Origin of “may” in metta meditation

I ran into a question on Sam Littlefield’s twitter which intrigued me. “Does anyone know the origin of why Buddhists use the word “may” in so many prayers? (Eg. “may all sentient beings be happy”)”

i experience a deeply “right” feeling with the mental fabrication of “may” but perhaps there is more in pali, or in anthropology regarding metta meditation or other practices using a “may all” + ultimate well being meditation?

The DIY Do It Yourself aspect is suggested and respected imo by “may”.

:slight_smile: May all be happy, peaceful, and ultimately liberated.


The Pali uses the “imperative” case in such contexts, having the sense “please do”, “do”, “may it be”, etc.

The imperative case commonly is indicated with the ending -tu, which you may recognize in such contexts as:

  • sukhī hotu “May you be happy”
  • bhavatu sabbamaṅgalaṁ “may you have all blessings”

Thank you very much, Bhante.

:slight_smile: i do not really know what my mind will do with this, but i see some “rabbit tracks” to follow. Modal verbs; epistemic modality vs dynamic modality vs deontic modality… It has been some decades since i studied (somewhat lightly) some linguistics especially regarding what were called “speech acts”.

i may be abusing the jargon of grammar or linguistics, i hope there is no offense taken by any linguists and scholars here! (Thank you all for your work.) There is a pleasant tickle for me in curiosity and the stimulation of concepts involving self, identity, intention, … and maintenance / manifesting of metta, as perhaps a natural path towards liberation.

Perhaps i would not find those introductions to pali grammar as dry as i feared they must be!

1 Like