THE METTA SUTTA:
THE BUDDHA’S WORDS ON LOVINGKINDNESS
The Buddha’s discourse on Loving Kindness (Metta Sutta) is one of the most inspiring calls to develop a boundless heart of lovingkindness and goodwill towards all beings.
This discourse is most beloved among Buddhists. It is chanted daily in its original Pali by Buddhist monastics and laity all over the world, especially in the Buddhist Theravada lands of Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand.
The ancient commentary of the Buddhist text provided an interesting backdrop to the origin of the discourse. It seemed that a large group of monks were meditating in a forest when they were haunted by deities (spirit beings) that were unhappy with their presence. The spirit beings were said to have displayed frightening forms and made dreadful noises to scare away the monks.
The monks fled the forest and sought the Buddha who was staying in another part of the country. The Buddha then gave the monks this discourse on lovingkindness and sent them back to the forest with the instruction to radiate metta to the spirits.
As you can imagine, everything went well after that – the spirits were appeased by the metta and the monks continued their practice without further disturbance until they attained their final goal of liberation from the round of birth and death.
There are numerous translations of the Metta Sutta. Meditation teacher Leigh Brasington gave 18 versions from different translators at his website here. Of course, there are many more. You will notice, too, that some terms are taken by later translators from earlier ones.
In the discourse, the Buddha emphasized that we should radiate lovingkindness to all beings without exception. He began by giving a list of qualities that a person should cultivate if she or he wishes to attain the state of perfect peace. Imbued with these qualities, the practitioner should then wish for the welfare and happiness of all beings.
I produce below a translation which I have modified and adapted. I have appended some footnotes to the translation to help clarify certain terms. I hope you like this version. Further below I provide the discourse in the original Pali language.
THE BUDDHA’S WORDS ON LOVINGKINDNESS
This is what should be done by one who is skilled in good1 and who wishes to attain that state of peace.2 He (or she) should be able3, honest4 and upright5, easy to speak to6, gentle7 and not proud8, content, easy to support9, unbusy10 and living lightly, calm and composed11, prudent12, humble13, and not greedy and demanding in nature14.
He should not do even the slightest thing that the wise would disapprove of15. (And he should wish): May all beings be happy! May they be safe! May they have happy minds!
Whatever living beings there may be – whether they are weak or strong, without exception, tall or large, medium, short, subtle or gross, whether seen or unseen, living near or far, born or seeking birth, may all beings have happy minds!
Let no one deceive another or look down on anybody anywhere. Neither should one, through anger or resentment, wish ill for another. Just as a mother would protect her only child with her own life, so, too, towards all beings, one should cultivate a boundless heart (of lovingkindness).
Let him cultivate this boundless16 heart of lovingkindness for the whole world. Above, below, and across17, unobstructed, without enmity or hostility.
Whether standing, walking, sitting or lying down, or as long as he is awake18, let him develop this mindfulness (on lovingkindness), for this, they say, is a divine way of living19.
Furthermore, not holding on to wrong views20, virtuous and possessed of insight21, having removed greed for sensual pleasures, he will never come back again to birth in the womb22.
1 skilled in good, i.e., one who knows what is good and beneficial and leads to true happiness.
2 that state of peace (santam padam): In the Buddha’s teachings, the highest peace is that of Nibbana which is the extinction of greed, hatred, and delusion together with all unwholesome states of mind. The mind is then at perfect rest, calm and peaceful. The person, who attained this state, has made an end of samsara, the cycle of birth and death. She lived her last life without undergoing anymore rebirth at death. Before the highest peace is reached, there are other lesser states of peace to be won, such as the peace which is experienced when the mind is absorbed in meditation and the peace that comes from living a good life, imbued with noble values and causing no harm to anyone.
3 sakko: able to follow the teachings and apply the instructions to make an end of suffering.
4 uju: lit., straight, not crooked, without deception;
5 suju: upright - both this and the previous term, also denote sincerity.
6 suvaco: easy to speak to, meaning easy to instruct, to correct, to admonish.
7 mudu: gentle, soft, empathetic, flexible, not rigid or obstinate.
8 antimani: not proud, haughty or conceited, not looking down on others; being humble, respectful, courteous.
9 subharo: lit., of light burden, hence easy to maintain or support.
10 appakicco: lit., having few duties, meaning to be unbusy, so one has time for meditation.
11 santindriyo: lit., 'serene in faculties', meaning controlled in the sense faculties of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and thinking, hence being calm and composed.
12 nipako: alt. renderings: discreet, having pragmatic wisdom, skilful.
13 appagabbho: humble, lit. not impudent, arrogant, rude or obnoxious.
14 kulesu ananugiddho: lit., ‘not greedy among families’ – in reference to monastics who are dependent on householders for their support.
15 alt. rendering: for which the wise would censure, reproach or blame him.
16 aparimānam: measureless, without any boundary, limit, or restriction; encompassing all beings without exception or discrimination.
17 meaning in all directions.
18 this means one can cultivate lovingkindness all day long by keeping the thought of goodwill uppermost in the mind, wishing every now and then, for the welfare of someone or all beings.
19 brahma-vihāram: 'brahma' as in 'godly, divine' and 'vihāram' – dwelling, abiding.
20 wrong view of a self, of permanence, of happiness.
21 insight into the impermanent, suffering and not-self (insubstantial) nature of all phenomena.
22 According to the Buddha, if a person has uprooted craving and ignorance, he will not be reborn again. He enters, at death, into the cessation of Nibbana. In effect, the five aggregates (materiality, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness) that constitute a being, cease to be. However, if his insight is not fully matured and there is still in him a residue of attachment to the non-sensual realms, he will be reborn in a non-sensual realm and from there attain the final goal of Nibbana (cessation).
Below is the discourse in Pali:
yan tam santam padam abhisamecca:
sakko ujū ca sūjū ca
suvaco c’ assa mudu anatimānī
santussako ca subharo ca
appakicco ca sallahukavutti
santindriyo ca nipako ca
appagabbho kulesu ananugiddho,
na ca khuddam samācare kiñci,
yena viññū pare upavadeyyum.
sukhino vā khemino hontu
sabbe sattā bhavantu sukhitattā:
ye keci pānabhūt’ atthi
tasā vā thāvarā vā anavasesā
dīghā vā ye mahantā vā
majjhimā rassakā anukathūlā
ditthā vā ye vā aditthā,
ye ca dūre vasanti avidūre,
bhūtā vā sambhavesī vā,—
sabbe sattā bhavantu sukhitattā.
na paro param nikubbetha,
nātimaññetha katthacinam kañci,
nāññamaññassa dukkham iccheyya.
mātā yathā niyam puttam
āyusā ekaputtam anurakkhe,
evam pi sabbabhūtesu
mānasam bhāvaye aparimānam.
mettañ ca sabbalokasmim
mānasam bhāvaye aparimānam
uddham adho ca tiriyañ ca
asambādham averam asapattam.
tittham caram nisinno vā
sayāno vā yāvat’ assa vigatamiddho,
etam satim adhittheyya,
brahmam etam vihāram idha-m-āhu.
ditthiñ ca anupagamma
sīlavā dassanena sampanno
kāmesu vineyya gedham,
na hi jātu gabbhaseyyam punar etī ti.
"Whether standing, walking, sitting or lying down, or as long as he is awake, let him develop this mindfulness (on lovingkindness), for this, they say, is a divine way of living."
from the Metta Sutta