Three Aspects of Metta Sutta
The Metta Sutta consists of three parts, each of which focuses on a distinct aspect of metta. The first part covers that aspect which requires a thorough and systematic application of loving-kindness in one’s day-to-day conduct. The second part expresses loving-kindness as a distinct technique of meditation or culture of mind leading to samadhi higher consciousness induced by absorption. And the third part underlines a total commitment to the philosophy of universal love and its personal, social and empirical extensions – loving-kindness through all bodily, verbal and mental activities.
Metta has been identified as that specific factor which “ripens” the accumulated merit (punna) acquired by the ten ways for the acquisition of merit (dasapunna-kiriyavatthu), such as the practice of generosity, virtue, etc. Again, it is metta which brings to maturity the ten exalted spiritual qualities known as “perceptions” (paramita).
The practice of metta thus can be likened to bringing into being a great tree, from the time the seed is sown to the time the tree is heavily laden with luscious fruits and sends forth its sweet odor tar and wide, attracting a myriad of creatures to it to enjoy its tasty and nutritious bounty. The sprouting of the seed and the growth of the plant are, as it were, brought about by the first part of the sutta.
In the second part the tree, robust and developed, is fully covered with fragrant and beautiful flowers, riveting all eyes upon it. As a pattern of behavior, the first aspect of metta makes one’s life grow like a tree, useful, generous and noble. Metta, as meditation, effects that spiritual efflorescence where by one’s entire life becomes a source of joy for all. The third part envisages in this imagery the fruition of that process of spiritual development whereby one brings about an all-embracing application of spiritual love which can powerfully condition society as a whole and lead one to the heights of transcendental realization.
The human mind is like a mine holding an inexhaustible storehouse of spiritual power and insight. This immense inner potential of merit can be fully exploited only by the practice of metta, as is clear from the description of metta as that “maturing force” which ripens the dormant merits.
In the Mangala Sutta it is said that only after one has effected an elevating interpersonal relationship (by resorting to good company, etc.) does one choose the right environment for the merits of the past to find fruition. This finding of fruition is exactly what metta does. Mere avoidance of wrong company and living in a cultured environment is not enough; the mind must be cultivated by metta. Hence the allusion to the fruition of past merit.