In “The Buddha and his Teachings”, Ven Narada Maha Thera writes that metta is that which “softens one’s heart … it is defined as the sincere wish for the welfare and genuine happiness of all living beings without exception”.
What metta is not: “… carnal love nor personal affection … neighbourliness … universal brotherhood … political, racial, national or religious brotherhood … “
Ven Narada says that metta transcends all these kinds of narrow brotherhood. It is limitless in scope and range and has no barriers. It does not discriminate.
“Just as the sun sheds its rays on all without any distinction, even so sublime metta bestows its sweet blessings equally on the pleasant and the unpleasant, on the rich and the poor, on the high and the low, on the vicious and the virtuous, on man and woman, and on human and animal”.
He emphasises that this loving-kindness should be extended in equal measure towards oneself as towards friend, foe and neutral alike. This subtle point should not be misunderstood, for self-sacrifice is another sweet virtue and egolessness is yet another higher virtue.
The culmination of this metta is the identification of oneself with all beings, making no difference between oneself and others. The so-called ‘I’ is lost in the whole. Separatism evaporates. Oneness is realised.
The antithesis of metta is anger, ill-will, hatred, or aversion. Metta cannot co-exist with anger or vengeful conduct.
The Buddha states:
‘Hatreds do not cease through hatreds: through love alone they cease’.
Metta not only tends to conquer anger but also does not tolerate hateful thoughts towards others. He who has metta never thinks of harming others, not does he disparage or condemn others.
A benevolent attitude is the chief characteristic of metta. He who practises metta is constantly interested in promoting the welfare of others. He seeks the good and beautiful in all but not the ugliness in others.