Uposatha Full Moon, September 1, 2012
Today marks the end of the first month of the Rains Retreat (Vassa). This particular full moon day is in the Burmese tradition Metta Day, and traditionally the Karaniya-Metta Sutta is recited on this day, as we will do this evening. I’ve included an English translation of the Metta Sutta below.
“Metta” is generally translated as “loving-kindness,” or “kindness” or “friendliness.” It is a quality that the Buddha repeatedly encouraged us to develop, even offering meditation practices for this purpose. The following “Song of Metta” was a run-away hit when I was in Burma. It is based not on the Metta Sutta, but on instructions for metta meditation and has much of the flavor of the Metta Sutta. (The singer/composer is Imee Ooi, from Malaysia.)
Metta is the first of the four Divine Abodes (Brahmaviharas). We all like warm and fuzzy things like love, kindness and friendship, and we almost all fancy that we have such qualities in abundance, except when we mess up or someone really does not deserve to be the recipient of such things. Several years ago my Zen teacher, Seirin Barbara Kohn, was invited to join other clergy to dedicate the new City Hall in Austin. Each clergyperson was to bring an inspirational reading and she decided to recite the Metta Sutta; everyone regardless of faith tradition loves these famous words of the Buddha. However, before Barbara’s turn came around someone else recited the Metta Sutta, and it was a Protestant minister!
Buddhism tends to set the bar very high, and this is the case with metta. True metta is a very rare quality whose realizations generally requires on the part of the serious Buddhist practitioner years of careful cultivation. Metta goes far far beyond common love, friendliness or even kindness, which still generally carry the taint of the self. Metta is like the sun, it shines on everyone and every living thing equally without discrimination. The rays of metta fall easily on cat, kids and granny, but how about on roaches and rattlers, tyrants and terrorists, ruffians and rude waiters? Metta when we realize it fully, when we do not bend it in some subtle way to be about “me,” extends to “all beings.” This requires breaking down the way we break up the world into spheres of good and evil, it requires seeing through any notion of blame to discern directly cause and effect. It requires that nothing is unforgivable, it requires the realization that everyone, from scorpions to scoundrels, are doing the best they can. Only then does metta extend to “all beings.”
This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech.
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied.
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: In gladness and in saftey,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born,
May all beings be at ease!
Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings:
Radiating kindness over the entire world
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.