One of the four heavenly abodes in Buddhism is ‘loving kindness’ or metta in Pali, (the others are compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity).
Metta is sometimes translated as ‘compassion’, though in this formulation, it is distinctly ‘loving-kindness’. This is because karuna is used to describe ‘compassion’. The Pali language makes this distinction between metta and karuna:
- Karuna connotes active sympathy and gentle affection, and a willingness to bear the pain of others.
- Metta is a benevolence toward all beings that is free of selfish attachment. By practising metta, one overcomes anger, ill will, hatred, and aversion.
In his letter to his daughter, Albert Einstein says:
‘If we want our species to survive, if we are to find meaning in life, if we want to save the world and every sentient being that inhabits it, love is the one and only answer.
Perhaps we are not yet ready to make a bomb of love, a device powerful enough to entirely destroy the hate, selfishness and greed that devastate the planet.
However, each individual carries within them a small but powerful generator of love whose energy is waiting to be released.
When we learn to give and receive this universal energy, dear Lieserl, we will have affirmed that love conquers all, is able to transcend everything and anything, because love is the quintessence of life.’
How lovely that a great mind such as Einstein, so much a scientist, clearly encompassed the emotional and transcendental aspects of what it means to be a human being. Throughout my adult life I have found great comfort in reciting the Metta Sutta to myself or with others and I invite you to do the same.
Here is a translation (from Amaravati) of this sutta, which has its origins in very early Buddhism, and is said to have been spoken by the Buddha:
This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who seeks 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 skilful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
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 mindfulness.
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.
It does feel a bit like a ‘love bomb’! If I am slightly out of sorts and out of contact with the softer, deeper parts of myself – and others – the metta sutta reawakens the deep aspiration I have. Tangibly, I can feel my heart opening as I say it, as I appreciate its existence and the noble tradition from whence it has come. I feel something similar when singing some hymns and carols from the Christian tradition, or even in the beauty of Sufi poetry. All spiritual traditions point to these eternal truths and it is so vital to be in contact with them at this time in history.