The story of Dharma Day: The Buddha starts to teach

Lotus pond

Sugawara Mitsushige (1257) (Metropolitan Museum of Art), via Wikimedia Commons

The Buddha’s decision to teach


[After my enlightenment,] I thought, ‘This Dharma that I have attained is deep, hard to see or realize, it is the highest, most peaceful goal of all. It’s beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to be experienced by the wise. But this generation delights in attachment, is excited by attachment and indulges in attachment. It’s hard for the people of this generation to see the truth of dependent arising. It’s hard for people to see the truth of stopping the karma formations, letting go, finishing craving, the fading of addictions, nirvana itself. If I taught, they would not understand me.

Just then these verses … occurred to me:

Enough now with teaching
what, only with difficulty,
I reached.

This Dharma is not easily realised
by those overcome
with aversion & craving.

What is abstruse, subtle,
hard to see,
going against the flow —
those delighting in craving,
cloaked in darkness —
they won’t [be able to] see it.’

As I reflected like this, my mind inclined to dwelling in comfort, and not to teaching the Dharma.

Then Sahampati, [a dweller in the sublime Brahma heavens] … thought to himself:


‘The world is lost! The world is utterly lost! The mind of the fully awakened one inclines to [his own comfort], not to teaching the Dharma!’


Then, just as a strong man might extend his arm …, Sahampati disappeared from his Brahma-world and reappeared in front of me. He … saluted me with his hands before his heart:


‘Sir, let the abundant one teach the Dharma! Let the One-well-gone teach the Dharma! There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are wasting away because they cannot hear the Dharma. There will be those who will understand the Dharma!’ …

‘Throw open the door to the Deathless!
Let them hear the Dharma
realized by the Stainless One!

Just as one standing on a rocky crag
might see people
all around below,

So, O wise one, with panoramic vision,
ascend the tower
fashioned of truth.

Free from sorrow, look at the people
submerged in sorrow,
oppressed by birth & aging.

Rise up, hero, victor in battle!
O Teacher, travel without debt in the world.

Teach the Dharma, O Abundant one:
There will be those who will understand!’


Then, having listened to Sahampati’s invitation, out of compassion for beings, I surveyed the world with an enlightened eye. As I did so, I saw beings with little dust in their eyes and those with much, those with keen faculties and those with dull, those with good qualities and those with bad, those easy to teach and those hard…. Just as in a pond of blue or red or white lotuses, some lotuses — born and growing in the water — might flourish while immersed in the water, without rising up from the water; some might stand at the surface of the water; while some might rise up from the water and stand without being wetted by the water — so too, surveying the world with an enlightened eye, I saw [the range of beings].

Having seen this, I answered Sahampati:

‘Open are the doors of the Deathless
To those who can hear.

Let them show their confidence.

O Sahampati,
If I [had thought I would not tell people]
the refined,
sublime Dharma,
It was because it seemed too troublesome to me.’

Then Sahampati realised,


‘The Abundant one has decided to teach the Dharma.’


He bowed to me, and disappeared.

The Buddha’s attempts to teach


Then I thought, ‘To whom should I teach the Dharma first? Who will quickly understand this Dharma?’

I thought of [my former teachers], but they had passed away…

Then I thought: ‘The group of five [friends] who attended to me when I was practising fasting and self-denial, they were very helpful to me. [Now they are] staying near Benares, in the Game Park at Isipatana. What if I were to teach them the Dharma first?’

Then, having stayed at Bodhgaya as long as I wished, I set out to walk [the long road] to Benares.

Upaka the sectarian met me on the road between the (place of) awakening and Gaya village, and he said to me,


‘Clear, my friend, are your faculties. Pure your complexion, and bright.

What made you go forth? Who’s your teacher? In whose Dharma do you delight?’


all-knowing am I,
with regard to all things,

freed by ending craving:
having fully known this on my own,
whom should I regard as my teacher?

I have no teacher,
and one like me can’t be found.
I have no counterpart in the world with its gods.

For I am a worthy one in the world;
an unexcelled teacher.

I, alone, am fully awakened.
Cooled am I,             unbound.

I’m going to Benares
To set rolling the wheel of the Dharma.

In a blindfolded world,
I’ll beat the drum of the Deathless.’


‘From your claims, my friend, you must be a Jina, a universal conqueror.’


‘Conquerors are those like me
who have reached fermentations’ end.
I’ve conquered evil qualities,
and so, [yes], Upaka, I’m a conqueror.’


‘May it be so, my friend,’


And — shaking his head and taking a side-road — he left.

Then, walking in stages, I arrived at Benares, at the Game Park in Isipatana, where the group of five friends were staying. They saw me coming from some way off, and made a pact with one another.


‘Friends, here comes Gotama the contemplative. [He has given up] our struggle [of self-denial], living luxuriously, straying from his exertion, backsliding into abundance. He doesn’t deserve our bows, or even for us to stand up to greet him. Still, if he wants to, he can sit down with us.’


But as I approached, they were unable to keep to their pact. One stood up to greet me, another got me a seat. Another got some water for washing my feet. However, they [still] addressed me as ‘Gotama’ and as ‘friend.’

So I said to them, ‘Please don’t address the Tathagata, the Thus-gone one, by name and as ‘friend.’ The Tathagata, friends, is a worthy one, fully awakened. Lend ear, friends: the Deathless has been attained. I will instruct you. I will teach you the Dharma. Practising as instructed, you will in no long time reach & remain in the supreme goal of the spiritual life, … knowing & realizing it for yourselves in the here & now.’


‘You did not attain any superior human states by practising hardship and deprivation, nor any special knowledge & vision worthy of a noble one. So how can you have done so now — living luxuriously, straying from your exertion, backsliding into abundance?’


‘The Tathagata is not living luxuriously, has not strayed from his exertion, has not slid back into abundance. The Tathagata, friends, is a worthy one, fully awakened. [And twice more I repeated my offer to teach them.]’

[They still doubted, so] I said to the group of five, ‘Do you recall my ever having spoken in this way before?’


‘No, sir.’


‘The Tathagata, monks, is not living luxuriously, has not strayed from his exertion, has not slid back into abundance. The Tathagata, friends, is a worthy one, fully awakened. Listen, friends: the Deathless has been attained. I will instruct you. I will teach you the Dharma. If you practice as instructed, before long you will reach the supreme goal of the spiritual life and remain there…, knowing & realizing it for yourselves in the here & now.’

And so I was able to convince them. I would teach two while three went to get food, and we six lived off what the three brought back from their alms round. Then I would teach three of them while two went for food, and we six lived off what the two brought back from their alms round. Then the group of five — thus exhorted and instructed by me — being themselves subject to birth, seeing the drawbacks of birth, seeking the unborn, unexcelled security from oppression, nirvana, reached nirvana. Being subject themselves to aging, illness, death, sorrow and defilement, seeing the drawbacks of aging, illness, death, sorrow and defilement, seeking the aging-less, illness-less, deathless, sorrow-less, undefiled, unexcelled security from oppression, nirvana, they reached nirvana. Complete knowledge & vision arose in them, their liberation was unshakeable, and from the rounds of rebirth they were completely free.

From the Noble Quest Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya number 26.

(Edited and adapted for reading aloud by Ratnaprabha from the translation by Thanissaro (1), referring to translations by Bhikkhu Bodhi (2) and Nanamoli (3).)


  1. .
  3. Ñāṇamoli Bhikkhu, The Life of the Buddha (Buddhist Publication Society, 1972)


The Buddha’s first teaching

Image: John Hill

Today, 8 June 2017,  is the full moon of Dharma Day, the anniversary of the Buddha’s first teaching, known as Turning the Wheel of Dharma.

Here is my Re-rendering of the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (Ratnaprabha, June 2017)

This is what I heard. (After his awakening), the Buddha arrived at the game reserve near Varanasi, (and was reunited with his five former comrades).

He taught the group of five. He said to them: “Going forth (to seek awakening), you must avoid two extremes.

“Looking for gratification in sense pleasures is demeaning, crude and ignoble. It’s what people always go for, but it’s pointless, and it takes you nowhere near the goal.

“Yet self-torment is also ignoble and pointless, and (it commits you to needless) suffering.

“Instead of veering towards one of these extremes, (if you’re) attuned to reality, you will wake up to the middle path. It yields vision so that you truly know. It leads to peace, to complete awareness, to quenching (the flames) and waking yourself up fully.

“Speaking simply, the middle path has eight aspects. These are complete vision, complete emotion, complete communication, complete action, complete livelihood, complete effort, complete mindfulness, and complete unification (of the mind). When I attuned myself to reality, I woke up to this path.

“Furthermore, (I woke up to four noble truths). Firstly, this is the noble truth, the grand reality, of pain. Birth, ageing and illness are painful. Death is horrible. (Then you’ll encounter) depression, grief and physical agony; unhappiness and despair as well, and losing what you love, and not getting what you want. In fact all the aspects of life that we cling to are painful.

“This is the noble truth, the grand reality (that explains) where pain comes from. It comes from thirst, from craving. It is craving that impels us to remake ourselves so that we are still conjoined with gratification and clinging, indulging in one thing after another. (More specifically), it is craving for sense-gratification, craving for continuing (as we are), or craving for oblivion.

“This is the noble truth, the grand reality, of the finish of pain. It is the fading and finishing of that same craving, giving it up, letting it go, not depending on it any more, so that we are completely free from craving.

“This is the noble truth, the grand reality of the way that finishes pain. It is the same middle path (that avoids the extremes) – complete vision and so on.

“When I fully woke up, I saw this for the first time. A fresh insight, wisdom and awareness, indeed a complete illumination, dawned on me. I truly saw pain as a grand reality, I saw I had to understand it, and (eventually) I did.

“Similarly, I truly saw, as a grand reality, how pain comes from craving. I saw I had to let go of that craving, and I managed to do that.

“And I truly saw the grand reality of (the possibility of) pain finishing (for good). I knew I had to realise that finish directly, and I did realise it.

And I truly saw the grand reality of the middle way that frees one from pain, I saw that I had to journey on that way, and I travelled it to the end.

“It was these crucial insights that enabled me to perfect my full and complete awakening. This is an awakening that completes the journey, (a journey open to) all forms of life in the universe. I saw, and I realised: unshakeable is the liberation of my mind, I’m no longer compelled to re-make myself, this is it.”

The group of five listened enraptured to the Buddha. And as he listened, one of them, Kondañña, saw the truth clearly and lucidly, and realised that all that comes into being must also finish. “Kondañña knows!” Exclaimed the Buddha, “Kondañña knows!”

This, in the game reserve near Varanasi, was the (first) rolling of the Wheel of Dharma by the Buddha. The earth spirits yelled with all their might: “THE SUPREME WHEEL OF THE BUDDHA’S DHARMA IS NOW TURNING, AND NO ONE CAN STOP IT!” And the cheer went up through the ranks of invisible beings up to the (formless) world of pure spirit, so that the whole world trembled, and an incandescent light spread from horizon to horizon.

Brackets signify words added for clarification. Some repetitions have been removed. This re-rendering is interpretive, and other interpretations are possible; it is well worth looking through several translations.

Are scientific laws permanent?

‘All things are impermanent’: what about scientific laws?



Impermanence is fundamental to Buddhism. It is even “Buddhism in One Word” (Sangharakshita).  The locus classicus for this particular doctrine could be seen as being a verse of the Dhammapada (a collection of sayings ascribed to the Buddha, which are very likely to be very close to his original teachings), which runs:

277  sabbe sankhaaraa anichchaa ti yadaa paññaaya passati
atha nibbindati dukkhe esa maggo visuddhiyaa.

All processes are impermanent. When one sees this with understanding, then one is disillusioned with the things of suffering. This is the Path of Purification. (John Richards translation)

So what is being stated as being impermanent is all processes — the Pali word being sankhara (the transliteration doubles the a’s to show they are the long form), or Sanskrit samskara.  It pointedly does not say, “all dharmas are impermanent”, but two verses later, it does say, “all dharmas are insubstantial (anatta)”.  Dharmas here probably means anything that can be an object of cognition, whether it is what we see as a physical thing, or an idea, or an attribute etc. I think it would be best to see a physical law as a dharma, but not a samskara (though a philologist friend who read an earlier draft disputes this).

Verse 5 of the Dhammapada says:

Occasions of hatred are certainly never settled by hatred. They are settled by freedom from hatred. This is the eternal law

So here a psychological law is being stated as not being impermanent.  (Eternal law translates dhammo sanantano – ‘an eternal or age-old dharma’.)  Why should the same not be the case with the physical laws of the universe? However, it is possible that they are contingent in some way: the cosmologist Lee Smolin speculates that new universes are constantly being spawned within black holes, each new universe having slightly different physical laws from its parent universe. (The Life of the Cosmos.)

But Buddhists might differ from many scientists, in particular those who think that there will eventually be a final theory of everything, in that they would count physical laws as dharmas, and so would assert that they are insubstantial.  In other words, a law has no independent existence of its own.  It is simply an ordered description of the way phenomena behave — how they influence each other, how they arise and pass away etc. and another type of intelligence might use a different set of laws to describe the same phenomena, though it would in principle be possible to cross-reference the two sets, and show how they are consistent with each other.  It is an object of the conscious mind.

I wonder whether the regularity of scientific experimentation allows one to suspect that some physical laws would always be conceptually patterned in the same way, if different observers at perhaps very different times in very different parts of the universe set up their observations in the same way? In that sense, the law could be unchanging.

What is impermanent?  In the Buddhist tradition, very little is left out of the rather loose term ‘samskara’.  It is most importantly used for people’s mental states, habits, characters etc — in other words, it is encouraging you to feel that you are not stuck in any form of life, or any personal tendency.

This doctrine would assert that there can be no entity in the universe that was free from influence and thus change, similarly, no form of existence or realm, no physical object etc.  ( I am taking it as read that such entities are mind objects, though in this context they are mind objects within scientific discourse, which is very careful to specify them in ways that ensures they can be investigated coherently by many people using a variety of well defined observation methods.) But how would this apply to certain subatomic particles which are regarded as being completely stable?  Could one say that a proton(1) is a permanent entity?

It may be that it is illegitimate to apply Buddhist insights to the scientific sphere. I hope not, I suspect that the meeting of the two ways of looking at human life could be stimulating and fruitful. Scientific findings are very robust, and could clarify the worldview of Buddhists in many ways. Buddhists could also help scientists, for example by offering cogent alternatives to the view that it is primarily the human brain that gives rise to human awareness, and that there is an absolutely real, dead universe, lacking in awareness, which is ultimately separate from the processes of awareness. More importantly, it can suggest a non-religious ethical framework for scientists, some of whom have little in the way of ethics apart from the pressure of public opinion.


(1) I had originally written ‘neutron’, a bit of a howler as a free neutron has a half life of less than 15 minutes. Free protons have never been seen decaying so far, so may be very long lasting, perhaps ‘permanent’, though protons within nuclei can transform to neutrons by beta decay, and a proton would lose its identity if it fell into a black hole.

Thoughts from John Berger


Photo from Wikimedia Commons

On Writing

What has prompted me to write over the years is the hunch that something needs to be told, and that if I don’t try to tell it, it risks not being told. I picture myself as a stop-gap man rather than a consequential, professional writer.

After I’ve written a few lines I let the words slip back into the creature of their language. And there, they are instantly recognised and greeted by a host of other words, with whom they have an affinity of meaning, or of opposition, or of metaphor or alliteration or rhythm. I listen to their confabulation. Together they are contesting the use to which I put the words I chose. They are questioning the roles I allotted them.

So I modify the lines, change a word or two, and submit them again. Another confabulation begins. And it goes on like this until there is a low murmur of provisional consent. Then I proceed to the next paragraph.

On Translation

True translation demands a return to the pre-verbal. One reads and rereads the words of the original text in order to penetrate through them to reach, to touch, the vision or experience that prompted them. One then gathers up what one has found there and takes this quivering almost wordless “thing” and places it behind the language it needs to be translated into. And now the principal task is to persuade the host language to take in and welcome the “thing” that is waiting to be articulated.

John Berger, Guardian Review, 13.12.14

The Vimalakirti Sutra


Review by Ratnaprabha of The Vimalakirti Sutra, translated by Burton Watson (Columbia University Press, New York, 1997).

Towards the end of this great Buddhist classic, the Buddha remarks that ‘those who love varied phrases and literary embellishments … are beginners in the bodhisattva way’. However, highly experienced bodhisattvas are ‘not afraid of deeper principles, and [are] able to enter into the true meaning.’ The Vimalakirti Sutra is a repository of deep principles: its spiritual teaching catapults one way beyond familiar ground. Paradoxically (paradox is one of its methods) it also fascinates as literature. Descriptions of fantastic spectacle, verbal contests, and even slapstick humour, all revolve around Vimalakirti. Vimalakirti is an enlightened bodhisattva, devoted to establishing people on the Buddha way. This he does imperceptibly, irresistibly, because he adapts so well into their various ordinary lives. He can use anything as an ‘expedient means’ towards the benefit and enlightenment of others.

As a demonstration of the unsatisfactoriness of a life that identifies with this fragile body, Vimalakirti falls ill. The Buddha asks his disciples to visit the sick bodhisattva, but one by one they refuse, recounting how Vimalakirti had exposed the limitations of their approaches to Buddhism. All-wise Manjushri is the only worthy opponent to agree to go, and Vimalakirti magically transforms his sickroom to accommodate the crowds who come to hear a breathtaking series of profound exchanges, forming the central portion of the Sutra.

The comically bewildered monk Shariputra, representing a limited, self-centred view of Buddhist practice, stimulates Vimalakirti’s magical displays, all of which demonstrate the richness of an unlimited perspective. When Shariputra wonders where everyone is going to sit (‘did you come here for the sake of the Law, or are you just looking for a place to sit?’, Vimalakirti asks), Vimalakirti imports millions of vast thrones, and somehow fits them all into the room. Later, an enlightened goddess sprinkles Shariputra with flowers, not allowed to monks, yet he cannot brush them off. He is so impressed by her deep explanations that he asks her why she doesn’t become male (Buddhas being traditionally thought of as always male). In reply, she swaps gender with him, and then swaps back, to demonstrate that ‘all phenomena are neither male nor female’. Later still, Shariputra’s mind wanders again, this time to thoughts of lunch, and Vimalakirti sends a phantom bodhisattva to a pure land in a distant galaxy to fetch fragrant ambrosia for all.

Vimalakirti’s profound teachings bear the same message as his jokes and spectacular displays. Let go of restrictive viewpoints, he says, and the splendour of non-dual reality will simply become apparent in the here and now. Every emotion, every action, potentially displays the truth. Letting go into a true vision opens innumerable doors that enable one to help others in their turn to let go into truth, so that they will see every frustration, every grief evaporate. Like the Buddha, Vimalakirti teaches the altruistic bodhisattva ideal. He also universalises the goal of Buddhism: he displaces any thoughts of a personal escape into the relief of ‘Nirvana’ by demonstrating how the actual world one lives in can become, for everybody, a pure Buddha land, perfumed with bliss, vibrant with ultimate significance.

However, you will look in vain for detailed blueprints for ‘purifying the Buddha field’, even for instructions in living one’s daily life or in practising meditation. Instead, the Sutra seeks to stretch the mind with its refutations of plodding thought processes based on the rearrangement of labels, until, perhaps, the mind gives up, and yields to ’empty’ reality unmediated by labels. Then it swoops down from a different angle, and uncloses the sense of wonder with brilliant son-et-lumiére. As I go back again and again to the Vimalakirti Sutra, I might realise one day that ‘how things are’ is inconceivable and unimaginable simply because thinking is not everything, envisaging is not everything. ‘How things are’ is everything, and that can be appreciated only with one’s every faculty attending completely, right now.

Burton Watson’s new translation uses the Chinese version by Kumarajiva, who was renowned as Buddhism’s greatest translator because his own realisation was so deep, and because his style was so fluent. It may be that Watson saw the Vimalakirti Sutra as an inevitable addition to his acclaimed series of translations of Chinese classics: it does not seem to me to be superior to the one we already have, by Charles Luk. (The jacket notes are incorrect to claim that Watson’s is the ‘first ever translation’.) I really have to warn you of some of his odd renderings. Maitri (loving kindness) becomes ‘pity’, and is sometimes confused with compassion; upeksha (equanimity) is ‘indifference’; dana (generosity) is ‘almsgiving’; Mara is christianised into ‘the devil’, and Watson also chooses the biblical resonance of ‘the Law’ for the Dharma (truth and teaching).

The most reliable version in English, apart from the incredibly thorough scholarly text by Lamotte, is Robert Thurman’s from the Tibetan (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976), which also scores for its elegance and vividness. But there is something to be said for taking advantage of the filter of Kumarajiva’s mind. Like many texts of Indian Mahayana Buddhism, the Vimalakirti Sutra overflows with extended series of stock Buddhist lists, as well as the baffling intellectual subtleties of analysis and negation. Kumarajiva softens these, sometimes by shortening passages, sometimes with simpler, more direct glimpses of the Dharma.

Vangisa the poet

39a Aloka_LBC_painting-747601

Aloka working on his triptych of the Buddha and his disciples


A story of the poet-monk Vangisa, from the Kindred Sayings, i, 192.

Once, the Abundant Man was staying near Savatthi, in Anathapindika’s park, the Jeta Wood, with over a thousand Bhikkhus. He gave a talk about Enlightenment, which was instructive, eye-opening, exciting and inspiring. They all listened to the Dharma enraptured, attending closely with their whole minds.

Afterwards, Vangisa the poet came up and saluted the Buddha, saying ‘It’s come to me, Abundant One, it’s come to me, Happy One.’ The Buddha said ‘Let it come to you, then, Vangisa!’, and Vangisa praised him in a fitting poem.

A thousand comrades and more
Are gathered round the Buddha here
And here he teaches Dharma pure,
A want-less state, Nirvana sure,
Suffused with utter confidence.

To words of spotless Dharma
Taught by the peerless Buddha
They listen without distraction.

So beautiful, the Awakened shines
As noblest in this noble band.
O dragon of abundant treasure,
Seventh sage in the line of seers,
Summer thunder-cloud of timely rain,
Pouring Dharma on your listeners!

And I, a listener, left my dreams,
Sleeping in the teatime sun,
So eager to see my teacher here.
Mighty hero, I Vangisa will ever follow,
And let my words flow in devotion.

The Buddha said ‘Tell me, Vangisa, had you already composed these verses?’ ‘No, my teacher, they came to me as I spoke them.’ ‘Then please, Vangisa, let us hear some more.’ ‘Then I shall contnue,’ said Vangisa.

The devious ways of death you master,
And take your plough to crumble
The fallow fields of our hearts.
Look at him! Sowing freedom,
Reaping harvest of the Path-grains.

He shows the bridges over the flood,
He shows the deathless shore,
And we that have seen that Dharma
Are moored immoveable.

A bearer of the light, he burst
Beyond all viewpoints dark and fixed.
First knowing, then surmounting
The highest peak, he guides us to that vantage.

Now! With the truth so well explained,
What place is there for sleeping,
For we who’ve heard the Dharma?
Thus within the Buddha’s system,
Train well, practise intensely without pausing,
And always keep your reverence alive.

Adapted freely by Ratnaprabha from Catherine Rhys Davids’ translation (Pali Text Society), with help from the Theragata version (verses 1238-1245) translated by Prof. Norman.

Ruchiraketu’s verses praising the Buddha, from the Sutra of Golden Light


Illustration by Andy Gammon

O chief of the wise, your body is shining
With great deeds of the past
And fine qualities countless.
Your face is a prince’s, your gaze here inclining
Brings peace unsurpassed.
With a thousand sun’s brightness,
A blazing corona of sunbeams surrounds you:
Like a rainbow of gemstones,
Your precious form draws one.
Facets of crystal, snow-white, beryl, azure,
And the gold beams and coppertones
That flame o’er the dawn sun.
Like dawn sun, you light up the soaring snow ranges.
For all worlds, you’re the morning
Driving mist from the hilltops.
Your dawn calms the storms of despair and quenches
Hell’s fires; light transforming
Each tear to a dewdrop.
Your skin is unblemished and perfect your senses.
There’s no draining the draught
Of the dew of your presence:
A rose for the world, a foil for all fancies.

Your locks are as soft
Have that same iridescence
As the neck of the peacock, the down of the bee.
And like bees in a flower,
The curls of your tresses
Cluster, caressing your brow lovingly.
Your appearance the power
Of compassion expresses.
Through unstinting practice of deep meditation
And great loving-kindness,
Your merits are matchless.
The enlightenment-factors your ornamentation;
Purveyor of gladness,
Ideal of uprightness,
A bringer of blessings – a beacon of blessings!
A beacon whose fuel
Is profoundest nobility.
A beacon whose beams, without limit impressing
Each celestial jewel
In the crown of infinity
Ignite every seeker; as the halcyon’s plumage
Was fired by the sun’s fire.
Your face is the sun’s face
Rising, emerging behind Meru’s vantage.
Your body a great pyre,
Blazing mountain in dark space,
Visible clearly from cosmos to cosmos!

And your face is the sun’s face.
And a bright skein of snow geese
Traversing the sunrise – your smile.

Strung across
A seashell, a necklace
Of pearls. mouth of cerise,
Teeth milk-white — together, the rose-coloured dream
Of your smile.
White lilies by moonlight in a bend of the stream
Whose ocean is truth, is the Orphean theme
Is the echoing pledge
Of your smile.
A free rendering of

Sevenfold Puja from the Bodhicharyavatara — a new metrical version for chanting

Avalokisteshvara FTM1.  Worship

I welcome the foremost of beings
With offerings of garlands of flowers,
Sprays of sky-lilies, jasmine and lotus,
The sweetest and brightest of blossoms.

In a haze of the fragrance of incense,
Sweet, all pervading, enchanting,
Here are nectars distilled by the devas,
Here are dishes sustaining and delicate.

Their lamp is a flame in a diamond
Set in a gold-petalled lotus.
At their feet on a pavement of turquoise
I scatter fresh perfumes and petals.

(Avalokiteshvara mantra and offerings)

2.  Salutation

See the Buddhas past, present and future;
See their Dharma and Sangha.  Saluting,
My prostrations will equal the atoms
In all of the worlds of the Cosmos.

And I bow to the shrines of past Masters,
To all Buddhist pilgrimage places,
To my teachers I bow, and all beings
Who aspire to practise the Dharma.

3.  Going for Refuge

In this moment I go for my Refuge
To the Buddhas, protectors of all,
Striving to care for the living,
The victors who take away fear.

In this moment I go for my Refuge
To the Dharma that they have discovered,
Which rescues from cyclic existence.

In this moment I go for my Refuge
To the Sangha of great Bodhisattvas.

(Refuges and precepts.)

4.  Confession of Faults

I’ve lived heedless and deep in delusion,
And so I’ve been piling up evils,
Unskilful breaking of precepts,
And vows and promises broken.

Full of fear of the painful results,
Confessing I bow to the Buddhas,
Please accept all this as it is,
It was wrong, I shall do it no more.

5.  Rejoicing in Merit

With great joy I extol all good actions,
Only way to relieve states of suffering.
May those suffering all dwell in bliss.
I delight in beings escaping
From the endless round and its pains.

Bodhisattvas and Buddhas awakened,
I delight in their high realisations.
I delight in their mind of awakening,
A resolve which is deep as an ocean,
Bearing a cargo of blessings
And happiness to every being.

6.  Entreaty and Supplication

O you Buddhas in every direction,
Please kindle the light of the Dharma,
For all those who fall into darkness,
Dark of suffering, dark of delusion.

O you Buddhas in every direction,
Though you long for final Nirvana,
Please stay here for infinite aeons,
Not letting this world become blind.


(Heart Sutra)

7.  Transference of Merit and Self Surrender

With the benefits I have acquired
By performing this Sevenfold Puja,
May I clear away the frustrations
Which burden the lives of all creatures.

Without any sense of regretting
I give up my body and pleasures,
All I own, past present and future,
To improve the lives of all beings.

Just as earth, air, fire and water,
Are useful in numerous ways;
May I sustain all throughout space,
Until they gain ultimate freedom.

(Padmasambhava mantra)

(Concluding mantras)

A rendering by Ratnaprabha of the Sevenfold Puja verses, based mainly on these prose translations of Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara:

Kate Crosby and Andrew Skilton,  The Bodhicaryavatara (Oxford World’s Classics, 1996).
Klaus Klostermaier (unpublished).
Stephen Batchelor, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life (Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1979).

First section composed about 1985, the rest completed 2001.

The Heart of Leaping Wisdom — The Heart Sutra


A free re-rendering of the Heart Sutra by Ratnaprabha

  1. I salute the Abundant Lady, Noble Leaping Wisdom!
  2.  The Bodhi-hero noble Master Kind-gazer was practising the ocean-deep life of leaping wisdom,
  3. And he gazed down,
  4. Seeing only the five segments of oneself and total experience,
  5. And knowing they were essentially completely open.
  6. Kind-gazer said:
  7. ‘Right here and now, Sharp-eye, the world you experience and your body are completely open.
  8. And open reality is just what you call the world and body.
  9. The world and body precisely are complete openness.
  10. And open reality precisely is what you call the world and body.
  11. Anything in the world or body is completely open.
  12. And anything in open reality appears as the world and body.
  13. ‘All responses of like and dislike are completely open.
  14. And open reality is … [as for the world you experience…]
  15. And anything in open reality appears as all responses of like and dislike.
  16. ‘Every time you notice and recognise anything is completely open.
  17. And open reality is … [as for the world you experience…]
  18. And anything in open reality appears as every time you notice and recognise anything.
  19. ‘Every little urge or proclivity you feel is completely open.
  20. And open reality is … [as for the world you experience…]
  21. And anything in open reality appears as every little urge or proclivity.
  22. ‘Your split awareness itself is completely open.
  23. And open reality is … [as for the world you experience…]
  24. And anything in open reality appears as your split awareness.
  25. ‘Right here and now, Sharp-eye,
  26. Everything you can name or think about is completely open.
  27. Everything is without identifiable characteristics.
  28. Everything neither comes into being, nor finishes.
  29. Everything is neither morally bad, nor pure.
  30. Everything is neither lacking in perfection, nor perfect.
  31. ‘Next, Sharp-eye, get into a completely open meditation.
  32. There, there’s no world or body.
  33. There’s no response of like or dislike.
  34. There’s nothing to notice or recognise.
  35. There are no little urges or proclivities.
  36. There is even no divided awareness.
  37. ‘Get into a completely open meditation.
  38. There, there are no senses or mind-sense.
  39. There’s nothing to sense, nor ideas or images.
  40. There is no sense awareness, nor even mental consciousness.
  41. ‘Get into a completely open meditation.
  42. There, there’s no unknowing, or karma-formations, nor all the links they lead to, up to decay and death,
  43. But there is no stopping of these twelve links, either.
  44. ‘Get into a completely open meditation.
  45. There, there’s no frustration.
  46. There is no craving to make you frustrated.
  47. There is no peaceful cessation of all frustration,
  48. Nor is there a spiritual path to lead to it.
  49. ‘Get into a completely open meditation.
  50. There, there is no real knowing;
  51. There are no Buddha-achievements;
  52. There is no lack of Buddha-achievements.
  53. ‘Next, Sharp-eye,
  54. It is because of his complete indifference to achievements,
  55. And because he relies on Leaping Wisdom,
  56. That a Bodhi-hero can live with no barriers trapping his mind or heart.
  57. Having burst through all barriers, he does not panic;
  58. He is no longer upside-down;
  59. Finally, he achieves Enlightenment.
  60. ‘Every Buddha throughout time,
  61. With just this Leaping Wisdom,
  62. Fully wakes up to perfect and complete Enlightenment.
  63. ‘Next, learn the great secret name of Leaping Wisdom.
  64. It’s the Lady of Full Knowing’s secret name,
  65. The best name,
  66. The name as good as a Buddha,
  67. The name that calms all frustration.
  68. It’s true, and it works,
  69. It’s the secret name spoken by Leaping Wisdom herself.
  70. Here it is:
  71. ‘Leap; Leap; Leap over; All of you leap over; AWAKE! That’s it!’


Please refer to Sangharakshita’s commentary on the Sutra (lecture 73 on Free Buddhist Audio, & in Wisdom Beyond Words).

I produced this re-rendering during the ‘Towards Insight’ Order retreat at Guhyaloka in September 1994, where we were studying and reciting the Heart Sutra. My purpose was to produce a fresh and immediate interpretation of the Sutra, based on a number of translations and commentaries, primarily to help my own reflection on and study of the text. I don’t understand most of the Sutra and do not have Insight into shunyata, nor can I read Sanskrit, Tibetan or Chinese! So do not regard this as a reliable English version. Even on the level of the discursive intellect, several other interpretations are possible. I haven’t even tried to preserve the Sanskrit grammatical forms. And I have freely expanded the terse Dharmic concepts in order to convey a more accessible meaning.

The notes below refer to my line numbers. The full diacritics of the Sanskrit words can be found in Conze (A). Words in brackets are additions: I have added words or phrases for clarity or to expand sections for more efficient reflection.

Title       Also includes the word Sutra.  Heart (Hrdaya) is the ‘essence’, and also the mind/heart that operates with Prajnaparamita.  Leaping (paramita) is glossed as ‘going beyond (to the other shore)’, and can also mean excellence or perfection; ‘leap’ is Han Shan’s image. Prajna is the Imaginal faculty, leaping onto a safe refuge beyond the ocean of suffering. The Heart of Leaping Wisdom Sutra only sketches in a few, advanced stages of the path; it is more a ‘path of no steps’ teaching, a path of one leap (or a few leaps), you might say. The much more gradual accumulation of merit is described in other scriptures.

1             Abundant lady  – Bhagavatyai; as an epithet of the Buddha, usually ‘Blessed One’ or ‘Richly endowed one’ (Sangharakshita). Here referring to Leaping Wisdom, and so in feminine form, hence Lady (grammatically feminine, and referring to the female Buddha).  Noble: Arya.

Following this, the long version has an introduction setting the scene on Vulture’s peak, with the Buddha in the Samadhi ‘Perception of the Profound’.

2             Bodhi-hero – bodhisattva.  Master Kind-gazer – Avalokiteshvara. Ishvara is a ‘lord’ or highly capable being. Avalokita means ‘looks down’ – in compassion being understood.   Practising – caramano; or ‘meditating’.  (ocean) deep – gambhiram.  Life – caryam; or ‘practice’.

3             gazed down – vyavalokayati, echoing his name.

4             five segments … experience – the skandhas. The Chinese version then adds (in our puja translation – see refs.) ‘and transcended the bonds that caused him suffering’. The Chinese translator working with Kumarajiva may have added this, but Hsuang Tsang has it too, despite the fact that it is not in his Sanskrit source (see Hurvitz, in Lancaster).

5             essentially completely open – svabhavashunyan. My ‘completely open’ and ‘open reality’ for shunya/shunyata are from Herbert Guenther’s explanations of the word as the ‘open dimension’ (of being). (Kindly Bent to Ease Us, Pt I (Dharma, 1975), 169 & 264n. Also see his Tibetan Buddhism in Western Perspective (Dharma, 1977), 73-4).  After 5, the long version has Sharp-eye ask Kind-gazer how to train in Leaping Wisdom.

7             Right here and now – iha, literally ‘here’. I’m suggesting that ‘iha’ is drawing Sharp-eye’s attention to his present experience. (See also lines 25, 31, 53 and 62.)   Sharp-eye – Shariputra. A ‘shari’ (his mother’s name) is apparently a bright- and sharp-eyed bird; ‘Sharp-eye’ seems to fit his acute mind. (I’ve freely ‘translated’ his and Avalokiteshvara’s names to help in looking at the Sutra’s characters in a fresh light.)   the world … your body – rupa; as a skandha, rupa can be the whole objective content of experience (‘the world’), or just one’s body and senses.

8             is just (what you call) – 7 and 8 actually just say ‘rupa is shunyata, shunyata (or the very shunyata) is rupa’. Of course, I can’t grasp this paradoxical part of the Sutra, but 8-11 (as well as the following lines on the other skandhas) seem to be saying that both ‘objective’ appearances and ‘subjective’ processes are completely open, yet there is not a thing called shunyata which is distinct from appearances and experience, let alone a nihilistic void – Han Shan warns against getting ‘immersed in the void and stagnant in stillness’. The three (two in some versions) ways of putting it are presumably to guard against wriggling out of this conundrum. Perhaps it is sufficient just to contemplate the words as they are, and let them sink in. However, I’ve expanded them a little in translation, based on the Indian and Tibetan commentaries – hence ‘what you call’. Shunyata seems to have two strands of ‘meanings’: the utter lack of inherent existence in any phenomenon, and the ultimate invalidity of any labelling or conceptualisations of any phenomenon. As concepts, shunyata and rupa are distinct, of course. They are identical in that there is nothing other than ineffable reality for one’s divided awareness to misperceive as split into various labellable (‘what you call’) segments, like the skandhas. Therefore, all that non-dual Transcendental consciousness (Prajna) needs to vision is complete openness.

12           (Appears as) – again, I’ve added this. The commentaries explain that everything we experience is a manifestation of shunyata, which ‘does not prevent the causally originated semblances’ (Manjughosha Sadhana), and this mere appearance can be relatively real. Shunyata is to do with experience, not metaphysics. However, it presumably is not that shunyata manifests rupa and nothing but rupa: ‘it’ manifests the other skandhas too. And, for our spiritual purposes, we do need to make a distinction between the potentially misleading appearances that weave our life and world, and the completely open reality that we fail to see life and world as. But I’m out of my depth here! ‘All appearances are reflected in prajna’s mirror’, says Han Shan.

13           Responses of like and dislike – vedana; can be neutral too. The Sutra just lists the remaining skandhas, but I’ve repeated Kind-gazer’s statements in full for each one, to aid reflection.

16           Every time you notice and recognise (anything) – samjna.

19           Every little urge or proclivity (you feel) – samskaras. ‘Proclivities’ is Sanghrakshita’s suggestion, or was it ‘propensities’?

22           Your split awareness (itself) – vijnana.

26           Everything you can name or think about – all dharmas. 26-30 constitute the ‘eight-fold profundity’.

27           (Everything) – ‘all dharmas’ is not actually repeated in 27-30.  Without identifiable characteristics – (a)-lakshana. This could be part of the previous word, shunyata, in which case, 26-27 together mean all dharmas ‘have the characteristic of shunyata’, as Conze has it, and the profundity would only be sevenfold. All the Indian commentators have 27 as a separate statement.

28           neither comes into being, nor finishes – anutpanna (or ‘not produced’), aniruddha.

29           neither morally bad, nor pure – amala (literally ‘not stained’), avimala.
30           neither lacking in perfection, nor perfect – anuna; or ‘not deficient’ (in the spiritual qualities to be accumulated by practice); aparipurnah; or ‘not filled’ (Chinese versions have ‘not increasing or decreasing’).

31           Next – tasmac usually means ‘therefore’, but it can mean (says Wayman) ‘afterwards’. So perhaps the first two sections of Kind-gazer’s teaching, which start with ‘here’, are calling for an immediately open attitude to present experience, although they can be used as meditations (see Khenpo’s Progressive stages of Meditation on Emptiness). The last three sections all start with tasmac (or tasmaj), perhaps implying that once one has some Insight into open reality, then one should meditate on the following statements. Hence my (get) in(to) a completely open (meditation), for what is literally ‘in shunyata’. Han Shan confirms that this is a meditation, intended to wipe out all (remaining) errors, and several commentators align it with the ‘bhavanamarga’, the fourth of the five paths.

32           There, there’s no … – presumably (if I’m not being too logical) if you enter a samadhi which directly contemplates open reality itself (one of the Doors to Liberation), then you will no longer apprehend all the ‘appearances’ (rupa etc) listed in 32-52, despite the fact that when you are not in the samadhi, open reality is no other than all those appearances.

37           (Get into …) – The phrase ‘in shunyata’ only occurs at the beginning of the whole (31-52) section. I’ve repeated it for each separate list because each can be used as a separate set of topics for contemplation.

38-40     — The 18 dhatus (sense-spheres or -constituents) are the six sense organs, including mind (manamsi), their objects – sounds etc, including ‘dharmas’ (my ‘ideas and images’) for mind – and their (sense-) consciousnesses, including manovijnana. The Sutra literally just says ‘no eye-dhatu and so on up to no manovijnanadhatu’. It also lists the 12 ayatanas (sense-bases or -sources), but since these are identical to the first 12 of the 18 dhatus, I’ve not repeated them. This section refers to the subjective and objective world of the senses, the whole of reality for an ordinary person. Han Shan explains that to realise that the sense-world is non-existent in shunyata is a leap beyond this ‘Dharma of worldly men’.

42           unknowing … decay and death – the 12 ‘negative’ (as we call them in the TBC) nidanas. This and 43 (their cessation) and 44-48 (the Four Noble Truths) is basic Buddhism, all operational concepts, categories to be leapt beyond when they are no longer spiritually useful.

50           real knowing – jnanam; non-dual wisdom, not here distinguished by the commentators from Prajnaparamita.

51           (Buddha)-achievements – praptir; literally attainment. The old commentaries say that 50-52 refer to the Bodhisattva’s non-dual wisdom and ‘attainment’ of Buddhahood. In open reality, one does not need to take even these ideas literally.

54           (his) – actually there are no pronouns in the Sanskrit in this paragraph, I think, so no gender is implied.  Complete indifference to achievements – apraptitvad; this is Sangharakshita’s gloss: literally, ‘non-attainmentness’. Han Shan concludes: ‘gainlessness is the real and ultimate gain’.

56           no barriers trapping … mind or heart – acittavaranah; avarana (barrier or veil) as in the three veils of karma, kleshas and jneya (views). Refers to all the barriers that separate one from one’s experience. Can sometimes mean the five hindrances, which are more usually the nivaranas. Han Shan says that if you rely on ‘discriminative feeling and thinking, the heart (citta) and objects will bind each other and can never be disentangled from the resultant avid graspings (avarana)’. But, he continues, if you meditate using the faculty of Prajna, then when the shunya heart contacts shunya appearances, only liberation results.

57           burst through (all) – nastitvad; literally, just ‘in the absence of’.  does not panic – atrasto; or tremble, or fear. If you’ve got barriers, then open reality will seem frightening, if (as Sangharakshita points out) you are open enough to see how threatening it is to your limited self.

58           no longer – atikranto; literally he’s ‘stepped above’, or ‘passed beyond’.  upside-down – viparyasa, as in the four ‘topsy-turvies’ or mental perversities: seeing the permanent as impermanent, etc.

59           Finally, … Enlightenment – nishtha-nirvana; or ‘the fulfilment or summit’ (the name of the fifth and final path) of nirvana. achieves – praptah; the start and end of the paragraph thus says: ‘through non-achievement … he achieves (same term) Enlightenment’. Only direct knowledge of reality (Leaping Wisdom), says Sangharakshita, confers Enlightenment.

60           throughout time – tryadhva; the three times, of present, past and future.

61           With just – ashritya; literally ‘through relying on’.

62           Fully wakes up – abhisambuddhah.

63           learn – jnatavyam; ‘one should know’ (the secret name). secret name – mantra, but often regarded as a dharani too, especially in China and Japan.

64           Lady of Full Knowing’s – mahavidya; or just ‘great knowing’s’. Wayman suggests this refers to Leaping Wisdom herself, since vidya is feminine.

65           best – ‘nuttara.

66           as good as (a Buddha) – samasama; literally ‘equal to the unequalled’.

67           frustration – duhkha.

68           It’s true – satyam. it works – amithyatvat; ‘for what could go wrong?’ (Conze), or ‘without fail’ (Han Shan), or ‘since it is not false’ (Other translations).

69           spoken by … (herself) – ukto; delivered by.

70           Here it is – tadyatha. An ‘Om’ is sometimes added after this word, both tadyatha and Om being included in the secret name by Tibetans (see bijas on lotus petals illustration in Kelsang, p130).

71           Leap; Leap;  – it is said that the secret name is best left unexplained and untranslated, but nearly all the commentators explicate it in some detail! I thought an imperative sounds better, though it is actually a past participle, ‘gone’. It could also be rendered ‘proceed; proceed’, or ‘leave it behind; leave it behind’. Leap over; – paragate; or across (to the other shore), echoing the para in prajnaparamita. All of you – –sam-; literally ‘completely’: two of my sources (Thich Nhat Hanh and a Japanese version) say that ‘sam’ refers to everybody, not just yourself, going to the other shore. ‘All of you’ leaves a satisfying ambiguity. AWAKE! – Bodhi; Enlightenment. That’s it!  – svaha; which is the traditional last word of mantras of female deities (replacing Hum), meaning, roughly, ‘all is well’.

The longer version has an epilogue, in which the Buddha approves Kind-gazer’s teaching.


Modern commentaries and translations

Sangharakshita, Wisdom Beyond Words (Windhorse, 1993), 25-35. (Incl. Conze’s trs. slightly modified.)

Conze, Edward (A), Buddhist Wisdom Books (Allen & Unwin, 1958). (Incl. Sanskrit text of the shorter form, and English trs.)

Conze, Edward, (B) ‘The Prajnaparamita Hrdaya Sutra’, in Thirty Years of Buddhist Studies (Cassirer, 1967), 148-167. (Incl. Sanskrit text of the longer form.)

Rabten, Geshe, Echoes of Voidness (Wisdom, 1983), 18-45. (Translated by Stephen Batchelor. Incl. trs.)

Kelsang Gyatso, Geshe, Heart of Wisdom (Tharpa, 1989, 2nd edn). (Incl. trs, and Tibetan trs in Roman and Tibetan script.)

Suzuki, D T, ‘The Significance of the Prajnaparamita Hridaya Sutra in Zen Buddhism’, in Essays in Zen Buddhism, Third Series (Rider, 1953), 222-238. (Incl. trs.)

Tejananda, ‘A Rendering of the Heart Sutra’, in The Order Journal No. 1 (Nov. 1988), 23-6. This is a revision, designed for chanting, of Conze’s translation, plus some criticisms of the ‘Kapleau’ version (which we use in the Triratna Buddhist Order Puja). Most of the criticisms are misplaced, because they assume that discrepancies between the Puja version and Conze’s are mistakes, when in fact they generally reflect the fact that the two are from different original texts: there are a number. The Puja version in probably from a classical Chinese version (as used in Japan) translated in the workshop of Kumarajiva before 519 CE, and thus our earliest known version. Conze (B) suggests that several phrases in the Sanskrit texts that Conze used are later alterations.

Kapleau, Philip, Zen Dawn in the West (Rider, 1980), 180-1, has the translation of the Heart Sutra used by Kapleau’s disciples, almost identical to the one in the TBC Puja Book.

Red Pine, The Heart Sutra, the Womb of Buddhas (Counterpoint, Berkeley, 2004)

Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Understanding (Parallax, 1988). (Incl. trs.)

Wayman, Alex, ‘Secret of the Heart Sutra’, in Lancaster (ed.) (see below), 135-152.

Older Traditional Versions and Commentaries

Various, in Lancaster, Lewis (ed.), Prajnaparamita and Related Systems (Berkeley Buddhist Studies Series 1, 1977). Includes a translated transcription from the Chinese (by Hurvitz) and a translation from the Khotanese (by Bailey, with comments by Lancaster).

Donald S Lopez Jr, The Heart Sutra Explained (State Univ. of New York Press, 1988). Includes trs., a connected commentary based on the seven known Pala dynasty Indian Commentaries, and two Tibetan Commentaries. Very thorough, authoritative and interesting.

Han Shan, ‘A Straight Talk on the Heart Sutra’, in Charles Luk, Chan and Zen Teaching, First Series (Century/Rider, 1960) 209-223. Inspiring.

The Path of Unlimited Friendliness — The Karaniya Metta Sutta

A poem by the Buddha, translated from the Pali


  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.


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’.


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).


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.