SuttaCentral

The Metta Sutta: a Christmas gift of love

Today I translated the Metta Sutta, and I made a recording to go along with it. May it bring happiness to you and your loved ones. May there be peace on earth and goodwill for all beings.

The Discourse on Love

This is what should be done by those who are skilled in goodness,
and who know the place of peace.

Let them be able and upright, very upright,
easy to speak to, gentle and humble;
content and unburdensome,
unbusied, living lightly,
alert, with senses calmed,
courteous, not fawning on families.

Let them not do the slightest thing
that others might blame with reason.

May they be happy and safe!
May all beings be happy!

Whatever living creatures there are
with not a one left out—
frail or firm, long or large,
medium, small, tiny or round,
visible or invisible,
living far or near,
those born or to be born:
May all beings be happy!

Let none turn from one another,
nor look down on anyone anywhere.
Though provoked or aggrieved,
let them not wish pain on each other.

Even as a mother would protect with her life
her child, her only child,
so too for all creatures
unfold a boundless heart.

With love for the whole world,
unfold a boundless heart.
Above, below, all round,
unconstricted, without enemy or foe.

When standing, walking, sitting,
or lying down while still wakeful,
keep this ever in mind,
for this, they say, is a holy abiding in this life.

(Avoiding harmful views,
virtuous, accomplished in insight,
with sensual desire dispelled,
they never come back to a womb again.)


Thanks to Robert Evans for the drone and Meditating Music for the heartbeat.

54 Likes

A few notes on the translation.

Obviously this is a special discourse, and I wanted to approach it as such. It has been translated many times in various styles. I wanted to bring out the simplicity and clarity of the verses, which to me is one of the aspects of love that the sutta expresses. It begins with simple things that all of us can aspire to, and it walks us very gently to the profound. This translation is slightly less literal than my usual verse style, but remains a fairly straight rendering rather than an adaptation.

I drew from several of the existing translations found on SuttaCentral, and introduced a few slightly different approaches.

A few minor points may be worth mentioning.

  • The Pali has ujū ca suhujū ca, a phrasing that is clearly euphonic. Suhuju is found nowhere else. I felt it’s better to express the text by echoing the repetition rather than obscuring it with such renderings as “upright and straightforward”, which have a slightly different meaning.
  • Viññū pare is tricky to get right. Viññū is often translated as “the wise”, but then we have “other wise people” which is not right, or “others who, being wise” or something like that. But viññū is less exalted than “wise”; it really means someone who is sensible, who is aware what is going on. Normally I use “sensible” but that is clumsy here. The point is that someone might criticize you, not baselessly, but for good reason, and so I have translated it less literally as “others might blame with resaon”.
  • Nikubbetha is an unusual word, usually translated following the commentary’s vañcetha i.e. to deceive or trick. The verb nikujjati means to “turn over”, and it is most commonly met in the phrase to “overturn the bowl”. This is used in extreme cases where a Sangha decides not to accept alms from someone whose behavior is incorrigible and harmful to the Sangha. I think it has the same sense here, and means “to avert one’s gaze, to turn away from someone”.
  • I use “unfold” for bhāveti. It has the sense of “making be more, growing, developing”. It’s an experimental rendering, but I think it fits the context. The idea is that love is present as a potential that each of us must learn to unfold.
  • The final line has the word idha, usually rendered literally with “here”, which leaves the sense obscure. It is typically used to mean “in this life” (as opposed to the next life). The sense is that through this meditation we can live as Brahmā here and now.

As for the chanting, it draws on a plainsong style I grew up with in church. I have always loved that melody. It seems fitting to use it on this Christmas day! The final verse is a later addition, and I have omitted it from the chant, which should make EBT purists happy.

Listening to my voice shows me that it has not improved over the years, and I can only say sorry for the many words scratchy and out of tune. Anyone with a good voice is welcome to do it better!

31 Likes

Thank you, Bhante, for this beautiful gift! :pray: :heart:

8 Likes

I was under the impression that the instruction here was to protect your metta with your life… not “all creatures” ?

I love this: clearest wording I’ve seen :slight_smile:

9 Likes

I didn’t know it’s a later addition, and in fact, it sounds much more “complete” without it.

10 Likes

Here’s Ven @Sujato’s reasoning: Mother and child simile, "mātā yathā niyaṃputta, māyusā ekaputtamanurakkhe"

5 Likes

Dear Bhante, that is such a beautiful gift :pray:t2::pray:t2::pray:t2::sparkling_heart::sparkling_heart::sparkling_heart:

Thank you, and may you, and all beings, abide in peace

:sparkling_heart::earth_asia::revolving_hearts::pray:t2:

9 Likes

Beautiful translation, I’m going to display this where I work.

Thank you, Bhante for the gift of your time and attention toward supporting the preservation and sharing of the dhamma :heart::pray::slight_smile:

9 Likes

That is lovely Bhante. It is much more beautiful than the plainsong I remember. Thank you for sharing it. :pray:

When you protect your metta with your life you have enough to share with all creatures.

Nor me, but I always felt it sounded like it didn’t connect well.

Leigh Brasington has collected 19 English translations of the Metta Sutta; it’s quite fun comparing them all.

7 Likes

Here is an mp3 version of Bhante’s file for those that can’t play ogg.

14 Likes

Thank you, Bhante @sujato. This is beautiful. I love your translation - it just comes so alive! And the recording was a beautiful way to start Christmas Day.

Thank you. Much Metta to you and Bhante @Akaliko.

:heart: :pray:
Jim

7 Likes

Dear Bhante,
Thank you for the translation and the chanting. This is so beautiful and inspiring.
May you be well, happy and peaceful.
With Metta

5 Likes

This is a wonderful gift today. Just last night, with some time off, I was responding to an online question from a Buddhist chaplain about parittas for the ill and dying. Looking at the Ratana and Metta Suttas last night, I felt that the Metta translation I found was lacking in some ways. Today’s translation is just so welcome, and really speaks to what I feel the beauty of the Metta Sutta embodies.

Further, and I hope no one takes this the wrong way, but I listened in a heartfelt way to Bhante’s song of the Metta Sutta. Very beautiful and full of heart and meaning. What song do I treasure that is coming into my mind, now? In my mind, I was thinking that I have felt these feelings and emotions in a song like this and it took me a minute to find the song that resonated within as with Bhante’s song today. For me, both so compelling, so I thought I’d share this. Here’s what came to mind: https://youtu.be/a_XoZhEX3kQ Bravo, Bhante

8 Likes

Oh interesting, I didn’t know this. Do you have any references for this? Thanks very much for the lovely translation and recording. I’ve always thought the last verse relates speifically back to the first (as well as the entire discourse).

6 Likes

Hi @Gillian, thanks so much for the link!

4 Likes

Oh how embarrassing, putting my croaking next to an angel like Sinead!

No reference comes to mind. Adding extra verses on the outside of poems is found elsewhere, for example the final verses of the Ratana Sutta. These precedent shows that we should not see this as particularly unusual. In this case the issues are:

  • It’s a different meter. the meter of the Metta Sutta is very distinctive and the last verse is quite different.
  • The theme comes to a natural conclusion at the second last verse
  • The commentary says that, having taught metta, the Buddha needed to introduce insight since having metta for all beings lies close to the view of a self. This reasoning smacks of a later time, and is not how metta is treated in the suttas. (Historically, after Ashoka, the concept of attā was contoverted by the Puggalavadins, and from this time the Theravadins became much more tense and strict in how they handled self/not-self.)

As always in text criticism, a single data point is by itself inconclusive. But multiple indications all pointing in the same direction make the conclusion fairly firm.

5 Likes

Perhaps Sinead needs some work during lockdown… :rofl:

Thank you, Bhante, for the translation, and the recording! :heart:

4 Likes

When I first heard the music I was like man I hope Bhante starts singing and then you did. :flushed:

It’s wonderful, Bhante, thank you very much. :pray:

5 Likes

:blossom::blossom::pray::blossom::blossom:Beautiful :blossom::blossom::pray::blossom::blossom:

3 Likes

What a magical choice of words bhante, specially for a popular sutta translated many times. Nikubbetha has a whole new meaning when used this way, Unfold for bhaveti is equally meaningful erndering.

Chanting was totally unexpected but undoubtedly brave! No surprise there.

Thank you so very much for sharing bhante.

7 Likes