I have personal problems with the metta practice. I would say may I/you be happy and I would go in this wish fulfilment mode. Imagining myself and others happy would create a jinni in the bottle attitude. It would become this deluded practice.

  1. How can I wish people to be happy when I know this wish wont come true?
  2. How can I wish people to be happy whithout going into this prayer mode?

Can I use words like "I hope you be happy"? Or maybe I find joy"

Is metta hoping? Or attitude of maybes?

  • Love & compassion can't be cultivated. But awareness can be cultivated and through awareness one starts understanding love and compassion.
    – user10804
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 13:11
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    I disagree completely that love and compassion cannot be cultivated and wonder how you could think otherwise given all the empirical evidence to the contrary of countless individuals who have done exactly that.
    – user13375
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 13:30
  • They cultivated awareness. And love and compassion are by product of awareness.
    – user10804
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 14:14

5 Answers 5


In order to understand metta, one first has to understand "ill-will" (vyāpāda), origination of ill-will, and cessation of ill-will.

In order to understand origination and cessation of ill-will, one needs to understand Dependent Co-Arising.

Our image of the world and our image of ourselves are mirror reflections of each other. The two sides are reflections of each other because each side co-evolves by contrasting its identity with the other side.

Because of this, "ill-will" (=negativity) towards an aspect of the world we see as wrong and frustrating is always connected with attachment to some sort of idea of "good" we identify with. In simple words, "in this regard, they are bad and I'm good" or "they are wrong and I'm right". Similarly, "ill-will" towards oneself always comes with some sort of comparison: "in this regard, they are good and I'm bad" or craving: "they achieved this and I did not".

In practice, almost every person usually has a mix of many such points, some of which are
(self)[+]<===>[-](world) and some are (self)[-]<===>[+](world). As our attention switches between these different points during the day, our sense of self and the world may flip many times between positive and negative. One moment you think you're messed up and the world is fine, and the other moment you feel the world is messed up and you're fine. Or, if you are very attentive, you can even notice two opposite points in your mind at the same time, making the lives of others pitiful and enviable at the same time, and making your self be an unrecognized genius and a complete loser at the same time. I'm exaggerating to make a point, but you get the idea. If you judge others, you judge yourself. If you judge yourself - you judge others. These judgements are relative to each other, therefore are always connected.

To boil all this down to a simple rule, if you hate the world you hate yourself. If you hate yourself you hate the world. The good news is, because the two sides are connected, healing one will always heal the other. So, if you learn to accept yourself, you'll learn to accept the world. If you learn to love the world, you will learn to love yourself.

And this, my friend, is the whole idea of Metta!

As my teacher explained, cultivation of Metta starts by cultivating acceptance of oneself with all your imperfections. Once you learn to not judge yourself, once you learn to "love" (accept) yourself unconditionally and to be your true self in front of the others without fear of judgement, just as you are -- then you will notice an immediate relief in your relationships with the world and with other people. Then, the next step, learning to "love" (accept) others without judgement will come easily and naturally. But you can also approach it from the other side: if you learn to accept others without judgement, you will eventually learn to accept yourself and be free.

Freedom is only possible when we are free from fear, including the fear of judgement, constraining our spontaneous expression of our inner goodness.

By now you should get a pretty clear idea that Metta is not "Wishing others to be happy". Metta (or Maitri in Sanskrit) is unconditional acceptance of someone just as they are, without judgement or hostility.

When you have metta towards someone imperfect (including yourself, or even towards the entire society), you don't pretend that they are perfect. Instead, you accept them with all their problems and wounds, like you would accept your own children. When you have metta towards someone difficult, you don't see them as inherently "bad" - but you do appreciate that some of their past karma, or karma of their family or social group, might have created causes for aggression and hostility, or lack of education, or bad taste for simple pleasures, or a confused system of values and ideals - so you do see everything as is, with all the causes and results of the causes and how these results limit the future possibilities, but you no longer impute an inherent qualitative characteristic to it.

(This idea of not judging, and not reifying your judgements as if they were inherent characteristics of other people, eventually builds up to realization of Emptiness, the insight into how our mind constructs its experience.)

The end goal of Metta is a state when you fully accept yourself and the world, so you feel "like a fish in the water". Meaning, when you are without judgement, you can be friendly and spontaneous without being on the defense. It's almost like the boundary between yourself and the world disappears. In a way you feel like a child, completely comfortable in your own realm.

With Metta, you don't need to try hard to look perfect, educated, strong, consistent etc. - because you accept yourself as you are and you're not afraid of judgement of others (because that judgement used to be your own projection to begin with). Similarly, your experience of the world is no longer negative - because the attachments that held your attention fixed on the judgements that colored the world in the negative colors - are gone too. You are perfect and the world is perfect, with all their imperfections, just as they are. This is Metta as it is understood in my tradition (the Maitreya tradition).

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    So fascinating. I feel like I'm learning some part of this recently. The way I said it was that in order to be gentle with others you have to be gentle with yourself. But one could say the converse too.
    – user13375
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 17:00
  • 1
    Thx! Lot to reflect on! Commented Sep 8, 2018 at 11:05

Very recently I attended a retreat where guidance was given on cultivating metta. In brief, the guidance was that to begin one should focus on one individual at first and then visualize actually doing something that would make that being happy. I chose a dog that I know who seems very happy when a particular person comes by to greet it. I visualized this dog and visualized myself carrying this small dog to the other person. I can say from personal experience that the meditation was successful in cultivating very warm and loving feelings. The guidance was to pick for that first being an individual that is easy to generate loving kindness towards ie., better not to pick someone who you have an aversion to.

Further guidance was given, that after one has successfully done this for several, several sessions and developed confidence by seeing the effects of this on the mind ... only after this should one branch out to visualizing a different individual that is a little bit - but not much! - harder to generate metta towards. For this second individual several sessions should again be done before replacing with a third etc., etc.,

And then, slowly, slowly, slowly over time you can start practicing with beings that you are neutral towards. And then slowly, slowly, slowly, practicing with beings that you have slight aversion towards ... medium aversion towards ... strong aversion towards ... actual malice or hatred towards... like that.

Always start your meditation with one being and not many. If you wish to end your meditation by visualizing more and more beings and extending that out to all sentient beings this is fine, but for those of us who have not developed calm abiding better to begin the meditation with one individual at a time as quite enough. Also, don't make it generic like just thinking, "May this person be happy." in a mechanistic manner. Try to actually visualize yourself doing something to actualize that happiness.

Anyway, this is the guidance given to me and I thought it very wise guidance and in my own experience it seemed to work. You should check yourself though.

Hope this helps!

  • Thx for the post! I have a cat that i love very much. I would visualize my cat and pleasent feelings in my chest would arise. Is metta focusing on pleasent feelings in your body? I thought it was about the mind and intentions of goodwill. Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 13:52
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    The mind and body are connected, but generally speaking the metta should definitely result in very warm and happy feelings in the mind. This could then cause the body to also feel very warm and happy. When you visualize the individual it is important to not mistake love for attachment though. What matters is focusing on just making the other individual happy without any reciprocal expectations whatsoever. Of course, for us ordinary beings attachment will arise from time to time and your job is just to note it and let it go and try to refocus on just making the other individual happy.
    – user13375
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 14:04
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    Also, try to be gentle with your mind during the meditation and not try to impose your will with any violence. It is hard to be gentle with others if we are not gentle with our own minds.
    – user13375
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 14:06
  • Thx! "mistake love for attachment" didnt think about that! That helps! Commented Sep 8, 2018 at 11:04

Metta comes under Samma Sankappo or Right Intention. The whole point of Metta practice is to develop the right attitude or motivation towards practice, namely non-Ill Will (Metta or goodwill), Renunciation (Non-greed) and Non-cruelty (Karuna, Compassion). These emotions or drives are what will get us through when practice gets difficult.

Sure, it is not possible that all beings will be happy. But, at least when you prime yourself with Metta practice, you will reduce the probability of being that person who causes suffering to others. You will try to maintain a mind of goodwill even when others try to cause you harm.

Moreover, if the exact Metta phrases do not resonate with you, try some other ones. Or try radiating Metta one by one in all 6 directions (Front, back, left, right, down, up). The whole point is to generate the friendly, kind emotions when someone opens the door for you and that brings a smile to your face. It is just that times 10 or more.

I also invite you to check Ajahn Sona's youtube videos. He can go very deep: Metta: Basis for Insight

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    "But, at least when you prime yourself with Metta practice, you will reduce the probability of being that person who causes suffering to others. " thx this line is really great! Commented Sep 10, 2018 at 9:58
  • Thank you for the kind words :D By the way, I feel the 5 recollections are a good counter-weight when Metta drifts into unrealistic idealism. Also, Asubha practice is a good counter-weight when Metta drifts into attachment.
    – Luv
    Commented Sep 10, 2018 at 16:30

I think all your considerations are based on the idea that the wish won't come true. But, in many ways, the wish does come true, especially when conjoined with the perspective of emptiness.

For example, if you wish that a friend gains tons of happiness, this might not directly occur, but you might generate compassion in yourself towards that friend and increase their happiness via your interactions, which will be more positive.

Even the mere wish of someone's happiness, from the point of view of karma, is virtuous, beneficial. If you don't help this person, then you may help that person. The first benefactor might be happy about you, about you helping others.

Overall, just as compassion and karma share a worldly quality related to action, they also share the need to see them vastly, without too much precision. Generating compassion for a single person, symbolically, is related to the act of generating compassion for the entire world; in one's very perception, there is separateness, but in ultimate reality there is none. Just because you grow towards universal compassion later doesn't mean its disconnected with focusing on just one person now.

I feel few people realize the implications of compassion, and you may feel as though you're doing something trivial. But, the intention is foremost, just by generating compassion in a given way you generate qualities in your mind, whatever the perceived result might be. Even, compassion entails also being compassionate towards yourself, seeing the virtuous act you're doing while meditating, and having sympathetic joy for yourself. You might want to see the limitations you perceive in metta as obstacles to practice, and focus on the ways in which those wishes do come true. Compassion, even gratitude, are similar in their tendency to focus on what is best in life, what is conducive to well being.

Also, perhaps I'm going in a realm not linked to the answer you expect, but how can you be so extremely sure that your metta practice is not affecting the well being of others just by wishing? Just because your expectations about what happens to them aren't met, the well-being of these people -- the very meaning of metta -- might be achieved still. If anything, you above all will benefit from sending metta to others, and the world will be better because of it. Metta, seemingly, works in mysterious ways.

Hope this helps.


I think that if people insist on wanting what's impossible, they may "suffer" -- that's, like, the first and second noble truth.

Similarly, if people insist on wanting what's harmful, they may suffer.

Was it for these reasons that you said, "How can i wish people to be happy when i know this wish wont come true?" -- is it because of these reasons that you expect that people won't be happy?

My impression , from Pali literature, is a bit narrower than the other answers (the other answers might well have been Mahayana-influenced and not only based on Pali) -- i.e. I think that "metta" might not mean, "make someone else happy" -- it might just mean, "don't hurt someone else."

So "may you be well" is a synonym for "I don't want to hurt you, I don't want hurt to come to you".

Keeping the precepts is an example of metta: "I don't kill, I don't lie, I don't steal from you, I don't get angry, I don't want harm to come to you" -- that is what metta is. Is that impossible to hope for?

From the Dhammapada:

  1. He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me." Those who harbor such thoughts do not still their hatred.

  2. "He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me." Those who do not harbor such thoughts still their hatred.

  3. Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.

In that last verse, "non-hatred" (averena), I think that is what metta is (some of the answers to What is the Antidote for a Hateful Temperament? give various references).

I think that's where it begins, anyway.

I think that the Karaniya Metta Sutta (Snp1.8) is one of the definitions. Here are some extracts:

Straightforward and gentle in speech,
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied,
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm and wise and skillful,
Not proud or demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.


Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world:
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down

It mentions "conceit" to begin with -- see answers to How are 'conceit' and 'identity-view' not the same? for further descriptions of "conceit". And beyond what's said there, I think the suttas also say that "conceit" is a cause for people's arguing with each other, trying to wound each other verbally.

Another quality of conceit is comparing people (saying "this person is higher" and so on), whereas a quality of metta seems to be, "May all beings be at ease", as if you have no enemies.

The second passage alludes to the precepts and to right speech ("Let none deceive"), and what I said above about ill-will versus harmlessness.

Also I think you're hoping to free yourself from (or abandon) ill-will, at the same time as freeing others.

I think there may be a connection between metta and generosity too, in the practitioner -- but I'm not sure how to answer (or to "prove") that from the Pali scriptures.

I think that monks (who were perhaps the primary audience and subject of the suttas) have (unlike lay people) literally nothing to give except good-will -- and maybe dhamma-talks or course -- plus benevolent actions and so on that I shouldn't minimise, social/engaged activities -- even so, I don't think I've noticed such activities recommended to monks in the suttas. So anyway (though perhaps I'm wrong) I'd expect overt "generosity" to be more practised/practicable by laypeople (or Bodhisattvas) -- maybe, I don't know, Mahayana has more to say about that.

Not that there isn't generosity or charitable work to be found from some contemporary monks and nuns.

And actually I think monks are taught to be generous -- sharing food, for example (I'd reference this sutta but see also the Vinaya) -- I'm not sure whether that's called metta though. I'd lke to say "yes", but possibly not -- maybe metta is an antidote to ill-will, where generosity or giving is an antidote to greed. Maybe it amounts to more or less the same thing in the end though.


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