Universal love, the ground and culmination of our practice

When we first hear the ideal of universal love for all beings, our reaction might be one of disbelief, or doubt that we could ever approach such a state…


We have a hard enough time even liking, let alone loving ourselves, and getting along with just our friends, family and co-workers is a challenge too.  Universal love?  Come on!  We could also have the response of holding this as an ideal and then going no further with it.  It can stay just as a concept, and become an ego trip.

In the Metta Sutta, the Buddha taught

just as a mother loves and cherishes her child, her only child,
just so we should cultivate boundless love to offer to all…


our love will know no obstacles…

All religions teach this in some form, and what the Buddhist tradition contributes is the method to gradually develop such love.  This is something that doesn’t happen by itself, or by just wishing it to be so, or without a cause, and that cause is the meditation that brings real love more and more into our relationships.

Surprisingly, there is something of universal love in us right from the beginning of practice.  This is the ground of our common humanity, our divine nature, also called our Buddha Nature.  We may not believe in it, and may doubt that we can love even ourselves, let alone another person, or all, but that potential exists in all of us, waiting to be known and revealed.

Right from the beginning, it’s this potential that we tap into when we start anywhere to have metta for self and others.  As metta increases in our lives, directing pure well wishing to family, friends, and the strangers we see, it gets easier in all ways.  This is because this love is one.

Love reveals our true identity, and our real family.  As we practice this kind of meditation more and more, our sense of identity shifts from the surface, history, form, and culture, to the more universal ground, to what is fundamental to us all.

We find we share a common heritage with those in this, and in other places and times.

I remember one teaching where Thich Nhat Hanh was saying how a Frenchman, standing on French soil, could also see himself as standing on the continent of Europe, or on the one earth we all share, and if he was able to do so, his feeling of who he was would grow by that much.  So it is with metta. We don’t suddenly lose our relative identity, but we can find that it is held within a greater truth, and that is what we more truly are.  This is the source we draw from all along the way in our practice.

How can we tell if we’re really progressing towards an all-embracing, universal love?  I think the signs are that we gradually become more respectful, patient, encouraging, and supportive of ourselves and others.  We can sense a greater consistency in our responses to our own problems, and to what we meet in other people.  We’re not as up and down, sometimes accepting and at other times negligent or aversive.

What’s more, we can see the quality of how we are with our own inner state and with others improve gradually.  There’s more joy, and forgiveness, and generosity flows more readily, and in greater abundance.  This is bound to be inspiring to see and think about.  It leads us to wonder what more we are capable of.  The ideal of universal love, at last, can start to seem conceivable.

Love would have us go carefully, not hurry, and not leave our any steps.  Though the ideal is so appealing, and so much what we need in our lives and in the world, there’s the danger that we may gloss over the inner work that needs to be done to arrive at a real love for all.

The line, ‘our love will know no obstacles’ is significant here because it points to something we have all had experience with, of becoming more able to love, and it is onward leading.  Where there was once some keeping back, a change took place, even slightly, and we were able to take the next step, and the next in loving.  If we go gradually, and continue in the practice, like a river, metta will find its way to the ocean.  We will arrive at all embracing, universal love.

That universal love is both the ground and the goal of spiritual practice for us all is really something to honor and celebrate.

Hafiz says:

a divine seed,
the crown of destiny,
is hidden and sown
on an ancient fertile plain
you hold the title to…

and Rumi adds:

you are the secret treasure bearer,
and always have been…

If you knew yourself for even one moment,
if you could just glimpse
your most beautiful face,
maybe you wouldn’t slumber so deeply
in that house of clay.

Why not move
into your house of joy…

Culture, religion, class, gender, age, history, political party, accepting this, rejecting that – so many ways we build walls. Metta instead builds bridges, until we arrive at the joy of knowing how we are made for each other.

May we all realize this love as our true home

May we awaken and learn to be practical and inclusive, so that, in the words of the Metta Sutta,

Whatever living beings there may be;

Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,

The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,

The seen and the unseen,

Those living near and far away,

Those born and to-be-born—

May all beings be at their ease!