By Nancy Thompson
In Buddhism, love is paired with kindness in the term metta, or loving kindness. It’s defined as the wish for other beings to be happy. That may sound weak, but it’s actually not.
“Metta is the protective and immensely patient attitude of a mother who forbears all difficulties for the sake of her child and ever protects it despite its misbehavior. Metta is also the attitude of a friend who wants to give one the best to further one’s well-being. If these qualities of metta are sufficiently cultivated through metta-bhavana — the meditation on universal love — the result is the acquisition of a tremendous inner power which preserves, protects and heals both oneself and others.”
The Buddha first taught metta meditation to a group of monks who had gone to meditate in the forest and were frightened of spirits they met there. In the meditation, you make the aspiration that the other beings will be safe, happy, healthy, and know peace. In the formal practice, you extend that wish to specific people and groups: a mentor, yourself, a loved one, a neutral person, an irritating person, a group, and all beings.
By practicing in this way, we break down the illusion of separate selves and find the connection with others that we crave, Sharon Salzberg writes in “Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness.” The Buddha describes that state as “the liberation of the heart which is love.”
Buddhism talks about universal love for all beings. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have romantic and personal relationships, teacher Noah Levine says. “The awakened heart has room for all.”
Loving-kindness is seen as the basis for ethics; if you are making a deeply felt wish for other’s happiness, you can’t at the same time wish them harm or act in a way that would cause harm.