Metta is a Pali word often translated as loving-kindness. It has correspondences in other languages: chesed in Hebrew, agape in Greek, caritas in Latin. Metta has entered the common parlance of Buddhist practice and liturgy as the Karaṇīya Mettā Sutta (Sn1.8), the Discourse on Loving-Kindness. The original text, frequently recited or chanted, identifies moral virtues and qualities, then describes the practice of lovingly radiating these virtues—extending them first to oneself, and then in widening circles to all beings. In Burma’s 2007 Saffron Revolution, thousands of monks, nuns, and laypeople filled the streets with the sound of these precious words as they protested against the military regime. That practice continues today under the weight of the present junta.
This Metta Prayer I’m sharing with you was composed for an interfaith gathering in 1994 by my late Dharma sister Maylie Scott, a Zen priest dedicated to the path of active nonviolence. Inspired by the Metta Sutta, she leads this practice into the field of engaged Buddhism and social justice, where love is the necessary antidote to the anger that easily rises in the face of injustice and oppression.
May I be well, loving, and peaceful. May all beings be well, loving, and peaceful.
May I be at ease in my body, feeling the ground beneath my seat and feet, letting my back be long and straight, enjoying breath as it rises and falls and rises.
May I know and be intimate with body mind, whatever its feeling or mood, calm or agitated, tired or energetic, irritated or friendly.
Breathing in and out, in and out, aware, moment by moment, of the risings and passings.
May I be attentive and gentle towards my own discomfort and suffering.
May I be attentive and grateful for my own joy and well-being.
May I move towards others freely and with openness.
May I receive others with sympathy and understanding.
May I move towards the suffering of others with peaceful and attentive confidence.
May I recall the Bodhisattva of Compassion; her 1,000 hands, her instant readiness for action. Each hand with an eye in it, the instinctive knowing what to do.
May I continually cultivate the ground of peace for myself and others and persist, mindful and dedicated to this work, independent of results.
May I know that my peace and the world’s peace are not separate; that our peace in the world is a result of our work for justice.
May all beings be well, happy, and peaceful.
Reflecting on the Metta Prayer
This is a prayer of virtue, mindfulness, and transformation of self and society. Let me highlight three short sections.
“May I recall the Bodhisattva of Compassion; her 1,000 hands, her instant readiness for action. Each hand with an eye in it, the instinctive knowing what to do.”
The Bodhisattva of Compassion—Avalokiteshvara, Guanyin, or Kannon—is known as “one who perceives the cries of the world.” She is often depicted with countless arms and hands, each holding a tool by which she can help liberate sentient beings. It is as if she is holding a marvelous spiritual Swiss Army knife.
“May I continually cultivate the ground of peace for myself and others and persist, mindful and dedicated to this work, independent of results.”
In Buddhist practice, right action is based on wholesome intentions, rather than the immediacy of a desired outcome. The work of peace may not bear fruit until long in the future. In fact, we cannot know the many outcomes—favorable or unfavorable—unfolding from even a simple action. We can only be sure of our intention to connect rather than to divide, to do what promises to be wholesome. So, in this we depend on our faith in the Three Treasures—the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.
“May I know that my peace and the world’s peace are not separate; that our peace in the world is a result of our work for justice.”
We don’t hear much about justice in the Buddha’s teachings, but he often speaks about “just.” In Dhammapada No.255, Shakyamuni Buddha says: “Not by passing arbitrary judgments does a man become just; a wise man is he who investigates both right and wrong.”
The work of justice is essential for living in society, for establishing balance and harmony based on social equality. “No peace, no justice” is an expression that rises from the Black Lives Matter movement in the US. This has a two-sided meaning. First, that peace and justice are inseparable, one social reality. Second, that without justice—which includes legal, political, and human rights—there will be no peace. That is not a threat, but an inevitability.
I would encourage people to recite and to explore this Metta Prayer, and to introduce it into the liturgy of your center or practice place. But most of all, to act with determination from the place where peace, justice, and loving-kindness meet. Our practice for the world abides at this crossroad.
Hozan Alan Senauke
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