The Mettā Sutta is the name used for two Buddhist discourses (Pali, sutta) found in the Pali Canon. The one, more often chanted by Theravadin monks, is also referred to as Karaṇīyamettā Sutta after the opening word, Karaṇīyam, "(This is what) should be done." It is found in the Suttanipāta (Sn 1.8) and Khuddakapāṭha (Khp 9). It is ten verses in length and it extols both the virtuous qualities and the meditative development of mettā (Pali), traditionally translated as "loving kindness" or "friendliness." Additionally, Thanissaro Bhikkhu's translation, "goodwill", underscores that the practice is used to develop wishes for unconditional goodwill towards the object of the wish.
The other, also chanted by Theravadin Buddhist monks at times, extols the benefits of the practice of mettā (Pali) and it is found in the Anguttara Nikaya (AN 11.15). is also referred to as Mettānisamsa Sutta. This article will focus on the first version.
In Theravāda Buddhism's Pali Canon, mettā is one of the four "divine abodes" (Pali: brahmavihāra) recommended for cultivating interpersonal harmony and meditative concentration (see, for instance, kammaṭṭhāna). In later canonical works (such as the Cariyāpiṭaka), mettā is one of ten "perfections" (pāramī) that facilitates the attainment of awakening (Bodhi) and is a prerequisite to attaining Buddhahood.
According to post-canonical Sutta Nipāta commentary, the background story for the Mettā Sutta is that a group of monks were frightened by the sprites in the forest where the Buddha had sent them to meditate. When the monks sought the Buddha's aid in dealing with the sprites, the Buddha taught the monks the Mettā Sutta as an antidote for their fear. The monks recited the sutta and felt better. Their good cheer then happened to quiet the sprites as well.
The Mettā Sutta contains a number of recollections or recitations that promote the development of mettā through virtuous characteristics and meditation.
The discourse identifies fifteen moral qualities and conditions conducive to the development of mettā. These include such qualities as being non-deceptive (uju), sincere (suju), easy to correct (suvaco), gentle (mudu) and without arrogance (anatimānī).
In terms of meditative development, the discourse identifies:
- an intentional wish that facilitates generating mettā (Pali: sukhino vā khemino hontu; English: "May all beings be happy and safe")
- a means for developing meditational objects (a list of various sizes, proximity, etc.) for such a wish
- a metaphor — of a mother's protective love for her only child — for how one should cherish this meditation theme and guard it safely. (Note: this is often - indeed, almost universally - misinterpreted as a prototypical metaphor for the feeling we ought to cultivate toward others; however, this is not its intended meaning, as explained by Thanissaro Bhikkhu in the article "Metta Means Goodwill.")
- a method for radiating mettā outwards in all directions
Yan tam santam padam abhisamecca
Sakko uju cha suju cha
suvatho thassa mudu anatimani
Santussako va subharo va
appakicco va sallahukavutti
santindriyo va nipako va
appagabbho kulesu ananugiddho
Na cha khuddam samachare
Kiñ ci yena viññuu pare upavadeyyum
Sukhino va khemino hontu
Sabbe sattaa bhavantu sukhitatta
Ye keci panabhut'atthi
Tasa va thavara va anavasesa
Digha va ye mahanta va
Majjhima rassaka anukathula
Dittha-va ye va adittha
Ye ca dure vasanti avidure
Bhuta va sambhavesi va
Sabbe satta bhavantu sukhitatta
Na paro param nikubbetha
Natimaññetha kattha si nam kiñ si
Naññamaññassa dukkham iccheyya
Mata yatha niyam puttam
Evam pi sabbabhutesu
Manasam bhavaye aparimanam
Mettañ va sabbalokasmim
Maanasam bhavaye aparimanam
Uddham adho cha tiriyañ va
Sambadham averam asapattam
Tittham caram nisinno va
Sayano va yavat'assa vigatamiddho
Etam satim adhittheyya
Brahmametam viharam idhamahu
Ditthiñ va anupagamma sila va
Kamesu vineyya gedham
Na hi jatu gabbhaseyyam punare ti ti
This is what should be done by one who is skilled in achieving his own good of peace and tranquility.
He should be efficient and competent (sakko),
Honest and upright (udu cha su ju cha)
Pleasant and polite in speech (Suvaco)
(Suvaco does not mean obedient)
Gentle in demeanor (gentle composure -mudu)
He should be modest and not arrogant (anatimani)
He should be content and satisfied (santussako)
And be easily supportable (subarro).
He should not be over involved (appa kikko) and
Simple and light in his life style (sallahukavutti)
He should keep his sense faculties calmed and tranquilled (santindrio)
He should be wise (nipako) but not too bold and daring (appagabbo not arrogant)
He should not be attached to households (kulesu ananugiddo)
He should never resort to doing anything so mean (na cha kudham samachare) whereby the rest of the wise world would reproach him (yene vinnu pare upavedeyyuum)
May all beings enjoy happiness and comfort (sabbe satta bHavantu skitatta)
May they feel safe and secure (sukino va khemino hontu)
- Translation from the excerpt at Metta#Karaniya Metta Sutta (Sn 1.8).
- Bodhi (2005a), pp. 90, 131, 134, passim; Gethin (1998), pp. 26, 30, passim [spelled as two words: "loving kindness"]; Harvey (2007), pp. 247-8 [spelled without a hyphen: "lovingkindness"]; Ñāṇamoli & Bodhi (2001), pp. 120, 374, 474, passim; Salzberg (1995), passim [without a hyphen]; Walshe (1995), p. 194; Warder (2004), pp. 63, 94.
- Kamalashila (1996); Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 540, entry for "Mettā," (retrieved 2008-08-22 from "U. Chicago" at http://dsal.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/philologic/getobject.pl?c.3:1:177.pali). Rhys Davids & Stede's complete list of general translations is "love, amity, sympathy, friendliness, active interest in others." See also Gunaratana (2007) who uses "loving-friendliness" based on the Pali word metta's being related to the Pali word mitta ("friend") and that, for Gunaratana, "kindness" is more akin to the Buddhist notion of karuna (compassion).
- "Metta Means Goodwill" at accesstoinsight.org
- See, e.g., Bodhi (2005b).
- Gunaratana (2007).
- See, e.g., Bodhi (2005b & 2005c).
- Luisa Puccini
- Bodhi, Bhikkhu (2005a). In the Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-491-1.
- Bodhi, Bhikkhu (April 9, 2005b). "Sn 1.8 Mettā Sutta — Loving-kindness [part 1]" (lecture). Retrieved from "Bodhi Monastery" at  (mp3).
- Bodhi, Bhikkhu (April 23, 2005c). "Sn 1.8 Mettā Sutta — Loving-kindness (part 2)" (lecture). Retrieved from "Bodhi Monastery" at  (mp3).
- Gethin, Rupert (1998). The Foundations of Buddhism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-289223-1.
- Gunaratana, Henepola (2007). "2007 Brahmavihara Retreat: The Karaniyametta Sutta, Introduction and Stanza One" (lecture). Retrieved from "Bhavana Society" at  (mp3).
- Harvey, Peter (2007). An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-31333-3.
- Kamalashila (1996). Meditation: The Buddhist Art of Tranquility and Insight. Birmingham: Windhorse Publications. ISBN 1-899579-05-2. Retrieveable from the author's personal web site at 
- Ñāṇamoli, Bhikkhu (trans.) & Bhikkhu Bodhi (ed.) (2001). The Middle-Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikāya. Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-072-X.
- Piyadassi Thera (ed., trans.) (1999). The Book of Protection: Paritta. Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society. Retrieved 08-14-2008 from "Access to Insight" at 
- Rhys Davids, T.W. & William Stede (eds.) (1921-5). The Pali Text Society’s Pali–English Dictionary. Chipstead: Pali Text Society. Retrieved 2008-08-22 from "U. Chicago" at 
- Salzberg, Sharon (1995). Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness. Boston: Shambhala Publications. ISBN 1-57062-176-4.
- Walshe, Maurice (1995). The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-103-3.
- Warder, A.K. (1970; reprinted 2004). Indian Buddhism. Motilal Banarsidass: Delhi. ISBN 81-208-1741-9.
- Translation of the Karaniya Metta Sutta
- Karaniya Metta Sutta read aloud (talking book) by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
- An Analysis off the Mettāsutta by Anandajoti Bhikkhu
- Anandajoti reading the Mettasutta translation in English
- Chandrabodhi chanting the Karaṇīyametta Sutta and other suttas in an 'Indian style'
- Sangharakshita reads the Karaṇīyametta and Mahāmangala-suttas, together with other readings from the Pali Canon