Loving-Kindness: Not Just for Some, but for Everyone

October 24, 2013 Carol 7 comments


… What do you think of when you hear that word? I think that it has to be one of the most beautiful words in the English language. It sounds beautiful; more importantly it carries some beautiful messages.

I’ve been trying to better understand these messages, and I’d like to share some of what I have learned.


Wikipedia defines loving-kindness as follows: “Loving-kindness is a specific kind of love conceptualized in various religious traditions, both among theologians and religious practitioners, as a form of love characterized by acts of kindness.”

Religious Context

I discovered that loving-kindness is a biblical word:

This [loving-kindness] is a biblical word, invented by Miles Coverdale, and carried over into the English versions generally. It is one of the words he used in the Psalms (23 times, plus Hosea 2:19) to translate the Hebrew chesed when it refers to God’s love for his people Israel.  …The nearest New Testament equivalent to the Hebrew chesed is charis (grace), as Luther realized when he used the German Gnade for both words.― Bible Research

In fact, Wikipedia notes four religious traditions that include the concept of loving-kindness: Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Bahá’í Faith.

Use in Judaism

As noted in the quote above from Bible Research, loving-kindness is used as an English translation for the Hebrew word chesed.

I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the LORD, and the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which he hath bestowed on them according to his mercies, and according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses. ― Isaiah 63:7

Use in Christianity

The word “loving-kindness” does not occur in the New Testament, but as its equivalents we have such terms as “mercy” “goodness,” “kindness,” “brotherly love.”

Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; ― Colossians 3:12

Use in Bahá’í Faith

English translations of the writings of the Bahá’í Faith often use the term loving-kindness when referring to the original Persian mohabbat.

“All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. The Almighty beareth Me witness: To act like the beasts of the field is unworthy of man. Those virtues that befit his dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth.” ― Bahá’u’lláh

Use in Buddhism

Loving-kindness is an English equivalent for the Buddhist term “Mettā.”

Pali  is an Indic language, closely related to Sanskrit, in which the sacred texts of Theravada Buddhism are written. Pali developed in northern India in the 5th–2nd centuries BC.

The Pali word metta is a multi-significant term meaning loving-kindness, friendliness, goodwill, benevolence, fellowship, amity, concord, inoffensiveness and non-violence. The Pali commentators define metta as the strong wish for the welfare and happiness of others (parahita-parasukha-kamana). Essentially metta is an altruistic attitude of love and friendliness as distinguished from mere amiability based on self-interest. Through metta one refuses to be offensive and renounces bitterness, resentment and animosity of every kind, developing instead a mind of friendliness, accommodativeness and benevolence which seeks the well-being and happiness of others. True metta is devoid of self-interest. It evokes within a warm-hearted feeling of fellowship, sympathy and love, which grows boundless with practice and overcomes all social, religious, racial, political and economic barriers. Metta is indeed a universal, unselfish and all-embracing love. ― Acharya BuddharakkhitaMettā: The Philosophy and Practice of Universal Love

“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”― Dalai Lama XIV

“To reteach a thing its loveliness is the nature of metta. Through lovingkindness, everyone & everything can flower again from within.”― Sharon SalzbergLovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness

Loving-Kindness Meditation

The Buddhist Centre: Buddhism for Today  explains loving-kindness meditation as follows: “The original name of this practice is metta bhavana, which comes from the Pali language. Metta means ‘love’ (in a non-romantic sense), friendliness, or kindness: hence ‘loving-kindness’ for short. It is an emotion, something you feel in your heart. Bhavana means development or cultivation. The commonest form of the practice is in five stages, each of which should last about five minutes for a beginner.” For each of the the first four stages, you focus on a person: yourself, then a good friend,  next someone neutral, and for stage four, someone you actually dislike. For the fifth and final stage, you focus on all four of these same people at once; then you “extend your feelings further — to everyone around you, to everyone in your neighborhood; in your town, your country, and so on throughout the world.”

Dalai Lama XIV has a most beautiful and clear description of loving-kindness and the associated meditation stages:

Just as compassion is the wish that all sentient beings be free of suffering, loving-kindness is the wish that all may enjoy happiness. As with compassion, when cultivating loving-kindness it is important to start by taking a specific individual as a focus of our meditation, and we then extend the scope of our concern further and further, to eventually encompass and embrace all sentient beings. Again, we begin by taking a neutral person, a person who inspires no strong feelings in us, as our object of meditation. We then extend this meditation to individual friends and family members and, ultimately, our particular enemies. We must use a real individual as the focus of our meditation, and then enhance our compassion and loving-kindness toward that person so that we can really experience compassion and loving-kindness toward others. We work on one person at a time.”
― Dalai Lama XIV

Don’t you love the Dalai Lama’s phrase “we work on one person at a time”? By progressing through the five stages, loving-kindness can eventually spread from your heart to everyone, to all beings everywhere.

Benefits of Loving-Kindness Meditation

Practitioners of loving-kindness meditation can expect some significant and unique benefits. That is the conclusion reached by several recent scientific studies, and discussed in a recent Huffington Post article. The article, written by Angela Wilson, yoga teacher for Kripalu’s Frontline Providers Program, can be found here:  Loving-Kindness Meditation and Change.

Some of the benefits of loving-kindness meditation (LKM) include:

  • Not only can LKM subjectively reduce distress, but it can impact the body’s physiology as well (LKM reduced inflammation).
  • LKM can actually build a person’s personal resources (positive emotions, immunity to illness, relationships to others).
  • LKM can increase our ability to empathize with others; it can help us become more aware of emotional and physical present-moment experiences. It actually changes the brain – both the insula and the temporal parietal junction (TPJ) lit up as a result of LKM!
  •  LKM has been shown to increase social connectedness, even for strangers.

Charter For Compassion

Learn more about Stanford and the Day of Kindness at Mindful.org.

Have Your Own Day of Kindness!

All that is required is being kind and noticing kindness throughout the day. Embrace any opportunity to take a minute out and do something kind for yourself or for someone else. Pay special attention to the kindness in your life and make an extra effort to be a kind human being.

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7 Comments on “Loving-Kindness: Not Just for Some, but for Everyone

  1. I just learned about this! World Kindness Day
    November 13, 2013

    The World Kindness Day is on November 13, 2013. It is a day that encourages individuals to overlook boundaries, race and religion. According to modern psychology, altruistic acts increases our own happiness in a profound way.

    The World Kindness Day was introduced in 1998 by the World Kindness Movement. It is observed in many countries, including Canada, Japan, Australia, Nigeria and United Arab Emirates.

    Kindness is the act or the state of being kind – ie. marked by goodness and charitable behavior, mild disposition, pleasantness, tenderness and concern for others. It is known as a virtue, and recognized as a value in many cultures and religions. (With material from: Wikipedia)

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