Metta sutta translation issues

Almost done translating metta sutta; just wanted to share some of the few difficulties I found in the text, maybe you have some ideas.

Sūvaco cassa mudu anatimānī.

suvaco c’assa:
now here most translations go for “gentle in speech”, which at first seem to make perfect sense. Yet, whereas this indeed is the meaning of “suvaco”, yet the addition of “cassa” strongly suggests that the description here is of “responsiveness”: one responds gently when “spoken to”. This second meaning is reinforced by the fact that suvaco can also mean “obedient” or “compliant”. Ven. Thanissaro and Ven. Ñanamoli follow that last reading, rendering respectively “easy to instruct” and “easy to speak to”. Luckily, unlike English there is a word in Arabic just for that “easy responsiveness” which the text is referring to here.

“suvaco c’assa” I think is a good example of the kind of condensed word cut-past and trimming grammar to the bare minimum so as to fit the metre, which is found frequently in Pali verse. It’s quite challenging sometimes!


appagabbhu kulesu ananogiddho.

Now I have always felt strange when we chant this in English, in almost all translations we find “not attached to families”. My Pali teacher told me that this interpretation comes from Dhammapala’s commentary (who presents a whole story about how this line refers to monks who become possessive of certain donor families and jealous of other monks who are related to other generous donors and so forth). The problem of course is posed before any translator with the word “kula”, which seem to refer in essence to racial descent or “line”, but also used as “family” or “clan” etc. In this context Ven. Thanissaro translates: “no greed for supporters”. I am doubtful about this whole thing! It seems so imposed on the context, and so mendicant-specific (unlike the rest of the text). The only one who makes a rendition that fits with the context is Ven. Ñanamoli: “Unswayed by the emotions of the clans”, although this is a very daring translation I must say! But it will make more sense if we connect “kulesu ananogiddho” with what came before it in the same line: “appagabbhu”; but strangely Ven. Ñanamoli himself does not make that connection! He [inadequately?] translates appagabbhu as “modest” and places it with the earlier line of the stanza! Hmmm… Will see! :slight_smile:


Na paro paraṃ nikubbetha

:sweat_smile: Although obviously everyone goes for “let none deceive another” … I feel I need to discuss this first!! :slight_smile:

I wish I had your translation also, venerable @sujato, to rely on.



Oh, yes, this is clearly what it means. It is a synonym of sovacassatā. Translations as “gentle in speech” are incorrect.

Sorry, I’m not clear what you’re arguing for here.

But to address a few issues. The text is in fact positioned in a monastic context. Look at the words used in that verse: “content”, “easy to support”, “few in duties”, “living lightly”, “peaceful [sense] faculties”, “self-disciplined”. These are all words that are either exclusively used in monastic context, or at least are most characteristic of them. This cluster of ideas fits well with the injunction to “not be greedy among the families”, which is more or less a synonym of subhara, sallahukavutti, etc.

Of course it applies to lay life as well, but the main focus of the sutta, it seems, is for monastics. Compare, say, the Mangala Sutta, where a list of ethical qualities for the lay life is given. Also, compare a passage like SN 16.3:

“Mendicants, you should approach families like the moon: withdrawn in body and mind, always the newcomer, and never rude (appagabbha).

Pagabbha is fairly clear from passages such as AN 4.188, where it means “rude, impudent”. I’d rather translate as a simple negative, “not rude”, or else as the inverse positive: “polite”.

This is one of those words that is not very clear. It seems to be only used in this context, and is glossed by the commentary as “deceive”. The obvious meaning from the etymology, rather, would be “bring down”.

Now, etymology is the least reliable source of meaning. However, the Sanskrit dictionaries also give this meaning, but do not include the sense “deceive”. So I would be inclined to go with something like “does not bring down another” here.


Anumodami, Venerable, for your generous and ample input :slight_smile: :anjal:

Once finished with the translation, what would be the best way to share it with SC?

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Just let me know, and we’ll work it out.


Venerable @sujato, IMHO the text aught be not only inspiring, but also directly relevant to the practice and experience of the laity as well whenever that is possible. Even if this was addressed to mendicants, yet many lay people also lead very frugal and austere lives, whether for spiritual reasons or due to poverty, or both - and they live supported by others. Underdeveloped countries often have familial support from abroad as a leading source of national income (to the joy of Western Union!), and the capitalist life of independence hasn’t reached many a derelict remote village and town in this strange world! “Social solidarity” is an essential factor of survival in those communities, and spirituality sometimes thrives with this unchosen poverty! In all cases at last i have preferred to go with something that sounds in Arabic like this: “sensitive and not demanding toward supporters”. This will not compromise the original, while it will certainly resonate with millions of lay people! :slight_smile:

For “nikubbetha” : ni + √kara … is all we got. Doesn’t say much. But what does is the listing of the word in Burmese dictionaries, with the meaning “to repress or oppress”. So very close to your suggestion Venerable! :+1:
And fits perfectly with the context.

Many many many thanks!


Dear Venerable @sujato (and everyone else reading, I will also mention @Gabriel_L),

Here is the Arabic translation of Metta sutta; first of its kind I believe, as I have never seen any translation of Pali text into Arabic before. I present it to SC team with gratitude, wishing your endeavours bear great fruit. It is to be under the Creative Commons licence (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International). Please let me know if you need me to check any issues with the implementation of the text on the web (of course it’s already not correctly positioned below).

I am very happy to have made this translation, the result is quite wonderful! Thank you Venerable @sujato for making this happen. Although this is just a tiny tiny translation, yet I felt obliged to disclose some important information about it for you to be aware of, before you embrace it on your website. Especially given that you have no means with which to evaluate or verify its content (unless you start learning Arabic, or find someone who already speaks it to make the evaluation on your behalf).

I have deliberately avoided translating in “classical” Arabic for so many reasons, the most significant of which are (1) It is too archaic and formal as to be incompatible with the original text, which is lively and simple; (2) The majority of people in the Arabic speaking world don’t fully understand classical Arabic; (3) It is not so closely related to the “vernacular” Arabic that we actually speak.

In that sense classical Arabic is no longer a spoken language, and this has been the case for quite a long time now (although it is still widely used and vehemently defended by orthodox institutions). Translating the suttas in classical Arabic would be very much like offering them in “Latin” to a French, Spanish, Italian, or Portuguese audience! Though there are some differences between various forms of vernacular Arabic (sometimes quite pronounced), the common language with which this translation is made will be quite easily understood probably everywhere in the Arab world, and certainly in the majority of Arab-speaking countries.

Now let me just put that out right at the beginning so that there is no confusion or misunderstanding at any point! With a BA in linguistics and professional career in translation behind me, and if I was to be confident for once: a reductionist, methodological, or scientific approach to translation, is not my path! While I have no quarrel at all with these approaches, they are just not my path. Especially those that contend to represent the “truth” about original texts. To me translation is an art of interpretation; a “cautious and loyal” interpretation, which means that there is always something quite “personal” about it, and consequently, no translation is ever “the right one”, or the “certain one” for me, even for the same text (over time)! Once i’m done with any text, it becomes just another translation and another interpretation out there in the world, that will not only appeal to some and fail to satisfy others, but will surely also sooner or later become outdated and irrelevant to the language and culture of future generations.

It is only in this context that my translation of this sutta, and of all upcoming translations -should I live- can be appreciated. I am constantly aware that I’m writing for a specific audience, however much vast it may be. And there are challenges which have to do with cultural conditioning and spiritual experiences that are at odds with those of Indian Buddhism; all of which will require attention not only through some introductory notes, but often in the translation itself, if it was to succeed at all in conveying the gist and spirit of the intended meaning. So for this sutta for example, I added two introductory notes to facilitate understanding, the first is about the monastic context, the second is about the concept of rebirth, the awareness of which will be necessary in order for certain readers to understand what the last verse of the sutta is even talking about (“will not lie again in a womb”). Please feel free to include or remove those introductory notes as you please.

Venerable @sujato I’m thankful for your above comments on the translation. Here is the Arabic text. Please let me know if you wish me to share it in a different format.

فيه حاجتين مهمين لفهم وتقدير النص ده بشكل افضل:

اولا، مع ان الكلام ده ممكن جدا ينطبق على عموم الناس، إلا انو موجه بالاساس لجماعة الرهبان او الزهّاده البوذيين.

ثانيا، البيت الاخراني بيشير لحالة “دايرة الميلاد”، اللي هي وجهة النظر الهنديه عموما اللي بتقول ان المخلوقات كلها بتتولد تاني بعد الموت، وبتفضل تتولد تاني بعد كل موت، وانها في حياتها بعد كل ميلاد بتتألم ومابتلاقيش راحه او سلام حقيقي. الخلاص في الفهم الهندي القديم هو الخروج من دايرة الميلاد دي (نيرفانا) عن طريق ان الواحد يستخدم حياته في انو مايتولدش تاني بعد الموت.

Translation of introductory notes:

There are two relevant points which may improve the understanding and appreciation of this text.

First, although this text may apply to all people, it is noteworthy that it was said in a Buddhist monastic renunciate context.

Secondly, the last verse is referring to the concept of “cyclic rebirth”, the general ancient Indian belief that all beings are reborn again after death, and that they continue to be reborn after each death, indefinitely, and that in each lifetime they basically experience much suffering, or absence of true happiness and peace. Salvation (or Nirvana) in the ancient Indian understanding is the deliverance from this cyclic existence, by using one’s life in such a way as to transcend rebirth.

خطبة البودا عن المحبه
(title: Buddha’s speech on metta)

أهو ده دين اللي من اهل الخير،
مريدين السلام:
لازم يكون مُصمِّم ومستقيم، مستقيم بالقوي.
مهاود، رقيق، ومش متعالي.

عايش مَرضي وسعيد بالشئ القليل،
احتياجاته سهله وحياته مش مضغوطه،
ملكات عقله هاديه وتقديراته راسيه،
حساس ومش طمّاع مع اللي بيحتاجلهم.

ولا يعملش ايتها عمله
تحاسبو عليها الناس الواعيه.
ويناجي نفسه يتمنى ويقول:
ليكو الهنا والأمان يا كل المخلوقات،
وتسكن قلبك السعاده يا كل حي.

كل كل المخلوقات أياً كانت هي ايه:
اللي خايف والمئامن،
الكبير والوسطاني والصغير،
الرقيق والخشن.

اللي العين تشوفه واللي ماتشوفهوش،
اللي قريب واللي بعيد،
اللي اتولد واللي لسه هايتولد،
تسكن قلوبكو السعاده يا كل المخلوقات.

ولا حدش يقهر حد
ولا يحتقر حد مهما كان،
ولا عشان غِضِب او اتغاظ
يتمنى لحد الأذيه.

تمام زي الأم وعيلها الوحيد
لما تفديه بحياتها م الخطر،
زي تمام ما الواحد يفتح قلبه
من غير حدود لكل الخلق.

ولا يكونش للمحبه آخر
في قلب الواحد لكل الكون
عاليه وواطيه وداير-ن-مايدور
من غير ما تعاكسه خصومه ولا عداوه.

وطول ماهو صاحي، اذا كان واقف ولا ماشي
ولا قاعد ولا مِمَدِّد،
لازم يصمم يفضل فاكر كل ده،
يكون كائن سماوي زي ما بيقولو.

ولما يكون حر من العقائد،
ضميره حي، وبصيرته مش عايبه،
وزايح من نفسه شهوات الحِس،
يبقى اكيد مالوش نومه تانيه في الرحم.
{end of text}


This is beautiful. :anjal:


Wow, thank you so very much, this is a historic and long -awaited moment. I have heard rumors of Buddhist texts translated into classical Arabic in the middle ages; although I believe these, if they exist, are likely to be Jatakas or Buddha biography. But so far as I know, this is the first translation on an EBT sutta into Arabic. And I can’t help but say, My! it looks lovely.

We will add this to SC soon.


It’s true Venerable @sujato, a medieval Persian poet and translator (Aban Al-Lahiki 750-815 CE.) is said to have translated either all or parts of the Jatakas from Sanskrit to Arabic. But unfortunately all his works are lost, we only know about his translations from other sources. The connection between Sufism and Mahayana is so strong though, and Sufi vocabulary is predominantly Buddhist! :anjal: