The Metta Sutta: a Christmas gift of love

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!