The Karaniya Metta Sutta (Sn 1.8): The Buddha’s Words on Loving-Kindness, translated by The Amaravati Sangha
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 or 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!
This is the first section of the Buddha’s most famous words on the subject of metta. It starts out by describing the qualities of a person “skilled in goodness, who knows the path of peace”, in other words, a follower of the Buddha’s teachings. Fortunately, the attributes named can be developed over time, since few of us could perfectly fulfill the requirements as described. And yet, as we consider things like behaving in an upright way, speaking gently, and being humble and accepting, we may recognize ourselves.
The verses echo my working thesis that if we mind our actions, our wisdom will grow. If we restrain ourselves from doing reprehensible things (to others or ourselves), it will make us “peaceful and calm and wise and skillful”. It’s an infinite, positive feedback loop. From this secure place on the path, we are able to see others clearly and wish them well.
May all beings be at ease! This is a sentiment that exists in all of our hearts and only needs to be encouraged. Whenever we pull aside the curtain of our own compulsions, behind it is this true and simple wish that all of us know peace.
The first lesson the Buddha gives about how to practice metta is inclusiveness. No one is outside the scope of our good wishes – they rain on the just and the unjust, the deserving and the undeserving, the beautiful and the ugly. This is the universal nature of metta and one reason why it is so different from “liking”. With liking comes not-liking, and these two movements color all of our perceptions. With metta, there is no other side, it expands outward without conditions and without limit.