In the ancient Indian language Pali, the word Mettā comes from the word mitta, which means “friend”. Its true meaning is “friendly attitude”, i.e. “friendliness”. It means developing the desire that all beings are well, happy and safe. Hate and other negative emotions towards ourselves and others are abandoned by developing the feeling of friendliness.
The word Mettā does not mean “love”. The word “love” in Pali is pema and piya. “Love” is based on intense feelings of tenderness and attraction, which in turn can cause sadness, fear or jealousy if they are not reciprocated. That is why the Buddha said:
“Unhappiness stems from love, fear stems from love. For those who are free from love there is no unhapiness, where could the fear come from?” (Dh 213)
On the contrary, instead of “love”, the Buddha encouraged his pupils to develop other positive feelings towards themselves and others, like Mettā (friendliness), Karuṇa (compassion) and Upekkhā (equanimity). This may sound shocking to many people, but even the supreme love that a mother has for her child can turn into hate towards others if she feels her child is threatened, and if the child is indifferent towards her, her love is transformed into bitterness and sadness. Another example is that if the average person sees an injured snake in the middle of the street, their sense of compassion will make them try to help it by calling an expert or by transporting it to an animal hospital, if possible. That does not mean that they love the snake and that they are attracted to it or hold feelings of tenderness towards it, as they would towards a pet, like a cat or a dog.
Practicing meditation on friendliness helps remove negative feelings and establish positive ones.
Bhante Nyanadassana explains in a simple and comprehensible way what friendliness is and how it can be developed.