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Is metta a ‘feeling’ , or a ‘desire’ for the wellness of others, or a ‘process‘ of sending a state of wellbeing to others?

If it’s a ‘desire’, then can it lead to a form of clinging? (Suffering when we see others suffer). If meditation helps us to extinguish the discriminating mind, would that mean that ‘metta’ is given to ‘all’ things in equal measures? For instance, wishing strangers, trees, and animals as well as our family, the same degree of loving kindness/well being, without discriminating.

This question arises in my mind when trying to make sense of wooden furniture made from a life that would have given shelter and oxygen to all yet asks for nothing in return;  whilst trying to understand why there is a universal lack of empathy for chickens that never see daylight before ending up on a dinner plate, or a cow that becomes a leather handbag with a price tag thats higher than when it was alive.

2 Answers

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by (3.3k points)
I've done a few metta retreats. The teacher there translated metta with well-wishing instead of the usual loving kindness.

Metta is an active thought process where one formulates a wish for someone, starting with oneself. So: "May I be free from doubt.", "May I be patient.", and so forth.  

To let this be metta one connects with a) oneself (or later other beings) and b) with the meaning of the wish. Without making this connection it would be simply a concentration practice. There is no beaming or sending of states or energies or whatsoever. Just making a wish and while doing so make these two connections. That's all.

Later on good wishes are formulated for other beings: a benefactor, a friend, a neutral person, a foe. By the end of the practice the mind will no longer make any difference between the different persons. There will be a kindness towards everyone.

This is, at least, how I have been taught the metta practice.

Hope this answers your question. _/\_
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Thank you for your kind thoughts.  If ‘metta’ is an active thought process, does it Purely serve an internal purpose of making ones character more compassionate?  And externally do others only benefit from this metta when in ones presence?
by (3.3k points)
Imho. it's always for internal purpose. It's used as a counter for the hindrance of ill will and such. That others in the end will benefit as well is an extra, I'd say.

Also, when all the hindrances are gone metta and karuna are more often in the front of the mind, so to speak. So, presence of those wholesome states will no longer be an issue. It becomes effortless.

Basically, there is a difference between actively having to pursue metta (karuna, etc) and the state when this will be effortless. As long as one is not enlightened all wholesome states require some effort.

Hope this helps.
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by (7.7k points)

Metta comes under the Sankhara(mental formations) aggregate of the five aggregates. 
Metta simply means kindness or friendliness. Being nice and courteous to a friend or anyone in general is an example for Metta. 

The word 'desire' can be ambiguous depending on the context. If by 'desire', you mean craving, Metta has nothing to do with it. Metta is a skillful mental quality. In simple terms Metta is good Karma.

Metta has far enemy as hate/aversion and near enemy as lust/love. Lust can sometimes parade itself disguised as Metta. Ex: being sweet to a beautiful woman. Going out of your way to be her helper even when she can easily manage on her own.

Trees are not sentient beings according to Buddhism so we do not practice Metta towards trees. What you feel for animals that are being slaughtered is called Karuna(compassion). Karuna is felt toward someone who is in misery. This is different from Metta. 

Metta, Karuna, Muditha, Upekkha are the four immeasurables.  They are all skillful mental states one must cultivate.

by (7.7k points)
edited by
I'm beginning to think that you are a follower of Mahayana and this conversation is turning into a Mahayana vs Theravada debate. If that is the case, we will be wasting our time arguing. According to Theravada Buddhism, plants are clearly not sentient beings and to challenge that would be challenging the word of the Buddha himself.  

"cause of craving not due to the personalisation of feelings towards an object" - No.  The cause of craving is the feeling itself. Enlightened beings do not lose their sense of conceptual reality. They have just eliminated defilements. But they are still able to identify things like chair, tree, dog, car, man, woman etc. Being able to identify conceptual realities does not require craving.  Plants are also concepts. There is no such thing called a plant in ultimate reality. In ultimate reality you have Nama(mental) and Rupa(Form). What we call as a sentient being conceptually is both Nama and Rupa in ultimate reality and what we call a plant conceptually is just Rupa.

"Does it matter whether a plant or human is sentient when practicing metta" - I think if you understood what I had mentioned as the purpose of Metta meditation in a previous comment, you wouldn't be repeating this question.
by (2.2k points)
Hehe, thank you for your responses..  I do appreciate it. Sadhu.

Actually, although I’ve been practicing Vipassana meditation since 2007, I’ve only been studying the Dhamma for a few months, mostly during the Covid Lockdown period, so I’m not that well versed.  
You are also quite correct that my views (From personal insight through meditation rather than from the synthesis of texts) are somewhat not quite in tune with aspects of the Dhamma, and that Realisation in itself is quite a disappointment after practicing Vipassana for years.

I can only realise if I am out of sync when conversing with people who are better versed in the Dhamma than I am, e.g. yourself or long term monastics... So, I do hope you don’t view our conversations as an argument, but rather as putting me straight- which is helpful for me to gain an insight into the general consensus.

I don’t know the difference between Mahayana vs Theravada aside from their traditional geographical locations,  but this leads on to another question:
1) Why are there so many traditions and lineages? In your opinion did Buddha purposely aim to make people think and discuss his teachings so that people can work things out for themselves?
by (7.7k points)
"Why are there so many traditions and lineages?" - This should be  asked as a separate question and not as a comment. The simple answer is that as the time passed by, different people started interpreting the teachings in different ways and mixing beliefs of other religions to Buddhism. When those people got rejected by the elders, they created a new school and became Mahayana. Then it went on to be further subdivided.

If disappointment is the result of your meditation practice, it could be that there is something wrong in the way you practiced or you did not get proper guidance in Vipassana. So it is quite possible that what you call as "persona insight" here is not actually real insight but misjudgments caused by the wrong practice.  I would recommend you to follow the online meditation course of venerable Yuttadhamma.
by (2.2k points)
Thank you for your Kindness and wisdom
by (7.7k points)
You're welcome!
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