Sublime Buddhist States: What is loving kindness (Metta)?

One of the consequences of reaching Nirvana is the ability to experience the four sublime attitudes or states. These states govern our lives, decisions, guide our thoughts and reign in on our relationship with others.

Loving kindness is one of those states, followed by compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity. If someone reaches nirvana it’s only natural that this person will be overtaken by the sublime attitudes. This doesn’t mean that we can’t experience these states prior to Nirvana.

The conditions of love

Creating conditions for love is a surefire way to miss its true purpose and power. Imagine this: say you feel interested in a person and decide that you would like to try developing a relationship with them. But before you make the full commitment, you decide to have a conversation. This conversation is geared towards avoiding future problems. It generally goes something like this:

“I feel we are great together and I want to build a relationship with you. I need you to understand that I will love you, love you so much my heart will overflow with love, but for that to happen, you have to behave well. I mean, you have to say the right things at the right time, and you shall never get angry or worried. Rather, you should enjoy the same things I do and only want to be with me.”

How long do you think this will last? What about a kid, they’re born and a little later, when they can understand things a bit better you tell them: “I will love you, but you shall always clean your room, achieve As, behave well, and never disappoint me.” I already feel really sorry for the kid.

These conditions sound weird because love is not meant to be in the same sentences as buts or ifs. Rather it is meant to be followed by a period and that’s it. Love or to be love can’t come with conditions. Love is not bound by space, time or physical limitations. The nature of love is to transcend limits, to expand and to create space for growth.

The Levels of love

I want to divide love into 3 levels, instead of types. Let’s see if you agree with me. There shouldn’t really be types, but only levels of love. I will start with the easiest one, loving someone dear to you. It is so easy to love my kids, even when they behave badly, my love for them is such a huge feeling.

There are stories of mothers that were able to move cars in order to save their children’s lives. My scientific friends will talk about the rush of adrenaline at the scene, I know. But Love is the one that starts it all. Another example would be my parents, I love my mom and dad. There are no conditions, I don’t love them more or less on different days. I love them. I would give my life for them.

And my friends? I will say the same. I don’t have many, but the ones I do, I love. And that’s why I say I don’t have many, because I like a lot of people, but I only call friends, the ones I feel love for.

The next level is the one you feel for your community. Your extended family, your neighbors, your kids’ teachers, those I said I like but are not my friends. I love them in a more shallow way. As I would for my kids, I want them the best, I celebrate their victories, I suffer with their losses, But I have to be honest, I don’t see myself giving my life for any of them.

Let me tell you, I’m sorry if I’m making you uncomfortable. I am too. It is tough for me to write this truth down and sign my name on it, but I am on the evolutionary path. I cannot pretend to be someone I’m not. I want you to know, we are all on this together. No judgements. 

The third level is about the love you feel for your country, the world and the universe. It will be expressed in your involvement in politics and public policies, your engagement and compromise with the environment, your interest in the planet´s community as one.

This is a love we express when we try to produce less trash, when we don’t litter, when we care for the homeless, or for stray animals. It is expressed when you vote consciously for someone you took the time to research about. And you really believe that your contribution is going to help, because it affects things like public policy that will help people get medical service in remote places.

Behaving like this is effective if it comes out of unconditional love. If it’s not, then one day you may get tired of politics that are always very corrupt. You will slowly notice that not everyone cares about the trash they produce, or about hunger in under-developed countries. This will discourage you if your conditions of love force the world to act the same way you do, so its best to love with no expectations.

Love is the only thing that keeps us going through when faith, joy, leave us. Love remains when disappointment, delusion, and frustration takes place. Love keeps us on the right track.

The ultimate level of love is self love

Self love should be the first level of love, but we tend to be too demanding, too perfectionistic, and too hard on our own selves. This is why a lot of us can love everyone from the first to the third level. Yet we find it extremely difficult to love ourselves.

Some of us think that we’re not deserving, or feel it is not right, or that it’s egotistical. There is guilt, imperfections, and much cultural conditioning that keep us from loving our own selves. Loving is an act of gratitude, of kindness and that’s what loving-kindness is.

Love without judgement, love with comprehension and conditions. Understand yourself. It’s not about justifying your actions it’s about understanding why they happened. That’s where it all should start, once you’ve developed this level you’ll be able to love others, once you open your own heart, then you become an instrument of transmission for the universal frequency of love.

Let me tell you what  loving-kindness is with an example. Say you were unfaithful with your spouse. You now feel bad about it. You don’t accept the love he or she wants to give you, because you’re not deserving. See yourself from the outside, try to be your own best friend for a bit. Hug yourself and repeat to yourself that everyone is bound to make mistakes, and that these mistakes stem from a lot of our unconscious trauma.. 

Tell yourself it is ok to feel bad about it, but that dragging the pain that comes with the mistake is  another mistake. Tell yourself to accept things as being under development and that they deserve all the love they can get, especially yours. This doesn’t negate the fact that what happened was wrong.

Rather, it should start a journey of discovery towards why you committed the act in the first place. What did you feel? What causes you to do it? Often you’ll find that you were trying to meet a need that you don’t know how to meet in any other way. By learning how to meet your underlying needs, you become free of the behaviours that sabotage your equanimity.

We all make mistakes, we all deserve love. There’s nothing you’ve done in your life that makes you unworthy of love, that truth has to come from you.