putting heartfulness into mindfulness


"It is impossible and inconceivable, friend, that ill will could still obsess the mind of one who has developed and cultivated the liberation of the mind by lovingkindness, who has made it his vehicle and basis, carried it out, consolidated it, and properly undertook it. For this friend, is the escape from ill will, namely, the liberation of the mind by loving-kindness."

 - Buddha, Anguttara Nikaya 6:13

“Therefore, monks, you should train yourselves thus: ‘We will develop and cultivate the liberation of mind by lovingkindness, make it our vehicle, make it our basis, stabilize it, exercise ourselves in it, and fully perfect it.’ Thus should you train yourselves.”

- Buddha, Samyutta Nikaya


Mindfulness is definitely a most important, essential and extremely useful tool to gain insight and wisdom. But what about the overcoming of ill will and aversion? Is mindfulness alone enough to overcome feelings such as hatred, anger, enmity and animosity?

To answer this question, let us look at an exchange between the yakkha Manibhadda and the Buddha as recorded  in the Samyutta Nikaya, the Connected Discourses of the Buddha.

"On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling among the Magadhans at the Maṇimālaka Shrine, the haunt of the yakkha Maṇibhadda. Then the yakkha Maṇibhadda approached the Blessed One and in the Blessed One’s presence recited this verse:

“It is always good for the mindful.

The mindful one thrives in bliss.

It is better each day for the mindful one.

And he is freed from enmity.”

The Buddha's reply:

“It is always good for the mindful.

The mindful one thrives in bliss.

It is better each day for the mindful one.

But he is not released from enmity.

One whose mind all day and night

Finds delight in harmlessness,

Who has loving-kindness for all living beings

For him there is enmity with none.”

(translation by Bhikkhu Bodhi)

In this discourse we can see that the Buddha clearly contradicted Manibhadda as regards mindfulness being sufficient for a practitioner to be released from enmity. The Buddha obviously wanted to make a point when he asserted that “although it is better each day for the mindful one, he is not released from enmity.”

The Buddha went on to emphasize the importance of practising harmlessness and lovingkindness. For such a person who finds delight in the practice of harmlessness and who has lovingkindness for all beings day and night, “there is enmity with none.”

This evidently shows that mindfulness alone is not enough to overcome ill will and we need the practice of lovingkindness to free ourselves from enmity.

I was first alerted to this assertion of the Buddha when reading Bhikkhu Sujato's "A Swift Pair of Messengers" some years ago. In Chapter 3 of the book, touching on the five hindrances, Ven Sujato stated, "Ill will is a fire which heats the mind until it is boiling, bubbling, and steaming. It is overcome by loving-kindness; the Buddha emphasizes that by using mindfulness alone it is not possible to fully overcome ill will." Then Ven Sujato quoted the above verses from the Samyutta Nikaya.

This set me thinking. Has not the Buddha stated in the Satipatthana Sutta (The Discourse on the Establishment of Mindfulness) that through the practice of mindfulness we can uproot greed, hatred, and delusion and make an end of suffering?

While this is true, we must, I realize, see the teaching as a whole and in proper context.

The Buddha has prescribed the antidote for ill will as lovingkindness and not mindfulness. This means that we need to cultivate lovingkindness to help mindfulness dislodge and uproot ill will. Mindfulness alone cannot do it. If it can, why should the Buddha have said “Lovingkindness is to be developed for abandoning hatred” in various places in the Buddhist text (e.g., in the Anguttara Nikaya: Numerical Sayings of the Buddha (6:107) translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi)?

In his instructions to his son Rahula, the Buddha said “Rahula, develop meditation on loving-kindness; for when you develop meditation on loving-kindness, any ill will will be abandoned.” (Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, Sutta No 62). The indispensability of lovingkindness in overcoming ill will is also clear from the Buddha’s conversation with Manibhadda above.

When lovingkindness is strong, anger may not even arise in us. The goodwill, coupled with our practice of patience and tolerance, makes us more amiable and less prone to anger. And when anger does arise, as it sometimes still will, it is weak and can be quickly abandoned. Mindfulness notices the irritation and can let it go because lovingkindness has been strongly developed in us. The mind is already disinclined towards anger and is quick and skilful in exercising wise reflection to abandon it when it arises.

The Buddha encouraged us to take up lovingkindness practice. We should, he said, determine as follows: “We will develop and cultivate the liberation of mind by lovingkindness, make it our vehicle, make it our basis, stabilize it, exercise ourselves in it, and fully perfect it.” (from the Connected Discourses of the Buddha, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi, Pg 2188).

Lovingkindness liberates the mind from hatred. Hence the Buddha said: “(Suppose they ask:) ‘But what, friends, is the reason unarisen hatred does not arise and arisen hatred is abandoned?’ You should answer: ‘The liberation of the mind by lovingkindness. For one who attends carefully to the liberation of the mind by loving-kindness, unarisen hatred does not arise and arisen hatred is abandoned. This, friends, is the reason unarisen hatred does not arise and arisen hatred is abandoned.’” (Anguttara Nikaya 3:68)

The Buddha asserted that one, who has developed loving kindness and made it his vehicle and basis, cannot be overwhelmed by anger. It is, he said, “impossible and inconceivable” that anger can still obsess the mind of such a person. “There is no such possibility. For this, friend, is the escape from ill will, namely, the liberation of the mind by lovingkindness.” (Anguttara Nikaya 6:13)

In another discourse, the Buddha described lovingkindness as the “denourishment” of ill will. “Frequently giving attention to lovingkindness is the denourishment that prevents unarisen ill will from arising and arisen ill will from increasing and expanding.” (The Connected Discourses of the Buddha, translation by Bhikkhu Bodhi, pg 4874)

It should be crystal clear by now that our practice of mindfulness could well do with the a good dose of heartfulness. No doubt we practise vipassana (insight) meditation to penetrate the ultimate reality of non-self. We see that the self is merely an idea, a mental construction or projection of the mind, that ultimately the self as we conceive it does not exist. This dis-identification is liberating and sets us on the path to Nibbana which is the extinction of greed, hatred, and delusion.

However, having seen or experienced “non-self” we do not become cold, impersonal and uncaring beings. Sometimes meditators who do vipassana exclusively, neglecting metta or doing very little of it, can appear rather aloof, distant, and detached, even to their dear and loved ones. This is because vipassana is a dis-identifying process, seeing not a self but merely five impermanent aggregates. We need the balance of metta to provide the moisture, warmth and connection with beings.

The wisdom gained through vipassana should not stop at seeing the marks of impermanence, suffering and not self that are stamped on all forms of existence. Seeing the huge amount of suffering in the world that is caused by greed, hatred and delusion, we realise all the more the importance of cultivating contentment, lovingkindess and wisdom.

Thus, even as we exercise mindfulness in our everyday life we radiate metta every now and then to the people around us, to the folks in our life, and to all beings in general. This is in line with the Buddha’s discourse on lovingkindness (Metta Sutta) where he asked us to apply our mindfulness to metta which he described as a divine way of living.

“Whether standing, walking, sitting,

or lying down, as long as he is awake,

let him be resolved on this mindfulness (on metta)

for this, they say here, is a divine abiding.”

The Buddha himself was in the habit of radiating metta the first thing in the morning and then spending most of the day instructing and guiding his disciples. He taught people how to live happily by leading a kind, generous, and virtuous life. To make a complete end of rebirth and suffering he further taught the purification of the mind from all forms of mental defilements.


In a vipassana retreat we can be assailed by the five hindrances of sensual desire, anger, laziness and sleepiness, restlessness and worry, and doubt. Sometimes just by trying to stay mindful of the vipassana objects would not do and we need to apply appropriate measures to check the hindrance.

Hence, in the Satipatthana Sutta (the Discourse on the Establishment of Mindfulness), the Buddha said the practitioner should apply appropriate or wise attention (yoniso manasikara) to overcome the hindrance. He should understand how the hindrance has arisen, how it can be overcome, and how it can be prevented from arising in the future.

This gives quite a lot of scope and flexibility with regard to how we can deal with hindrances. In the case of anger we can be mindful of the emotion. Sometimes just this bare awareness of the anger is enough to weaken and dissolve it. However, more often than not, we may have to exercise some wise reflection to help us overcome the anger. There are many ways to reflect whereby we can diminish the anger. For example, think of the good qualities of the person, think of his or her past kindness to you, think of the need to practise patience and forbearance; think of the dangers of anger and how it is an unwholesome mental state; think that we don’t want to repeat and strengthen the habit or pattern of anger; think that all beings are owners of their kamma or action and have to take responsibility for their actions and the consequences arising from those actions while we, on our part, have to take responsibility for our own actions and how we respond to the actions of others; think of death – life is short and it is not worth letting ourselves be upset by all the things that can go wrong, think instead of all the far more many things that are going right and which we take for granted, and so forth.

Then we can switch to metta – sending metta to the person we are annoyed with, or to beings in general, or to some of our favourite persons, will help us to re-instate our normal metta mode of mind.

Also, if we have been cultivating metta and thus are metta-inclined or metta-prone we are less likely to get annoyed with fellow retreatants or the people in our life. Our metta is a strength – it makes us resilient and not easily giving in to anger.

The concentration gained through metta practice can also support our vipassana practice. The Buddha had stated that after gaining concentration in metta we can, based on that concentration, do vipassana.

“When, bhikkhu, this concentration (of metta) has been well developed by you in this way, then you should train yourself thus: ‘I will dwell contemplating the body (similarly feelings….consciousness….dhammas) ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed longing and dejection in regard to the world.” (Anguttara Nikaya 8:61)

Furthermore, we can also do vipassana first followed by metta or even do them in a versatile way, i.e., going back and forth from one to the other. Such a mode of practice is provided for in a discourse in the Anguttara Nikaya where Ananda, the Buddha’s disciple known for his prowess in memorising the Buddha’s discourses, said that a practitioner can do a samatha practice first followed by vipassana or vice versa or he can do them coupled together (yuganaddha). (AN4:170) “Samatha” means calm and metta can be included as one of the “samatha” practices which can bring about calm.

Thus, as we can see, there is a lot of room for flexibility in the exercise of both metta and vipassana in our practice whether in a formal way during meditation or casually in our everyday life.


Interestingly, the monk Subhuti, who was declared by the Buddha as foremost among his disciples in dwelling without conflict with anybody, was especially held in high regard for his prowess in metta meditation. He was said to have attained arahatship (sainthood) by developing insight based on the meditation of lovingkindness. It was explained that he reflected that the concentration he gained from lovingkindness is constructed and produced by volition and therefore also impermanent and subject to cessation, like everything else that is conditioned. 

Ven Subhuti was known for his habit of entering jhana (meditative absorption) through lovingkindness and emerging before teaching the Dhamma and when receiving almsfood. (ref: footnote 85 from Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation of the Anguttara Nikaya.)

In the recorded Verses of the Elders, he declared:

“My little hut is roofed and pleasant,

Sheltered from the wind:

So rain, sky, if you wish!

My mind is serene, liberated;

I practise ardently: rain, sky!”

(translation by Bhikkhu Sujato)


Mindfulness has a wide latitude in its application. Besides being mindful of bodily and mental phenomena in formal meditation or daily life, we can also direct our mindfulness towards wise reflection in order to counter unwholesome states of mind, make appropriate assessments and decisions, and give the mind proper direction.

In vipassana meditation our mindfulness is mostly placed on the bare mental and physical phenomena in order to see their unique individual characteristics and their shared common characteristics of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and not-self.

In metta meditation, our mindfulness is applied towards the cultivation of lovingkindness for beings. Whenever the mind wanders from the theme of goodwill, mindfulness brings it back  – we think again of beings and wish them well.

In everyday life our mindfulness may be focused on whatever we are doing, awareness of the body and mind, radiating metta, revising and remembering the teachings, cultivating wholesome mind states, speech and actions, and exercising wise reflection.

Seeing the practice in a wide and all-integrating perspective, we can direct mindfulness towards the cultivation of lovingkindness in order to counteract ill will, contentment to weaken craving and wisdom to dispel delusion. May we exercise our mindfulness skilfully and attain thereby the highest benefits from the practice.