Loving-kindness Meditation in Sarvāstivāda and Early Mahāyāna Tradition

Fa Qing

International Conference on Buddhist Meditation Practices, namely, “Buddhist Spiritual Living: An Analysis of the Brahmavihāra as Theory, Practice and Application”
on 20th to 21st, December, 2016,
at International Theravāda Buddhist Missionary University,
Yangon, Myanmar.


This paper will present the practice of loving-kindness meditation (maitrī), one of the four immeasurables, found in the meditation manuals of the northern tradition (Sarvāstivāda and Early Mahāyāna in India). Those manuals were brought to China and translated into Chinese by the Sarvāstivāda meditation master Buddhabhadra and Kumārajīva during the fourth and fifth century. There were strong meditation practices around the Gandhāra and Kaśmīra areas during that time. Sarvāstivādin Yogācāras integrated their body and mind experiences into the teaching of Abhidharma.

The practices of the Four Immeasurables are the same among the different traditions. It is also common that one can attain the jhānas based on loving-kindness leading to rebirth in the brahmā world. If one takes this as a basis for developing insight, then one can attain arahantship.

In the Sarvāstivāda tradition, loving-kindness meditation is described as an antidote to hatred as one of the five meditation methods. To compare with Early Buddhism (Pāḷi suttas and Chinese Āgamas):

  • it uses the term Four Immeasurable Samādhi (catvāry-apramāṇāni samādhi), rather than Four Immeasurables.

  • one can attain nibbāna by practicing loving-kindness.

  • loving-kindness is the mother of all virtues.

  • compassion (karuṇā) is the base of the Buddha’s teaching. If we are not compassionate to the suffering of others, we are the evil ones.

The Sarvāstivādins clearly state that the Samādhi of the Four Immeasurables can lead one to nibbāna/nirvāṇa. The Mahāyāna teaching can be seen to stress on loving-kindness and compassion which are essential to the Buddha’s path.