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THE METTA SUTTA: A Brief Elaboration

by Aik Theng Chong, The Buddhist Channel, Sept 21, 2010

Singapore -- The Metta Sutta is one of the most popular Sutta, with a short discourse on the first of the Four Immeasurables – Loving Kindness.

The clear guidelines starts out with the most mundane, worldly instructions which tells us what we should do, how we should live, how we should interact and behave with others in the cultivation of loving kindness in its purest form. It then goes on to tell us who we should love, and teach us how we should go about it.

It ends by telling us where it will eventually lead us to, when the last stage of the purification of our Understanding is completed.

In the Metta Sutta, the Blessed One said:

This is how one who is skilled in goodness and wish to attain the state of peacefulness should act:

One should be able, upright, straight forward, free from pride, gentle in speech, mild, contented, easily satisfied, not caught up in too much bustle, frugal in one’s ways, with controlled senses, wise and skilful, not impudent, and with families is not demanding. One should also abstain from the ways that wise ones would blame.

And in this the thought and wishes that one should always hold: May all beings be happy and safe, may their hearts rejoice within themselves.

Whatever living beings there may be, whether they are strong or weak, without exception, be they of stature small or medium, firm or frail, short or long, living in hiding or open view, dwelling nearby or far away, already born or still future wombs; may all these beings rejoice within themselves.

Let no one bring about another’s ruin, nor despise any being in any way or place, let no one through anger or enmity  wish harm on one another. Just as a mother at the risk of her life would love and protect her child, her only child; just so should one cultivate this boundless love, radiating loving-kindness to all that live in the whole universe, with a mind that is free from any bound, extending upward, downward and across the world, untroubled, free from hatred and enmity. Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down and still free from drowsiness, one should exercise this mindfulness. This is Divine Abiding here they say.

Not falling into wrong views, by following the precepts and with knowledge, one overcomes the craving after lust from all sense desires, and surely one will no more descend to any womb.


Brief Elaboration

The Sutta begins with: This is how one who is skilled in goodness….It is interesting to note that goodness is a skill to be learned. We learn it through our education, our upbringing, through examples set by others and through our interaction with our environment. It can only be perfected when we make a deliberate attempt at it. It does not just come to us naturally even though we have some of it already.

The next line says: And wish to attain the state of peacefulness….Peacefulness is also not a given. When no effort is made, no gains can come about.

The Buddha goes on to list the conditions which are necessary to be cultivated in order to be skilled in goodness and attain the state of peacefulness. Uppermost in the discourse is how one should approach others. It is not much used just thinking or saying ‘love’, ‘love’, ‘love’ and do nothing about our own purification first.

Fifteen conditions are listed by the Blessed One which needs to be perfected in order to have pure love towards other people near or far, close or not so close to us.

It starts with: One should be able….When one has abilities, and is self-reliance, it brings self-confidence in oneself, self-confidence brings about a feeling of security. Only when one feels secure can one love. When there is insecurity, there is fear and it is not conducive to peace as well.

One should be upright….A person who is upright speaks the truth, does not manipulate people or situation for personal gain. Uprightness is being totally honest and cares about truthfulness. When we are being true to ourselves, it gives us peace too.

Straightforward….Is a sign of sincerity, it means not beating around the bush, not whitewashing or flatteries. A person who doesn’t have a straight mind will have a hard time being straight as well.

Free from pride….To be proud is ego affirmative. Pride creates a feeling of superiority and also stiffens the mind. We said ‘Stiff with pride,’ it is stiff in its inability to accept new ideas and outlooks. It is difficult for a proud person to learn something new. Such a person would likely said, ‘I know’ without even knowing.

Gentle in speech….A person who is gentle in speech is one who does not resort to anger or rage at the slightest provocation. He is a good listener and is interested in what others said. He is easy to communicate with, which would facilitate good relationships.

Mild….Mild is the opposite of aggression, a mild person has cultivated his heart to the extent where he see the fault in himself rather than in others. When we are able to see the fault in ourselves we can correct it. Seeing the faults in others, would usually lead one to dislike the other. One who is mild is an introspective person who checks himself with mindfulness.

Contented….A person who is contented is a person who is at ease. It does not mean complacency. Contentment is essential for peace. Discontent creates turmoil in our heart and also in the world as well. We need to be contented with our situation, our income, our associates and our knowledge. It can only be done through patient, effort and some insight as well.

Easily satisfied….It means that we have few requirements and wants. Desire is painful, if we are easily satisfied, we let go of desire because we know we are letting go pain. Before there can be any idea of true lovingness, we have to let go of some desires, so that the ego is not always at the centre of our thinking.

Not caught up in too much bustle….If we do not have the time to introspect, to inquire of ourselves, we are hardly likely to make any changes. We need time to create a peaceful situation around and inside ourselves.

Frugal in one’s ways….Frugality means that we can be satisfied with as little as possible, not trying to get as much as possible. There is a limit to how little we can get by with, but there is no limit as to how much we can desire. A frugal lifestyle, again bring peacefulness into our life.

With controlled senses….Our sense organs pick up sensations from the external world and our intellect constructs these sensations into concepts such as, ‘This is beautiful, I want it’, or ‘That is ugly, I do not want it’. Our senses are like magicians, because upon contact with an object of sensation it induces the mind to create the concept. We have to guard our sense doors such that we do not crave nor reject what our senses become aware of. It is difficult to do, but an important aspect of leaving suffering behind.

Wise and skillful….Wisdom can be cultivated by training the mind through meditation and skillfulness through mindfulness. A mind trained in meditation, can use its vase potential to think to its best advantage. A wise and skillful mind is an agile mind, it can moves where it want to go and can also expand. It is not narrowly focused on its old habits, customs and traditions, it is expandable.

Not impudent….Impudence is an exhibition of assertiveness, which is not the same as self-confidence. When we rest in contentment, there is a feeling of security, than there is no aggression. Nobody likes an impudent person, who asserts himself to the detriment of others.

With families is not demanding….This condition means not going around currying favour. This happens when one is defiled by greed and attachment to what others can give. We will then become a prey as well as preying on others.

Abstaining from the ways that wise ones would blame….This fifteenth condition means not breaking the five precepts of; do not kill, not taking what is not given, wrong conduct as to sex, false speech which encompasses outright lie, harsh and hurtful speech, refraining from alcohol and intoxicants which destroy the mind when taken in excess. Breaking of these precepts would certainly be blameworthy.

We would have notice that the discourse up to this juncture have not even get to the word ‘love’ yet. Well, it is because all the fifteen skills are needed before any mention of unconditional love can be made.

And in this the thought and wishes that one should always hold: May all beings be happy and safe, may their hearts rejoice within themselves….If we hold this thought always, we would never have negative thoughts for anyone.

The discourse then when on to list the various kind of sentient beings. Whatever living beings there may be, whether they are strong or weak, without exception, be they of stature small or medium, firm or frail, short or long, living in hiding or open view, dwelling nearby or far away, already born or still future wombs….

May all these beings rejoice within themselves….Here our thought is that all beings should live in harmony and happiness and to never harm any of them. Harmlessness is the intention.

Let no one bring about another’s ruin, nor despise any being in any way or place….Let no one do anything to hurt another being. Even if an action is despicable, it does not mean we should despise the person, as we would also be making bad kamma for ourselves too.

Just as a mother at the risk of her life would love and protect her child, her only child; just so should one cultivate this boundless love, radiating loving-kindness to all that live in the whole universe….Most of us who are parents would know what love and kindness means when it comes to our children. It is a pure and intense love, in which we are prepared to risk our own life so as to protect theirs.  It is something given without any pre-conditions and without any selfish motive of gain for ourselves.

The Blessed One said, this is how we should extend our love and kindness towards all beings. It may sound impossible to fulfill, but it really goes to show what is lacking in our love for others.

With a mind that is free from any bound, extending upward, downward and across the world….This is a mind which is free from human problems and mundane considerations, a mind which is imbued with loving-kindness and compassion.

Untroubled, free from hatred and enmity….An untroubled mind is free from hate and enmity, it is a happy mind, and a happy mind does not hate.

Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down and still free from drowsiness, one should exercise this mindfulness….Whatever positions one is in, one should continue cultivating loving-kindness and with one’s own experiences as parent, or remembering how our parents love us as a foundation, we can try to extend our love to all beings in this world.

This is Divine Abiding here they say….It is a divine way of living, right here on earth. We do not have to wait until we reach the deva realms to live that way.

Not falling into wrong views, by following the precepts and with knowledge, one overcomes the craving after lust from all sense desires….This is a description of an Arahant. The only right views are the four noble truths which include enlightenment. With the perfection of virtue, with insight won, and all sensual desires eliminated, there is no more suffering. This is the doorway to Nibbana.

And surely one will no more descend to any womb….No rebirth!

This discourse goes from the mundane states to enlightenment in the short span of a few verses. It provide the basic guidelines on how to purify our heart, how to arrange our life outwardly and inwardly. It is renowned by word but no so well known by deeds.

Some might said it is more suited for one who is leading the life of a monk. However, for the ordinary folks, it can also be put into practice, little by little, maybe starting by cutting down on our ‘wants’. It is there for the taking, no one can do it for us, except ourselves.



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