The Path of Unlimited Friendliness — The Karaniya Metta Sutta

A poem by the Buddha, translated from the Pali

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  1. If you know what is truly good for you and understand the
  2. possibility of reaching a state of perfect peace, then this is how
  3. you need to live.
  4. Start as a capable person who is upright (really upright), gently
  5. spoken, flexible, and not conceited.
  6. Then become contented and happy, with few worries and an
  7. uncomplicated life.
  8. Make sure your sense experience is calm and controlled, be duly
  9. respectful, and don’t hanker after families or groups. And avoid
  10. doing anything unworthy, that wiser people would criticise.
  11. Then meditate like this:
  12. May all be happy and feel secure. May all beings become happy in
  13. their heart of hearts!
  14. And think of every living thing without exception: the weak and the
  15. strong, from the smallest to the largest, whether you can see them
  16. or not, living nearby or far away, beings living now or yet to arise
  17. — may all beings become happy in their heart of hearts!
  18. May no one deceive or look down on anyone anywhere, for any reason.
  19. Whether through feeling angry or through reacting to someone else,
  20. may no one want another to suffer.
  21. As strongly as a mother, perhaps risking her life, cherishes her
  22. child, her only child, develop an unlimited heart for all beings.
  23. Develop an unlimited heart of friendliness (metta) for the entire
  24. universe, sending metta above, below, and all around, beyond all
  25. narrowness, beyond all rivalry, beyond all hatred.
  26. Whether you are staying in one place or travelling, sitting down or
  27. in bed, in all your waking hours rest in this mindfulness, which is
  28. known as like living in heaven right here and now!
  29. In this way, you will come to let go of views, be spontaneously
  30. ethical, and have perfect Insight. And leaving behind craving for
  31. sense pleasures, from the rounds of rebirth you will finally be
  32. completely free!

Ratnaprabha, September 1990

The above is a re-rendering of the Karaniya Metta Sutta, based on the Pali text, a number of English translations, and various commentaries. I have striven for clarity and accessibility rather than elegance or absolute literalness; hence the detailed notes below. The Sutta describes a complete path, from Right Vision, through an ethical foundation and spiritual life, through the practice of Metta Bhavana, to Insight. It is said to have been taught by the Buddha, for recitation and meditation, to a group of monks troubled by the animosity of some tree-devas, and through it the monks all gained Enlightenment. Apparently it is the most commonly chanted Sutta in Theravadin countries, where it is regarded as protecting the reciter against misfortune, and as having a beneficial effect upon others.

Notes

The line numbers in the translation have been added for reference in these notes, and the paragraph breaks do not necessarily coincide with verse breaks in the Pali. Words in square brackets in the notes have been added by me for clarity. The term ‘path’ in the title is mine. Diacritics omitted.

Line      Note

1       you: actually in the third person (he/she/one).
know: kusalena, lit. if you are ‘skilled in’.
is truly good for you: attha, or ‘goal’.
understand: abhisamecca. Or ‘intuit’, ‘envisage’.

2       [possibility of reaching]
state of perfect peace: santampadam, ie Enlightenment.
this is how you need to live: karaniyam.

4       [Start as]. capable: sakkho.
upright: uju.
gently spoken: suvaco. Or ‘harmoniously, well, happily, co-operatively’

5      flexible: mudu. Or ‘mild’. Not conceited: anatamani – not ‘high-minded’.

6      [Then become]. contented: santussato. Happy: subhavo. Or ‘easily supported’. With few worries: appakicco. Or ‘unbusy’.

7      uncomplicated life: sallahukavutti. Or ‘light livelihood’.

8      …calm: santindriyo. Lit. ‘calm faculties’.
controlled: nipako (could be a separate quality, = ‘prudent’, ‘with practical intelligence’).  Or ‘restrained’.

duly respectful: appagabbho. Or ‘not insolent’.

9      don’t …families: kulesu ananugiddho. Kula can mean family, clan, local community, etc.
unworthy: khuddam. Or avoid doing the ‘slightest’ thing…

10     wiser people: viññu. criticize: upavadeyyum.

11     [Then …this]

12     happy: sukhino. secure: khemino
.        all beings: sabbe satta.
happy … hearts: sukhitatta. Lit. ‘happy-self’.

14     [And think of]: actually continues as reported speech (ie ‘may…’ etc.)
living thing: panabhut‘. Lit. ‘breathing being’.

15     smallest to largest: various sizes listed.

16     beings living now: bhuta. Yet to arise: sambhavesi.

18     deceive: nikubbetha. Look down on: atthimaññetha.
anywhere … reason: katthacina. Can mean anywhere or on any grounds, I think.

19     angry: byarosana – or hatred.
reacting to [someone else]: patighasañña. Or a ‘feeling of repulsion, or rage’.

20     suffer: dukkham.

21     [strongly as]
perhaps risking her life: ayusa. Or ‘for as long as she lives’.
cherishes: anurakkhe.
child: putta, ‘child’ or ‘son’.

22     develop … heart: manasam bhavaye aparimanam.

23     friendliness: metta. Entire universe: sabba-lokasmim.

24     [sending metta].
Beyond all narrowness: asambadham.

25     … rivalry: asapattam. … hatred: averam.

26     staying … place: titthañ. Or ‘standing’.
travelling: caram. Or ‘walking’.

27     in bed: sayano. Or ‘lying’.
in … hours: yavat’asso vigatamiddho. Or ‘when you are slothless’.
rest in: adhitteyya – or exercise, radiate.
mindfulness: satim.

28     living in heaven: brahmam … viharam. Or ‘the sublime state’.
right here and now: idamahu.

29     [In this way, you will come to]
let go: anupagamma. Views: ditthiñca.
[spontaneously].  Ethical: silava.

30     perfect Insight: dassanena sampanno.
leaving behind: vineyya. Or ‘giving up’.
craving: geddham.

31     sense pleasures: kamesu. As third precept.
rebirth: gabhaseyyam. Lit. ‘reborn (via a womb)’
from … free!: Lit ‘will never again be reborn’.

Sources

The Sutta is found in the Chapter of the Snake of the Sutta Nipata, and in the Khuddaka Pattha. The Pali (roman characters) is in the Pali Text Society’s volumes of the above and in Buddharakkhita’s Wheel Pamphlet, Metta (No 355/6, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, 1989).

Translations

Sangharakshita, The Enchanted Heart (Ola Leaves, 1978) 156. A verse translation, close to Woodward’s (see below).
Saddhatissa, The Sutta Nipata (Curzon, 1985), 15.
Buddharakkhita, Metta (See above), 4.
Nanamoli, The Life of the Buddha (Buddhist Publ. Soc., Kandy, 1972), 180.
W. Rahula (source unknown).
F L Woodward, Some Sayings of the Buddha (Buddhist Soc., 1973), 44.
Hare, Woven Cadences of the Early Buddhists.
Sister Vajira, The Sutta Nipata (Maha Bodhi Society, Sarnath, nd). – Partly quoted in W L King’s In the Hope of Nibbana (Open Court, Illinois, 1964), 150.
Lord Chalmers, Buddha’s Teachings (Vol. 37, Harvard Oriental Series). – Partly quoted in E A Burt’s The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha (New American Library, NY, 1955).
E Conze, Buddhist Scriptures (Penguin, 1959), 185.
A Solé-Leris, Tranquillity and Insight (Rider, 1986), 122. Partial.

…and many on the internet.

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