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What is Loving Kindness?

cherish - loving kindness

cherish © 2010 Mahala Mazerov

So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings:
Radiating kindness over the entire world
~ Buddha’s discourse on Loving Kindness

Thanks to all of you who are joining in the Summer of Loving Kindness Invitational, #SOLI. It’s a delight to see what you’re creating. I must admit to being very happy every time a new person joins in.

I’m also excited to discover that I’m noticing more and more kindness related offerings on the internet, whether they’re from #SOLI participants or not. This is exactly what I wanted — to turn my mind to loving kindness and discover it all around me on a more constant basis. I hope that’s happening for you, too.

We can all be mirrors of loving kindness everywhere.

[Just so you know, I'm writing it as "loving kindness" here in this post for the sake of the search engines. I'd like to have as many people as possible discovering and engaging in this awareness.]

As we explore our concepts of loving kindness inspired by the writing prompts or our own insights, I thought it would be helpful to share the Buddhist meaning of the word.

Many of you know the word Metta; it comes from the Pali language. (Some of you also know Maitri, which is Sanskrit.) It’s most often translated as loving kindness, but in truth there is no singular word in English that expresses the full breadth of the word. It’s more than affection or warm feelings, and very different from the attachment that forms with worldly love.

Some translators say it literally means “friendliness,” but that too is different from how we generally use the word.

When we love, when we feel friendliness for someone, we tend to exclude others. We think “I love you.” Or “This person is my friend. This group is my tribe. That person is a stranger. Those people are my adversaries.”

Metta does not set up such boundaries of exclusion. True loving kindness is extended to all humanity. That is what makes it a practice requiring (and worthy of) ongoing devotion.

The Buddha uses the image of a mother’s love for her only child as the epitome of love. It’s the loving kindness we should develop for all beings. When you consider how carefully this mother would attend to her child, how no self-sacrifice would be too great to see her child survive and flourish, you begin to grasp the full meaning of metta.  You come to understand what is being asked of you, and what a great gift you give to the world, even if you can only generate a small amount of loving kindness at a time.

If you’re a parent, I would love to hear how this description resonates with your experience.

For everyone: How can you bring the essence of loving kindness into your day?

13 Responses to What is Loving Kindness?
  1. Melissa Balmer
    July 13, 2010 | 11:30 pm

    Mahala, thank you so much for instigating this invitation! It is absolutely perfect timing for me that I should come across this. I am excited to see what unfolds for everyone!
    Melissa Balmer´s last blog ..Courting CreativityMy ComLuv Profile

    • Mahala Mazerov
      July 13, 2010 | 11:44 pm

      Melissa, your enthusiasm is such a delight and a great source of loving kindness in and of itself. Isn’t it amazing what the internet makes possible?

  2. elizabeth
    July 13, 2010 | 11:33 pm

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Mostly, as I notice the moments when I am not feeling that way. I find it somewhat comforting that I am mostly noticing the moments with more curiosity towards my feelings than anger.
    elizabeth´s last blog ..scenes from the marketMy ComLuv Profile

    • Mahala Mazerov
      July 13, 2010 | 11:46 pm

      Just noticing is good, because as soon as you notice you can begin anew.
      Noticing with more curiosity than anger is a triumph!

  3. Julie Daley
    July 14, 2010 | 12:12 am

    I love how you speak of parental love, and how as a parent you do anything for your child. As a mother and grandmother, what you write resonates deeply.
    Julie Daley´s last blog ..SeedMy ComLuv Profile

    • Mahala Mazerov
      July 14, 2010 | 6:08 pm

      This is wonderful feedback to hear as it’s a perspective so different from my own experience.

      Not having my own children in this lifetime I always used to hear the flight announcement “put your oxygen mask on first before securing the mask of your child” with a sort of duh. It was really only after doing love and compassion practices that I thought “OMG! Of course I would give oxygen to someone else first!”

  4. Melynda
    July 14, 2010 | 10:30 am

    I can feel my mind stretching . . . or maybe it’s my heart? I have always had a hard time telling the two apart . . . as I think about extending the love I have for my children to the whole universe. Loving a child is a very particular and concrete kind of love. Well, now that I’ve typed that, I think maybe all love is very particular and concrete. It’s connected to the very specificity of the people I love, the exact her-ness or him-ness of each one. Part of that love is the intensity of regard, the way my affection sharpens my attention to what would make them happy. To love the whole universe with that sharpness of focus is almost unimaginable.
    Melynda´s last blog ..Buckwheat How Can It Be This GoodMy ComLuv Profile

  5. Mahala Mazerov
    July 14, 2010 | 6:17 pm

    “To love the whole universe with that sharpness of focus…”

    It’s an amazing paradox to me. I was so brokenhearted not to have children. And yet, were my attention on nurturing one or two particular children, I’m I’d be able to spend as much focus extending love to the whole universe. Not as a lack of skill but because those individual beings should receive all encompassing love and attention. Not sure I’ve said that well. Hope you know what I’m getting at.

  6. Susan Gallacher-Turner
    July 15, 2010 | 4:45 pm

    As a mother of two, now grown, children, I can see that loving kindness truly bloomed in me as I nurtured my children. And it reminds me of an exchange between my own mother and I.

    I had been home a few days after giving birth to my first child, a daughter, and I was giving her one of her first baths in a small baby sink in the bathroom. I’d carefully assembled all the needs, soap, shampoo, soft wash cloth and towel then, just as carefully and somewhat nervously, I undressed this little darling. While my mother looked on, I lowered her slowly into the bath and went about gently washing her smooth skin while taking in her tiny beauty from her dark hair and eyes, little lips and fingernails. As I was absorbed in the process of bathing my daugther, I didn’t notice that I did anything special, but as I finished up my mother said, “You did that all so gently. I never did that, I was in such a hurry and just scrubbed you.” When I looked over at her, curious, wondering if I was getting criticized, I could see amazement on her face. It was as if for the first time, she realized that she could have done it differently.

    The act of bathing, feeding and holding my children was always done with loving kindness, I realize now. It just came naturally. Why, then, is it so hard to give that same care to myself?

    • Mahala Mazerov
      July 16, 2010 | 3:49 pm

      Susan, thank you so for sharing this beautiful experience of attending to your daughter. It’s a #SOLI post in it’s own right. With your permission I’d like to move it out of the comments and into a blog post.

      “Why is it so hard to give that same care to myself?” The eternal question. One I think we ought work on the answer to. Don’t you?

      • Susan Gallacher-Turner
        July 17, 2010 | 5:47 pm

        Yes, Mahala…let’s work on an answer to this question. It’s one I keep circling around, sometimes I think I answer it, but find myself spinning away from it again and again.

        Thank you for seeing the value of my comment so much to make it a post. I will post a blog about it, too this next week on my blog Sculpting A Life at

  7. hazel colditz
    July 15, 2010 | 6:58 pm

    good evening mahala!

    wow! so many people embarking on your project of love/kindness! it makes me happy and i rejoice for you and everyone! so touched by the comments everyone leaves here as well…it is because of YOU. your karma has brought all these beings collectively to unite on the kindness front. reading the above comment made me realize the impact of this project…we become mindful of kindness..and ultimately love.
    in loving kindness – hazel

    • Mahala Mazerov
      July 16, 2010 | 3:54 pm

      As always, Hazel, I can count on you for extraordinary kind and loving support.

      Other bloggers have created writing projects such as these with literally hundreds of participants. So mine is possibly small merit indeed. But I am so happy. And definitely feeling an expanse on the kindness front thanks to everyone’s support, however they (you) engage and participate.

      we become mindful of kindness… and ultimately love. Truth beautifully expressed my dear.

      Love ~ Mahala

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