Everything On Loving Kindness Meditation (Metta Bhavana) [With Script]

loving kindness meditation

I love teaching the Buddhist Loving Kindness Meditation script (Metta Bhavana). It fills us so full of, well, love and kindness, of course. 

It’s one of the most important Buddhist meditation techniques. And lots of teachers talk about it, like Sharon Salzberg, Tara Brach, Pema Chodron, Jack Kornfield and me.

However, there’s still a lot about this technique that you might not know. Such as the fact that this is not the main Buddhist meditation for compassion. That would be Karuna.

So, put your reading glasses on. Because I’m about to share everything you need to know about Loving Kindness meditation.

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Metta Bhavana (Loving Kindness) Meditation Script

Starting notes 

  1. Find somewhere quiet where you will not be disturbed.
  2. Sit, lie down, or stand up. I personally recommend sitting down in a meditation chair or Zafu. When you sit, make sure your feet are grounded and approximately shoulder-width apart. Your knees should be directly above your ankles, instead of at an angle.
  3. Now check your posture. Is your spine in good alignment? If not, imagine a coil from the ceiling to the crown of your head. The coil lifts you up gently, elongating your spine. Now tuck your chin down a little to extend your neck.
  4. Relax your facial muscles from your forehead to your chin. Place your tongue lightly against your soft palate. Angle your gaze so it is at a diagonal, so you are not looking directly ahead but down a little. 
  5. For this practice, we want to use a hasta mudra (hand gesture). The best mudra for loving-kindness meditation is Padma mudra (Lotus Seal). To perform this mudra, hold your hands in front of your chest in the prayer position. Now open your hands outwards a little bit, leaving the base of the hands, the little fingers, and the thumbs touching one another. Relax your other fingers so there is a slight space between them. You will know when you have it right because your hands will look like a flower opening.   

Metta Bhavana Script 

  1. Focus on your breath for a few moments.
  2. Extend loving kindness to yourself: Imagine seeing yourself happy and smiling.
  3. Imagine sending feelings of love and kindness to yourself.
  4. Think of five things you love about yourself.
  5. Now think of five ways in which you enact self-love (e.g. eating healthy, exercising, talking nicely to yourself) 
  6. Say to yourself the Loving Kindness Meditation words: “May I have loving-kindness. May I have strength, peace, love and success. And may I have the strength to overcome all obstacles.”
  7. Repeat with someone close to you: Bring to mind someone close to you (family / friend) and repeat the process.
  8. Imagine the person happy.
  9. Visualize sending them love.
  10. Imagine them sending love back to you.
  11. Now think of five things to love about that person.
  12. Think of five ways that person shows loving-kindness to you.
  13. Now say the Loving Kindness Meditation script “May (name of person) have loving-kindness. May they have love, peace, strength and success. And may they have the strength to overcome all obstacles.” You may choose to use the scripts I’ve shared below instead if you prefer. I’ve shared scripts from Sharon Salzberg, Jon Kabat Zinn, Tara Brach, and Jack Kornfield below, so feel free to use your favourite script.
  14. Repeat the process and say the loving-kindness meditation script with a neutral individual  
  15. Now repeat with a difficult person (e.g., someone you have argued with).  
  16. Always remember the loving-kindness script: “May (name of person) have loving-kindness. May they have love, peace, strength, and success. And may they also have the strength to overcome all obstacles.”
  17. If you have a mala, you can use it to count the number of people you include.
  18. If you notice that you experience anger or hate at any time during this process, you might like to use Buddhist Meditations to control anger.   

I personally like to recite the mantra all through the day to people I see… it’s not like you can have too much compassion right?

Now let’s look at some different Metta Meditation scripts. 


Short Loving Kindness Meditation Script (5-minutes): 

This is a modern and short Loving Kindness Meditation script (5 minutes approximately). It is a sort of prayer that you can use. (If you have not done Metta Bhavana  before, please read the instructions above).

May (name of person) have loving kindness. May they have love, peace, strength and success. And may they also have the strength to overcome all obstacles.

I personally like to then add, “I am one with [name of person] and love [name of person]”

Remember to visualise the other person saying the loving-kindness meditation script back to you. And then repeat with numerous people (including people you do not find it easy to get along with).

There are several different versions of the Metta Bhavana script (partly because translations vary and partly because, you know, the internet). Most teachers, such as Sharon Salzberg and Jack Kornfield, have their own modified versions. 


Different Scripts 

Jack Kornfield loving-kindness meditation script: “May I /you be filled with lovingkindness [sic]. May I / you be safe from inner and outer dangers. And may I /you be well in body and mind. May I / you be at ease and happy.”

Sharon Salzberg loving-kindness meditation script: “May you be safe, may you have mental happiness, may you have physical happiness, may you live with ease.”

Tara Brach loving-kindness meditation script: “May I /you be filled with loving presence.  May I / you accept myself / yourself just as I am / you are. And may I / you know the natural joy in life. “

Jon Kabat Zinn loving-kindness meditation script: “May I / you be safe and protected and free from inner and outer harm. May I / you be happy and contented. Also, may I / you be healthy and whole to whatever degree possible. And may I / you experience ease of well-being.” 


Self loving kindness meditation script 

Although I personally advocate using the full method above, it is possible to do a self-loving kindness meditation script. When we do this, we focus on ourselves. Overall, the script is the same. But you repeat the mantra to yourself. 

“May I have loving-kindness. May I have love, peace, strength, and success. And may I have the strength to overcome all obstacles. I am one with myself. I love myself.”  


Original Loving Kindness script from the Karaniya Metta Sutta

Below is the real Buddhist loving-kindness meditation script—the full words Buddha said about it in the Karaniya Metta Sutta. This reveals its true meaning.  

Buddha loving kindness meditation script

 

We can translate this Metta meditation script to mean the following: “May we wish ease and peace on all, whomever they should be. This is the path to enlightenment.” 

You can turn this into a mantra, like so: “I give love and kindness to all living things, and thereto may I become enlightened”. 

 

Benefits of Loving Kindness Meditation / Metta Bhavana

Spiritual Benefits

Naturally, the number one benefit of Metta meditation is compassion. Indeed, the Pali word Metta means benevolence, friendliness, amity, and goodwill.

You will have noticed how the Metta Bhavana script above is all about sending compassion to ourselves and others. Consequently, we develop this trait in ourselves.

The full name “Metta Bhavana” means “developing loving-kindness”.   “Love” and “Kindness” are the same in the Buddhist tradition as they are to you and me. Basically, they’re about loving people, loving animals, and loving the world. They’re about doing good, meaning well, and living from a place of kindness and compassion. I’m sure you’ll agree with me that these are some of the most important qualities a person can possess.

Ten Paramis

Loving Kindness is one of the ten pāramīs (perfections) that are taught in the Theravāda school of Buddhism. Metta is the first of the four sublime states (the states described in Buddhism as the ideal ways of conduct towards living beings).

The Paramis (Perfections) are:

  • Generosity
  • Virtues
  • Renunciation
  • Insight
  • Effort
  • Patience
  • Honesty
  • Determination
  • Loving Kindness
  • Equanimity

What the Pali Canon tells us

In the Pali Canon (an ancient Buddhist text), it is said that the benefits of Metta Bhavana are:

  • Metta (Friendliness)
  • Compassion (Karuna)
  • Joy (Mudita)
  • Equanimity (Upekkha)
  • Sleep well
  • Start the day positively 
  • Avoid nightmares
  • Feel a sense of emotional protection
  • Feel closer to others
  • Develop concentration.
  • Develop compassion

The benefits of Metta Bhavana come from four steps:

  1.  Metta develops a warmth of feeling towards ourselves and others.
  2. This leads to compassion (Karuna). We develop heightened levels of empathy and so we feel happy for the successes of others and compassionate for their suffering.
  3. This leads to Appreciative Joy—the appreciation of the good fortune of other people.
  4. Finally, we achieve Upekkha (equanimity), the state in which we extend love and kindness to all living beings.   

Of course, there are also considerable health benefits of loving-kindness meditation. Indeed, scientific research has revealed some seriously impressive benefits of the loving-kindness meditation script.     

Health benefits of Metta Meditation

1: Compassion

Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist and Director of the University of Waisman Center, conducted research involving fMRI scans of monks who had been meditating for many years. [1]

The research revealed that Loving Kindness meditation benefits the brain because it significantly heightens our compassion for others. Furthermore, it heightens levels of joy, happiness and contentment. Therefore, science concludes that it makes us happy. 


 2: Increases positive emotions and decreases negative emotions

You probably noticed how the Loving Kindness script is full of positive words and emotions. When we repeat these words, we develop those emotions in ourselves.  

In 2008, positive psychologist Barbara Fredrickson conducted research that determined that practising loving-kindness meditation (Metta) for seven weeks led to increased love, joy, pride, contentment, awe, gratitude, and hope. These positive emotions, in turn, lead to increased mindfulness, increased sense of purpose, a decrease in illness, and an increased sense of social connection.  


3. Increases vagal tone

A study in 2013 showed the effect of loving-kindness meditation on emotions. The study revealed that it benefits our wellbeing by improving vagal tone, a physiological marker of well-being. In turn, this shows that it can help us to heal physically and emotionally. [Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC27599-3270, USA.]


4. Decreases migraines:

Believe it or not, there is a link between the Metta Bhavana script and the number of migraines we get.   

In 2014 Makenzie E. Tonelli studied the effects of Metta meditation on people who suffer from migraines. Tonelli observed a significant decrease in migraine frequency in those who practised the technique. [Makenzie E Tonelli, Psychiatry Department, University of Massachusetts Medical School]


5. Relieves Chronic Pain

In 2005 researchers (Carson et al.) investigated whether Metta meditation benefits people with chronic lower back pain. They showed that it reduces stress and thereby reduces pain.  [James W Carson, Journal of Holistic Nursing 23(3):287-304, DOI: 10.1177/0898010105277651]


6. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

In 2013 research (by Kearney et al.) showed that practising Metta for 12 weeks leads to less severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.


7. Helps with schizophrenia

A pilot study conducted by Johnson in 2011 investigated whether there are any benefits of Metta for individuals suffering from schizophrenia spectrum disorders.

The results showed that the technique led to decreased negativity and increased positivity, and therefore was instrumental in recovery. Because of this benefit of Metta Bhavana, it is now a serious treatment for some mental health conditions. [David P Johnson, Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina]


8. Improves emotional intelligence

Naturally, the Metta meditation script is full of positive emotions. And this can improve emotional intelligence.

By the science of neuroplasticity, the brain evolves based on the activities we perform. Regular practice of loving-kindness meditation leads to increased compassion and thereby teaches the brain to be more socially intelligent. This is just one of the ways meditation makes you more intelligent.  


9: Increases Gray Matter

In 2013, Leung et al. showed that the technique leads to an increase in grey matter in the areas of the brain related to emotional regulation. [Mei-Kei Leung, Laboratory of Neuropsychology, The University of Hong Kong]


10. Helps with respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia

Metta Bhavana relaxes the body. This results in several physical benefits. Ten minutes of practice, for instance, leads to increased cardiac control, slower and more relaxed breathing, and improved respiratory sinus arrhythmia. [Boris Bornemann, Department of Social Neuroscience, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences ]


11. Strengthens telomeres (it decreases the ageing rate and helps you live longer)

Stress has been scientifically proven to decrease the length of telomeres, which are genetic materials that are a marker of ageing.

In 2013, Hoge et al. proved that loving-kindness meditation led to longer telomeres and thereby slows the ageing process. [Khoa D Le Nguyen, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of North Carolina ]


12. Increases social Value

One of the main focuses of the script is on our connection with other people, and this can have a positive effect on our sense of social value. Practising Metta meditation makes you a more socially valuable person.

In 2011 Leiberg et al. showed that the practice leads to increased compassion. In turn, this motivates us to behave in a way beneficial to society. [Susanne Leiberg, Laboratory for Social and Neural Systems Research, University of Zurich]


13. Boosts compassion

Perhaps the biggest focus of the Metta Bhavana is on compassion. This is one of the most important traits. Research conducted by Jones & Hutton in 2012 showed that it significantly increased compassion. [Boellinghaus, I., Jones, F.W. & Hutton, J. The Role of Mindfulness and Loving-Kindness Meditation in Cultivating Self-Compassion and Other-Focused Concern in Health Care Professionals. Mindfulness 5, 129–138 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-012-0158-6]


14. Heightens empathy

A study in 2013 showed that it also leads to increased empathy. Mascaro, J. S., Darcher, A., Negi, L. T., & Raison, C. L. (2015). The neural mediators of kindness-based meditation: a theoretical model. Frontiers in psychology, 6, 109. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00109


15. Makes you less biased

When we recite the Loving Kindness Meditation words we say them to all people, including people we do not get along with. This decreases biases and prejudices. 

In 2014 Kang, Gray & Dovido showed that six weeks of Metta meditation benefits us by making us less biased against minorities. This suggests that communal practice will stop racism and other prejudices.

Alexander Stell, a doctoral student on the University Of Sussex’ psychology degree program, says, “Some [meditations] are about much more than feeling good, and might be an important tool for enhancing inter-group harmony.”

Further studies have shown that Zen music reduces racism.

“We wanted to see whether doing Loving Kindness Meditation towards a member of another ethnic group would reduce the automatic preference people tend to show for their own ethnic group.”

In his study, Stell took 71 Caucasian, non-meditating adults and showed them a photo of a black person. Half the group were asked to just look at the photo. The other half were asked to practise loving-kindness meditation and imagine sending out positive feelings to the black person in the photo.

Researchers studied the participants’ prejudices using the Implicit Association Test, which asks test subjects to describe the people in the photo.

The research shows that after practising Metta meditation, people are more likely to describe the black person in the photo in a positive way. The researchers conclude that Metta Bhavana can reduce personal prejudices.


16. Increases Social Connection

Another benefit of Loving Kindness Meditation is social connection. It makes you feel much more connected to the people around you. This was proven by research conducted by Kok et al in 2013.


17. Less self-criticism

Part of the loving kindness meditation script involves extending thoughts of compassion towards yourself. This leads to less self-criticism, which in turn raises self-esteem and can help to cure depression and negative thoughts.

[Shahar B, Szsepsenwol O, Zilcha-Mano S, Haim N, Zamir O, Levi-Yeshuvi S, Levit-Binnun N. A wait-list randomized controlled trial of loving-kindness meditation programme for self-criticism. Clin Psychol Psychother. 2015 Jul-Aug;22(4):346-56. doi: 10.1002/cpp.1893. Epub 2014 Mar 16. PMID: 24633992.]


18. It works in small doses

Wondering whether the 5-minute loving-kindness meditation script works or whether it is too short? In 2008, Hutcherson proved that we get the benefits of Metta from just 10 minutes. So, you might have to do the 5-minute version twice. 


 19. It lasts

Finally, the benefits of loving-kindness meditation will endure.  In 2011 Cohn et al determined that 35% of participants who practised loving-kindness meditation had improved emotions for 15 months.  


20: Weight Loss & Forgiveness

LKM helps with self-forgiveness.  I personally witnessed this with one of my students. learned that with a student.

One girl I taught the LKM script to was struggling to accept the fact that she had allowed herself to put on weight. She was hurt. She was beautiful and healthy but she’d gone through severe stress and had been comfortable eating. In turn, she had which led her to put on 87lbs. 

With the Metta Bhavana script, I was able to teach her to accept what she had done and to forgive herself. This was an important case of self-love.

She forgave herself and accepted the fact that she was now overweight. Once she had gotten over the past and had found self-love, she found it easy to return to her healthy habits and to lose weight. Now she’s even fitter than she had been previously. That’s just one example of why self-love and self-compassion are so important. They empower us to act positively towards ourselves.

 

My Personal experience

About a decade ago my father had been on business down in Portsmouth (a port city on the southern coast of England). He was walking back to his hotel when two men ran down the road. One of the men pulled a knife out of his pocket. He slashed it down my father’s face and through his throat.

They then ran.

My father, bleeding to death, managed to crawl into the nearest building, which happened to be a restaurant. By some miracle there happened to be a doctor in the restaurant when my father crawled in covered in blood and near death. The doctor managed to wrap the wound up to help control the bleeding. He then called the hospital, who through the modern miracle of health technology managed to save my father’s life.

Three miracles. But I don’t mention the story because of those miracles. Rather because of the fact that at first, I had an extremely negative reaction to what happened. I (rightfully, perhaps) hated those two men who had attempted to murder my father. I felt mad at society too. But I knew that I could not allow those two men to destroy my state of mind. They’d already hurt my family more than enough. So, I practised Loving Kindness Meditation. I imagined sending compassion towards those two men who had tried to kill my dad. AIt took many months. But eventually, I managed to forgive them and move on.

When I talk about those two guys now everyone says “You must want to kill them”. I could want to do that if I let myself. It would be easy, I suppose. But that would only lead to damage. Instead, I’ve chosen to understand that they’re the unfortunate result of an imperfect society. They themselves are almost definitely victims of some sort of suffering. You don’t act that way unless you’re truly hurting inside. So, they’re victims themselves.

Instead of hating, I figure it’s better to try and understand them and where they come from and to help cure their hatred and anger so things like this stop happening. In my mind, that’s just a healthier and more positive way to be. But I’m only able to be so positive towards those guys because I’ve been practising Metta Meditation.

How Buddha Practiced Loving-Kindness Meditation 

Buddha practised Loving Kindness Meditation every day (I do the same thing myself).

Buddha would spend all morning meditating and reciting mantras. Towards the end of the Buddha’s session, he would do Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM.) He would start by focusing on himself. He would extend thoughts and feelings of compassion to himself, perhaps because Buddha understood the importance of self-compassion.  

After doing Metta Bhavana towards himself (to develop self-compassion), Buddha would look around him at the villagers and the monks. They would be toiling away, trying to survive as best they could. Buddha would imagine sending positive feelings of compassion towards them. 

But Buddha did not stop there. 

Once Buddha had mentally projected love and kindness to the people around him, he would look for ways to help his community. 

Can you imagine if everyone did the same thing today? If everyone lived for compassion, if everyone spent their time helping others instead of selfishly helping themselves. Can you imagine how much better the world would be?

Buddha’s practice illustrates the true meaning of Metta Bhavana: Developing compassion and the desire to help others and ourselves.

 

Loving Kindness Meditation Script PDF

Download the PDF here.

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By Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a passionate meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University. "My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation" - Paul Harrison

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