does not have the disposition to be a monk.

I found that comment questionable, because why not view women as people?

Viewing "women" as "mothers" sounds like pigeon-holing "them" as just another type of sex-object (gender-specific-object) or social role/stereotype/function (slave).

I mean, "yes" to metta -- but "metta" isn't necessarily to "view women as mothers", or is it?

But then the question occurred, if metta isn't as described in the comment then what does metta mean?

The reason I found the above comment questionable is because I expect a person (a woman) might view him- or her-self in a variety of ways: as a mother, as an adult child, as a consumer, as a worker, an athlete, a friend, a volunteer, a voter, and so on ... different views (different ambitions or roles) at different times.

I think that holding a view of someone that isn't the same as their own current view of themselves is a form of harm and a cause of suffering (e.g. a view like "you can't be a friend because you're a woman", "you can't be an employee because you're a mother", "you can't be political because you're a girl", while she wants to be a friend or employee or etc).

So maybe "sympathy" means that you should see other people as they see themselves? But someone's view-of-self might be a cause of suffering too, so maybe it's better if you don't try to see each person as they see themselves? Perhaps it's fantasy to hope that you can see others as they themselves, except in limited circumstances (e.g. in a job interview)? In summary this question (about metta and interacting with people) has devolved towards views-of-self and the thicket-of-views.

So what can be said about metta and karuna, if they interact with identity-view, self-view?

What does a kind of transactional behaviour (attitude) sound like (is it good or bad?) e.g. a view like, "you're a bus driver and I'm here because I'm on the bus ... it doesn't matter who you think you are, nothing matters except your driving the bus and me having an absolute minimum standard of politeness so as not to be actually offensive"?

Sorry if this is a confused question. The suttas (e.g. Sigalovada Sutta) necessarily talk about general truths, and ends up maybe seeming impersonal, cold, robotic, and I'm not sure if that's the right impression or the whole lesson.

5 Answers 5


Metta is wishing for all beings to be happy and be at ease.

Looking at women as mothers is not metta.

But I can find a reverse-mother reference for metta below.

The metta practitioner should feel loving-kindness towards all beings just as a mother would want to protect her only child.

Metta can be used to counter one's own impulse to cause harm or unhappiness to others by considering the welfare and happiness of others.

From the Karaniya Metta Sutta:

As a mother would risk her life
to protect her child, her only child,
even so should one cultivate a limitless heart
with regard to all beings.
With good will for the entire cosmos,
cultivate a limitless heart.


Viewing "women" as "mothers"

Viewing "women" as "mothers" appeared in Bhāradvājasutta which is not taught about metta, but that sutta was teaching about ordained life keeping (5 saṃvaya):

  1. “Great King, the Blessed One who knows and sees is worthy and rightfully enlightened has said: ‘Monks, think of them who are like your mothers as your mother, of them who are like your sisters as your sister, of them who are like your daughters as your daughter. This is the reason for the young monks with black hair, in the prime of youth, not to enjoy sensual pleasures, to devote their life to lead a complete and pure holy life until the end of their lives.

Mettā VS Mettā Jhāna VS Mettā Meditation & Karuṇā

Metta is wishing to give happiness to the other living life(s).

Mettā jhāna is perfect and successful concentration that focusing in a living life by that wishing-to-give-happiness-method.

Mettā Meditation is that mettā jhāna in advance. The mettā practitioner who attained mettā jhāna in a person, will meditate in the other persons more to attain mettā jhāna in each person, or groups. They will meditate like that until they can attain mettā jhāna in every people as the same quality/volume/feeling/etc. This is called sīmasambheda (mettā limitation cessation).

Karuṅā is wishing to help one cease from suffering, pain, hurt, etc.

So, in venāgasutta:

Here, brahmin, in the morning I put on robes and taking bowl and robes go for alms to the village or hamlet relying on which I abide. After the meal is over and returning from the alms round, I roam in that forest stretch. Finding a heap of grass or leaves, I collect them and sit on them making a cross legged position, keeping the body straight and establishing mindfulness in front. Then I abide pervading one direction with loving kindness, so to the second, the third, the fourth, above, below and across, in every respect, on the whole, entirely grown great, immeasurable and without anger [=sīmasambheda].

The path of purification, CHAPTER IX, THE DIVINE ABIDINGS (Brahmavihára-niddesa) page 291 already explained very well. But I recommend pāli version, because it is easier to understand the relativity of pāli words.

Mettakathā in K.N. Paṭisambhidāmagga is very well one.

  • Yes I suppose it makes sense for the ordained to view laypeople as being primarily family-members. And thank you for the reference to words like "metta jhana" and "sīmasambheda", because that lets me look for some exposition of those topics.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jan 13, 2018 at 13:28
  • I believe the same advice was given to a man who served as a servant/driver of the queen or some princesses. He had to touch their hands and assist them get down from the cart on a daily basis. I don't remember the Sutta. Commented Jan 13, 2018 at 13:49

Nyom Chris,

Like Nyom Vorapol (Bonn) pointed out helpfully, it was for the Buddha very important, that they get neither confused in regard of gratitude and deeds of others (in ways like "there is nobody doing...who did", as shown in the quote from the Bhāradvājasutta) nor in regard of who is the carrier of suffering (in the Bhāra Sutta). This is something many are led to be confused about, by common ways of interpretations of Buddha's way of thinking; for benefit and non-confusion, The common thief-like Niganthas/Jains-ways of metta and insight practice

Especially metta-bhavana has person/s individual/s as object. Thoughts of goodwill be extended not only toward a single being, group or kind, but toward All possible existing beings, which gives release to reach certain Jhanas (see Karaṇīya Metta-Sutta as a guide for practice).

As it is pointed out in the quoted sutta text by Nyom Vorapol, certain related people (family) should be regarded in terms of what they had done on beneficial and duties toward one, and not in regard of sensual pleasure one might have received (which might goes up till sexual pleasure). When we think on emotions of love, for example, those are mostly in certain range of the seven kinds of sexualities (see Methuna Sutta).

The tool of using beloved relations, to possibly develop metta also toward not beloved persons, beings, one can find when the Buddha tells that:

A being who has not been your mother at one time in the past is not easy to find... A being who has not been your father... your brother... your sister... your son... your daughter at one time in the past is not easy to find.

On one hand, to know clearly about the goodness one had received from others, and the fact that nearly all other beings had been such generous beings as well, like those we highly regard for now, cuts away any willingness to be not of goodwill as a reward.

As the understanding of giving/taking and obligation, goodness and gratitude, gets also clear at the same time, step by step, it also urges samvega and to seek good mindstates and concentration, giving by performing a temporary "debtlessness" in giving ones goodwill equal torward everyone, good or bad, not necessary to be seen equal (since beings are not), for insight and liberation and not for the sake of Coupling (even at is lowest grade: desire for heavenly being and union)

If willing to pull the term of "mother" into your metta-bhavana, there are again, two anchors:

  • Remember that there is hardly a being having not been you mother in the past, to cut of aversion and increase a supportive attitude of obligation for being easily able to develop thought of goodwill.

  • and as reminder, that you/one should stick with practising metta and thoughts of goodwill like a mother clings/loves and holds on her only son (might it be skillful in regard of the mother or not): fight against any thought that likes to harm you metta-state of mind (=son).

If one wishes to bring together asobha-meditation (on the ugliness and imperfection of matter/form, of all kind) and metta meditation (which was actually introduced as a straw-man to excuse unseeming approach) together, such might bear certain dangers. Like told in the quoted Sutta of the comment (if there is sense-desire involved, which is possible in imperfect metta), even a corpse can be reason for sexual lust. So such might be not good to do together, if not one of the two is already good developed. But it is right, as commented there, that such as other kinds of "pleasant" meditation objects are useful as a compensation of to much disgust toward body in a harmful way.

The same counts for karuna (thoughts of wishing to be helped) in regard of "how to view people" and becomes even more visible in regard of mudita, appreciation of goodness developed/done by all other beings and rejoice with all, appreciate then (again a temporary release of subtle present force of obligation) to reach certain concentration.

People and beings, when seen in this way, should always been seen in their deeds, way of deeds, result of their deeds, and certain kind be selected to act on it proper. If understanding such as commonly known as "Buddha-nature" in that way, to find a source of deeds in any being, to be able to regard them properly and with thoughts of metta, karuna and mudita, a matter of gratitude and appreciation for deeds, then to use "Buddha-nature" as a translation for that, to approach other sects developed practice as well in a way to do not increase wrong view, might be good as well.

In the same way one should also regard oneself, have gratitude and appreciation toward ones many previous sacrifices done in the past to in such a seldom, rich and auspicious situation: not waste ones merits and current wealth (in all regards) having no idea of how hard it was to gain and use this again as a strong drive toward liberation and to stick joyful with right effort.

My person hopes that this gives enough reasonable ground to dispel confusions and the questions of "what can be said about metta and karuna, if they interact with identity-view, self-view?"

To get your metta-bhavana on the right track (neither being nor not-being), it's good to remember the contained sentence in the Karaniya Metta Sutta:

Since mettā meditation has the (concept of) "beings" as object, it is close to the ego-illusion or the wrong view of a personality (of what ever kind). Hence, in order to prevent the entanglement in this and other wrong views, and in order to reach the 'fruition attainments' of the 'Noble Living' through insight meditation, the Buddha commences the last verse with the statement: 'And not holding to wrong view'.

(As probably the access might be again taken, one might feel free and given to discuss the topic and ask here further.)

Actions give causes, from this comes that, with this that arises.

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma, not meant for commercial use or other lower wordily gains by ways of exchange or trade.]

  • Thank you for explaining. If I could try to summarise it in one sentence, "You shouldn't only 'view women as mothers': instead 'metta' means that you might view any being as if they had been everyone in your family; and nurture attitude of goodwill as if you were its mother."
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 11:58
  • Just try to finsh your duties and be sure that you do not do it for whom evers sake. Dhamma does not work if just add or just substrate or when addition is needed tend to - and when - is needed tend to +, N @ChrisW. The sample to remind on the goodness one has received is good to cut of aversion and unwillingness for goodwill and the fact that you will never fix it, when bound, should urge one to stick to thoughts of goodwill like one sticks to ones beloved, not that you regard the objects of goodwill you should love! Love is what brings you to debts. So give release by thoughts of goodwill. Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 12:14

It is not directly related to Metta, but the idea is to keep lust away from the mind when you interact with women. It doesn't mean you should ask women to become mothers, sisters, daughters etc. The person who uses this technique to curb lust does not really care if the women he interacts with become mothers, sisters, daughters in real life. :D It is only for his personal usage within the mind.


In my understanding, the objective of metta cultivation in Pali Canon Buddhism, is to counter, to be an antidote, for the attitude of negativity, hatred, and envy towards the world. Such negative attitude hurts its bearer first of all, but it also creates objective problems with interaction. This works on the principle of this/that conditionality. Holding a grudge against the world ("that") we are holding to a certain attitude and outlook in ourselves ("this") and vice versa. This configuration is stable and self-sustaining. It contributes to the injured condition of its subject and is an obstacle to Liberation. It also functions as root of harmful karma. By cultivating metta we deconstruct our habitual image of "that", and this through inference relieves our attachment to "this" with its suffering.

In Mahayana metta is part of a broader concept called bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is this attitude of altruistic drive, attitude of a winner who now has no fear and no personal goals but still has a sense of accountability because he knows and he sees. In Mahayana we're not trying to counteract anything, we're "using result as path". We simulate Buddha's qualities with the objective of becoming Buddha through assimilation. And to simulate Buddha's qualities requires one to genuinely care about other beings, the way Buddha does.

I agree with you in your assessment that to see women as sexual objects, or to see them as mothers or even as however they happen to currently see themselves -- is all equally limiting. In all cases we project a flat image on a multidimmensional phenomena. This sort of projection is the very attitude of samsara.

In my opinion the spirit of Metta/Karuna is nonjudgmental acceptance. Instead of having a flat view of the other person, we see them from many possible angles. We see good in bad, bad in good, we see them as victims of circumstances and previous karma, we see them as masters responsible for their lives, we appreciate that they are doing their best, we appreciate their limits, we see their suffering, and the same time we see that they in fact in some sense are happy with their lives and not willing to change them. We see all sides of phenomena in its complexity. We also appreciate the fact that we may not have all information, we may be basing our view of the person based on our own guesses and stereotypes.

When we have all of the above, we enter a state when we can't really judge a person, since we no longer have a firm basis for judgement. Instead, we enter this state of absolute acceptance and kind tolerance. We no longer take the person in isolation, we see them in context of their circumstances, and there is nowhere to place blame anymore. We can't even feel pity for them anymore - indeed who are we to assume that they are pitiful? And yet we can't help but feel their pain, and maybe even marvel at how they're handling it.

This is what metta looks like to me, as absolute multidimmensional nonjudgemental acceptance. Sort of like modern humanistic liberalism on steroids. Which is why I have hope that in 21st century this perspective will strengthen and become mainstream thinking.

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