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Words and phrases

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Wrapping up




Commentary on Words and Phrases

Understanding the sense of this first word is so important, since it sets the tone for the entire poem. As a future passive participle it would translate literally as “to be done,” suggesting a description of the way things would be under certain conditions that may come to pass. So often it is put into English in an admonishing or reproving manner, such as “this should be done” or “this must be done.” Unfortunately, this tone of voice brings with it a sense of right and wrong, of being in compliance with or deviating from a norm or an injunction, which is not at all what I think the verse is saying. Buddhist ethics generally is about understanding cause and effect, rather than with obeying or disobeying rules. All that follows in the Metta Sutta is a series of descriptions of how a wise and skillful person, or a person who wishes to progress toward the goal, would hold themselves in the world. It is not a list of dos and don’ts.

The word attha has a range of meanings, from “good,” “welfare,” or “well-being” to “purpose,” “meaning,” or “goal.” In fact it embraces all of these, and suggests that goodness or well being is a meaningful goal that can be attained. It is not something that occurs by chance, nor is it the gift of a benevolent being. Rather it is a skill that can be learned, practiced and perfected. The word kusala carries this sense of skillfulness, and the compound is to be understood as “skill in regard to the good.” Kusala can also mean “good” or “wholesome” in its own right, because of the inextricable relationship of the two ideas in Buddhist thought. It is taken for granted that all beings aspire toward their own welfare, and this sutta is intended to help people achieve it by learning what wholesome qualities of character to skillfully develop.

These three words all end in a similar manner, and are thus part of the same phrase. Tam means “the” or “that,”, santam is “calm,” “peace” or “peaceful,” and padam literally means “foot”, generally means “place” or “location,” and figuratively means “state” or “condition.” We can thus take it as “that peaceful state” or “that state of peace.” You will notice that some translators capitalize these words, indicating that they take them to be referring to nibbana, the final emancipation of mind toward which the Buddhist path is directed. This is probably the case, since it is a common enough allusion to nibbana, but it may also be construed to refer more generally to a state of calm well being in which the fires of passion are diminished, if not extinguished.

This verb is built up in three layers, the root (i) meaning of “to go” preceded by two prefixes which give the verb some added direction and nuance. The first, abhi, suggests “unto” or “toward,” while the prefix sam intimates conjunction or completeness and yield a sense of “with” or “together.” It would be too simplistic to just add these three elements into “to go toward together” or “to go unto completion,” for the whole is always more than the sum of its parts in Pali lexography. But such an analysis does often help get a sense of the nuances of meaning in a verb. We see it translated a lot as “attain,” but some translators take this more figuratively and render “grasp” (Woodward), “understand” (Basham), or “become aware” (Aronson). More important is to discern whether the author is describing the behavior of one who has already achieved the peaceful state, or is describing what one needs to do in order to attain it for themselves. The first word of the stanza suggest the latter is the case, but I think the poem often turns on its ability to embrace both possibilities with creative ambiguity.

The second part of the verse is pretty straightforward, being a list of six positive virtues, and does not benefit too much from analysis. It may be worth pointing out that suju is the same word as uju but with the prefix su- acting as an amplifying or a beautifying element (which it also does to ­vaca, “speech”). However we put it into English, what we are literally seeing is “straight” (uju) and “very straight” or “perfectly straight” (suju). Most translators take this in the sense it also has in English of “upright” or “honest.” It is also useful to notice that the verb in this section (assa), as an optative form of “he is,” further adds to the sense introduced by the first word karaniya of conditionality: “he would be” is probably better than “he should be.” The last word is also layered: “pride” (mana) is amplified by the prefix ati- (over-, very-) to yield “arrogant” or “conceited,” and this is then reversed by the negative prefix an- to arrive at “not overly proud” or simply “humble.”

All the translations agree on this word, for its primary meaning of “content” or “contentment” is clear. As an adjective, along with all the terms in this stanza, it describes a quality of the person named in the first stanza. It is not that she happens to be content, but rather that she is capable of finding contentment in almost any situation. What is implied here is that one is easily contented. Contentment in the Buddha’s teaching comes not from the final fulfillment of all desires (which, of course, is not possible), but from the relinquishing of desire itself. If contentment relied upon fulfillment, it would be always elusive. But if it can be reached by having few desires in the first place, or by desires not out-stripping what is already at hand, then it is far more easily obtainable. But the ability to take this view is a rare quality of the individual, and makes up part of that skill which helps a person obtain the calm state.

A closely related quality to contentment is “ease of support.” On one level this means having simple needs, such as for food and clothing and lodging. We might also take it in a contemporary sense of needing very little in the way of emotional or psychological support from others. Ease of support is particularly mentioned as being important for monastics and teachers, who should not be a burden to their communities. The commentary mentions receiving food cheerfully rather than sullenly, regardless of its quality, as an example of ease of support. Ideally our teachers are modeling the qualities of simplicity and austerity, which also serve to support traits such as modesty and humility.

This word is built around a form of the verb to do, kicca meaning something like that which ought to be done or which remains to be done. It thus refers to one’s duty, responsibility or business. The prefix of appa means “small” or in this case “few,” and so the compound is taken to describe a person who has few duties or responsibilities. It is not that one does not have to be diligent in one’s practice, or scrupulous in one’s virtue, but rather that one should be careful about getting too caught up in busy work. A person skilled in seeking peace does not allow himself to be smothered in mundane affairs. One cannot ‘multi-task’ one’s way to awakening, and must retain the ability to take a broad and unhurried approach to what one does.

This compound, much like the previous one, describes a person whose activities (vutti, from “turnings”) are “light” (lahu) or devoid of heavy encumbrance. That is to say her way of life or behavior is frugal, simple, and unburdened by a lot of possessions or complexities. This could refer to a livelihood that does little harm, a lifestyle that uses few resources, or a personality that does not place many demands upon its environment. In ancient India this image was taken quite literally. Since the monks moved from place to place regularly, they were exhorted to carry only their robes and bowls as two wings of a bird that can fly off and settle down again at will. If a monk had to load many people down with head packs and back packs to carry his possessions, then he clearly was not living lightly!

In this context indriya refers to the “sense faculties,” as opposed to “controlling faculties” as sometimes found in other settings. The word santi means peaceful or calm, so the compound describes a person whose senses are at ease and not agitated by longing or desire. The five senses of eye, ear, nose, tongue and body can get stirred up or hungry for stimulation, a condition usually manifesting as restlessness or furtiveness. In such a state one does not perceive clearly, and it is easy to fall into error and the misapprehension of objects. The Buddha often speaks of the importance of calming the senses, which is usually done by allowing them to focus and concentrate rather than move frenetically from one object to another. When the senses no longer hunger or thirst for gratification, one can begin to see oneself and the world more clearly.  

One of many words in the Pali referring to a person who is wise, intelligent or prudent, nipaka can be taken very broadly to point to these qualities. Originally coming from a word meaning “chief,” it suggests the foremost of any list of qualities. To Buddhists, this will always be wisdom. The decision by the ancient poets to use one word over another, when several more or less synonymous terms are available, is often guided by metrical considerations. I’m not sure on what basis some translators take the word to mean “discreet,” since nothing is mentioned in the commentary to that effect.  

The word pagabbha has a sense of someone being bold, forward or reckless, and the prefix a- turns the word into a negative. Clearly these are not qualities that are encouraged in one skilled in what is good. Modesty is far preferable to impudence, and the commentary lists eight ways one may be impudent in bodily actions, four ways of verbal impudence, and says there are innumerable ways of manifesting mental impudence. The examples of such behavior cited all seem to have to do with a selfish point of reference and an insensitivity to one’s surroundings

When monks and nuns in ancient India wandered for food each morning, they were said to be “among families” (kulesu). Their behavior in such a setting was of particular importance, since the reputation of the community in the eyes of lay supporters was at stake. In this final phrase of the stanza, mendicants are admonished to not (an-) go along (-anu-) greedily (giddha). This word for greed is particularly interesting, because it is built upon the word for vulture (gijjha). We might even go so far as to suggest the monks are being admonished to not act like vultures when going from house to house for alms. The vulture is a scavenger, standing or circling around hungrily, eyeing the best morsels, looking for his best chances, and brazenly shoving aside those in his way when he strikes out for the food. The commentary also mentions “fawning,” which is construed as empathy with householders as a way of succoring favor.  These are not qualities to be cultivated by the wise, in any setting.  

This sentence, best taken as a whole, sums up the teaching on virtue (sila) by making a general statement about behaving properly. After specifying a number of virtues in the first and second stanza which demonstrate skill in what is good and are conducive to attaining the highest state, this phrase is meant as a “catch-all” teaching that gives the listener a guideline to determine what other behaviors might be helpful. And the guideline in very broad indeed. Any behavior (samacare) whatsoever (kinci)—even if it is trifling (khuddam)—that other (pare) wise ones (vinnu) might criticize or condemn (upavadeyyum), should simply not (na) be done. It is probably understood that the wise ones in question would be elders in the dharma, but it is not necessary that they be awakened beings, or ordained monastics, or in a formal relationship of spiritual guidance. Since wisdom, in Buddhist thought, is assumed to rest upon a foundation of virtue, anyone who has wisdom will already be skilled in morality.

Based on the general word for pleasure or happiness, sukkha (the opposite of dukkha), this word is to be taken along with the verb at the end of the line so formulate the intention: “May they be happy.” Sukkha is thus being used as an adjective to describe the desired qualities of all beings, so we might say somewhat more literally: “May they be happy ones.” The word happy is to be understood in a broad manner. It is not the mood of elation or mirth we would often refer to in English, but rather a deep condition of well being, ease, and contentment. This phrase expresses an attitude of bestowing blessings on all beings, of wishing them well, of deeply wanting their welfare.

Closely aligned with the notion of well being is the idea of safety or security. One way of expressing the intention for the welfare of all beings is to also enjoin that they be protected from harm. This particular word has an interesting etymology, for the word khema means a field or pasture. The image that comes to mind is of a field that is surrounded by a wall or fence, thus keeping the livestock safe from predators. The idea is closely aligned with the core Buddhist concept of refuge, a place where one is free of danger, where one can find relief from the onslaughts of contingent life, and where one’s deeper nature can safely unfold. This word also joins up with the verb (hontu) at the end of the line, yielding the phrase “My they be safe,” or “May they be ones who are free from danger.”  

The significant shift of gears that takes place in the middle of this stanza is demonstrated by the use of this imperative verb form. Whereas the first two and a half stanzas are relating what one should do in order to attain certain results or exemplify certain qualities, the section of the poem that begins here uses the kind of direct speech a person would use as they formulated and expressed an intention. In the case of the word hontu, which is a form of the verb “to be,” the form is translated as “May they be…” The generation of this intention is central to the practice of loving kindness meditation (metta bhavana), where it plays the role of shaping the quality of the mind in the present moment. Rather than thinking about something, or remembering or planning, one engages in this very moment the quality of mind that wishes well to others. Hence we are moving from general virtue to specific meditation, to the deliberate cultivation of certain mind moments and the intentional holding of a particular object in mind. Here the object of the mind is the thought of all beings, while the quality of mind cultivated in regard to this object is the intention or wish that all beings be happy and secure.

It is very important to the practice of loving kindness meditation that the kindness extend to all beings indiscriminately. It is a practice of universal, unconditional love. The word sabbe means “all” or “every,” and the word translated as “beings” comes straight from the verb “to be” (sat) and is thus a good match.  As we will see in the next verse, a being is construed broadly as a “breathing being,” a threshold used to distinguish living creatures from inanimate objects and from plants. More technically a being is defined as one born from a womb (mammals), and egg (reptiles, fish and birds), moisture (insects and other very small organisms) and those born spontaneously (i.e. the devas and other non-human beings who arise in higher worlds).

This phrase can cause some mischief because it uses the word for self (atta). But it is used here simply as a reflexive noun (referring back onto the subject) rather than as a technical word for soul (atman in Sanskrit). The imperative verb bhavantu is just another form of the verb hontu used above, which can thus be taken as “May they be…!” As one can see, almost every translator has taken a different approach to this phrase, some reading “heart” for atta, others “mind,” and still others seeing it as a more general reference to “inner” or “within.” In any case the intention of the phrase is clear as the formulation of an intention for others to be happy, content, wholesome, or joyful, in an essential rather than a superficial sense.

With this verse commences a two-stanza invocation for well-being, extending widely and specifically to cover much ground and culminating at the end of verse five with the same injunction as concluded verse three. It begins here with “Whichever of (keci) those (ye) living beings (panabhuta) that exist (atthi)…” and ends in verse five with “…may they be happy in themselves!” In between these opening and closing phrases, we find a number of ways to classify beings that attempts to be all-inclusive and comprehensive. The word here for “being” (bhuta) which is based on the root (bhu) rather than (sat), carries the same meaning as the word satta used above. The modifying word pana (which is equivalent to the well-known Sanskrit word prana) means breath or even life-breath, and further designates that the beings wished happiness are living creatures rather than rocks and trees. One might argue that all life “breaths” in some sense, and might thus extend the sentiment toward plants and even eco-systems, but this probably goes somewhat beyond the ancient intent.

his pair of words literally mean something like “moving” and “stable,” but their sense is extended beyond the literal. It is implied that some creatures are moving because they are agitated, unsatisfied, or driven by craving, and this in the Buddhist context invokes the sense of frailty or weakness. Similarly when one is firmly grounded, tranquil and at rest, this expresses a condition of greater strength and stability. Loving kindness towards the former would lean towards compassion for the welfare of the weak, while toward the latter it would tend more in the direction of appreciative joy for the capability of the strong. The short word va, by the way, which shows up many times in this poem, is simple the disjunctive particle “or.”

The term used when something is “left over” or “remains” is vasesa, and adding a negative prefix (ana) reverses its meaning to “without remainder” or “without exception.” It should probably be taken as applying to the first phrase of this stanza (“Whatever living beings that exist, without exception…”) but some translators have followed the original placement of the word in the verse and have attached it to the more limited pair of “weak or strong, without exception.” It could equally well be extended to any or all of the following sets of words. As already mentioned, the intent of universality this word adds to the poem is quite important to the practice of developing and extending loving kindness.

There are six words here in a row, all delineating size or extent in one way or another. How we group them probably has more to do with what sounds most familiar in English rather than any inherent order of the Pali. Literally the string means: “long, big, middle [-sized], short, small, thick.” In English we might want to say something like: “long and short, small, medium and large.” I’m not sure what to do with “thick.” But of course there are layers of nuance in the Pali words not picked up in contemporary idiom. “Long” and “short,” for example, can refer to the size of an organism’s body or to the duration of their lifespan. Many practitioners will recognize the same words used for the breathing meditation instructions in the foundations of  mindfulness (“He is aware: I breath in long; he is aware: I breath in short.”) or notice that  “long” and  “middle-length” are also used for collections of literature in the Pali Canon. The word anuka suggests reaching the scale of an atom (anu), and thus not only small but also possibly invisible or too subtle to manifest materially. And thula can be used for anything round, such as an oyster or a tortoise shell.

Another pair of opposites, dittha means “seen” and addhittha means “unseen” or invisible. Buddhist cosmology accepts that there are many dimensions of existence co-existing in our world system, and many of the beings inhabiting this system are unseen to the average person. The insertion of this phrase expands the scope of the metta or loving kindness practice to encompass these other realms, thus embracing both human and non-human beings.

Whether beings are living (vasanti) far away (dure) or not so far away (avidure), the intention for their well-being and happiness is to be extended to all. This refers to people who may live on this planet well beyond one’s own local region, but as with the last line this also can extend well into other realms and to other worlds.

Built around different forms of the verb “to be,” this pair of terms uses a past participle (bhuta=those who “have been” or who “have already come to be”) and a more dynamic construction (sambhavesi) to suggest those who “are coming to be” or who “will come to be.” Although the word for birth (jati) is not present, many translators have chosen to use the word because it is understood that birth is the mechanism for beings coming into existence. This phrase has the effect of expanding the scope of the loving kindness practice temporally in addition to the foregoing spatial expansions. The wish for happiness and well-being already encompassing every conceivable creature in existence, it is now extended to include all past and future generations as well.   

This phrase is a repeat of the last phrase in the third stanza, and concludes this two-stanza invocation of loving kindness to all living beings.

The verb in this first phrase (nikubbetha) is formed as an optative of the common verb “to do”, and with the negative particle na would be translated as “let one not do” or “one should not do” something or other. The prefix ni- that is added to the verb has a sense of “down,” yielding more literally a phrase something like “one should not put down” or “one should not make fail.” The word para means “other,” and when it is doubled like this (paro param), with one in the nominative and one in the accusative case, it refers to one person doing something to or for another. So: “One person should not put down or make another person fail,” which we see handled by various translators as “people should not deceive, humiliate or despise one another.”

This verb is also in optative, and consists of a negative particle (na), a prefix (ati) meaning “against,” and the verb “to think.” All together this adds up to something like “one should not think badly of” or “one should not think against” someone. The “one another” phrase (paro param) also extends to this verb, yielding “one should not think against another” or “people should not despise each other.” Most of the translators listed here do something different with this word.

The shift in verb form from a positive imperative of the last two verses (“May they be…”) to a negative optative in this verse (“One should not be…”) is significant, and indicates that we have left the mode of direct speech and are now describing some of the guidelines of effective or wholesome action.  These two words “wherever” (katthaci) and “whatever” (kanci) are again expanding the scope of what has just been said to make it more comprehensive: “One should not do or even think anything anywhere that is against another.” The nam (“he” or “one”) is a pronoun providing the subject of the sentence.

These two words (nouns in the instrumental case) act to embellish upon the phrase which follows. The first means “by means of anger” and the second “with a perception of harming.” The word harming is made up of striking (gha) against (pati), and covers all forms of aversion, resistance, and aggression. Anger and ill-will are attitudes of mind which do oneself and others a great deal of harm.  

Here the optative verb is a form of “to wish” (iccha), and is linked with the first na of the phrase to say “One should not wish suffering (dukkha) on another.” The term annamanna (other, other) is another way of saying “one another” and is similar in meaning to paro param. Among the ways we tend to wish suffering upon one another is by means of anger or by means of perceptions of hatred or aversion.

yatha is used to introduce an illustration of some sort, meaning “just as…” or “as…” Early Buddhist literature is particularly rich because of the large number of such similes, metaphors, and illustrative stories used to communicate important teachings. The image of a loving mother (mata) is now invoked to describe the quality of loving kindness mentioned so far in the poem. It is an ideal everyone can understand, even if unfamiliar with it personally. The different sorts of motherly love are also used to describe the nuances of the other three brahma viharas or divine qualities of heart: compassion (like a mother for a sick child), appreciative joy (like a mother for a child going off into the world), and equanimity (like a mother hearing of the affairs of a grown child).

It is further specified that the quality of love described here is that which a mothe would have for her own (niyam) son (puttam), rather than the generalized affection a woman might naturally feel for any child. Reminiscent of Jesus’ injunction to love one’s enemies as oneself, this specifying word is meant to emphasize the power and intensity of feeling that one normally manifests only for one’s own family or clan members. If we could all bring as much care to strangers as we bestow upon our own kin, the mechanisms for doing harm to one another would be entirely disabled

This is the general word for life (ayu), recognizable to many people in the ancient Indian medical tradition known as ayurveda (knowledge of life). Rendered in the instrumental case, “by means of life,” it implies that quality of selfless sacrifice in which one would willingly lay down one’s own life for the sake of protecting or preserving another’s. It has an amplifying effect upon the message of this verse, suggesting a love of such force that it overcomes even the deepest instincts for self-preservation in its devotion to the well-being of another.

As if further amplification were needed, the verse adds the additional factor of how a mother might feel about her only (eka) son. Although a somewhat outdated notion, sons were immensely cherished in ancient Indian society, and were for a woman a principle means of defining and augmenting her standing in the community. Singularity also brings with it a sense of uniqueness, and this term further points to a quality of mind that cherishes every creature as if it were one’s own, as if it were special, and as if it were of irreplaceable intrinsic value.

The final verb of this phrase means to protect, guard or watch over. The prefix (anu-) suggests “following along with” things rather than of interfering or dominating. The quality of mind is not analogous to a guard watching over his prisoners, but of a shepherd protecting his flock. It is possible to watch over beings and wish them safety from harm without interfering in their own nature or their natural range of activities. Loving kindness meditation requires caring without smothering, concern without obstruction, and the deep intention that all being thrive in whatever ways are uniquely suited to themselves.

This is the other half of the illustration mechanism. It begins above with “just as…” (yatha) and now concludes with “so too..” or “in just such a way…”

Reverting again to the optative form, the verb bhavaye also adds a causative dimension to the now familiar verbal root “to be.” This yields the expression “May you cause to be…,” “May you make become…,” or simply “May you develop…,” which then concludes with “a boundless mind toward (literally, among) all beings.” At the heart of the word aparimana is the sense of measurement. Something can be measured (mana) when one is able to conceive of it or “get one’s mind (manas) around it.” This can happen completely (pari-) with some things, perhaps, as one might fully measure the peri-meter of a circle, but some things, such as universal love for all beings, are just not (a-) capable of being measured in such a way. Indeed the boundlessness or limitless quality of loving kindness is a major theme of its practice as a meditation.

Here we find the same injunction to develop a boundless mind, but instead of to all beings as in the previous verse it is here directed to the entire (sabba) world (loka). This has the same meaning, however, since a “world” in Buddhist cosmology is construed, not as a material manifestation of rock and sea, but as a place where beings become born. Extending the limitless mind of loving kindness to “all” (sabba) means every creature in the world as well as to every world inhabited by creatures. Notice that here in verse eight we finally encounter the word metta, the word for friendship or loving kindness, though it has been with us since the third verse, where the intention for the welfare and happiness of all beings is first articulated. In this verse it specifies that the boundless quality of mind to be generated is one of loving kindness, which in formal metta meditation practice is to be “broadcast” in all directions.

Like a trumpeter ringing out his tone in all directions, the practitioner of metta meditation radiates goodwill and friendliness to all quadrants of the universe. In the texts this spatial metaphor is spelled out in some detail, quadrant by quadrant, while here it is summarized with the words “above” (uddham), “below” (adho) and “all around” tiriyam). The upper direction is meant to include all the beings in higher worlds, especially the form and formless realms inhabited by devas and other heavenly beings; below extends to all the beings in lower worlds, such as  animals, demons and hungry ghosts; and “all around” is meant to include all those who co-inhabit the human realm, in every social class and every country.  

These three words further describe the quality of mind that is permeating all the directions during the practice of loving kindness meditation. The first echoes the word “boundless” (aparimanam) used above and refers to a state of non-obstruction or non-limitation. The second and third both refer to mind “without hatred” (a-veram) and without hostility (a-sapattam). One thing this verse is hinting at is that the mind would be naturally expansive and radiant of loving kindness if it were not limited, bound, or otherwise crowded by obstructing thoughts of ill-will or enmity.

This verse continues the theme of expanding the practice of loving kindness, but now instead of describing the destination or location of the love heralded in all directions, the emphasis is upon the comportment of the meditator. Whether one is standing (tittham), walking (caram), sitting (nisinno) or lying down (sayano), the concentrated projection of loving kindness is not to be interrupted. These four positions are said to cover the entire range of how the human body is disposed at any moment, but to remove any ambiguity the word however (yavat) is added. Following the Foundations of Mindfulness discourse, this might be construed as further covering activities such as eating, drinking, going to the bathroom, turning around or wearing one’s clothing. In any of these cases, the meditator should or would be (assa) without (vigata) any vestige of indolence or laziness (middho).

Bringing the last four verses (verses 6-9) toward a simple conclusion, and establishing the crucial link between loving kindness (metta) meditation and insight (vipassana) meditation, this phrase is added as a general injunction. “One should practice (or develop, or maintain, or be resolved upon, adhittheyya) this (etam) mindfulness (sati).” We might take this as saying that one should practice mindfulness of the body in the four positions, thereby reinforcing the practice of metta, or that one should maintain mindfulness on the objects of metta meditation while in all the bodily positions.

Here we find the same injunction to develop a boundless mind, but instead of to all Building upon the last statement, it is now said that this (etam) way of practicing, this way of abiding (viharam) with the mind in a state of mindfulness and loving kindness, is said to be (ahu) a holy or divine or exhalted (brahmam) way of abiding, even for humans who are here (idha) in this world. Loving kindness and its associated states (compassion, appreciative joy , and equanimity) are called the brahma viharas (diving abidings) because they give humans on earth access to exhalted or purified states of mind that are far more common on higher planes of existence.

The final verse of this poem shifts attention from mediation to wisdom, and begins to describe some of the qualities of that wisdom. Foremost of these is the ability to not (an) go toward (upagamma) or not fall into views (dittin) about the world that are mistaken and that obscure the truth of how things really are. Views are generally seen as limited constructions of perception and thought that do more to distort our understanding than to further it. At some level having correct view (samma ditthi) is far better than having mistaken views, (miccha ditthi), but ultimately all views are too limiting and need to be left behind by an expansive, equanimous mind that no longer relies upon such limiting constructions.

No matter how advanced or exhalted one’s mind or one’s wisdom, however, it will always be tempered by or in conformity with virtue (sila). A truly wise person is fundamentally incapable of misbehaving, and will naturally demonstrate correct ways of acting, speaking and thinking. This is because the mechanisms by means of which she might go astray have been destroyed or transcended. If immoral behavior is exhibited, according to this view, it is sure prove of a lack of advanced attainment.

The primary thing to which a wise person has attained (sampanno) is the ability to see clearly, and it is by means of this clarity of vision (dassanena) that craving and ignorance are overcome. It is something to be attained because the body and mind naturally distort reality in their construction of experience, and it is only through the radically purifying processes of mindfulness and loving kindness meditation that it can begin to get clear of these distortions. The image of vision as a cognate of wisdom is ubiquitous in Buddhist thought, wherein the light of understanding dispels the gloom of delusion and ignorance.

What is accomplished by the attainment of vision is the overcoming or the “leading away” (vineyya) of greed (gedham) that manifests among sensual pleasures (kamesu). This is the craving that is the principle cause of suffering and that keeps the mind bound to wanting one thing after another. The manifestation of this greed in any given moment of experience drives one to grasp or cling to preferred objects while pushing away or ignoring unliked objects, and in the process forges a sense of selfhood or identity. In addition to evoking and augmenting unskillful behavior each moment, the strength of this craving at the end of one’s lifetime will drive a being to “flow on” (samsara) to another birth.

The final phrase in this verse declares that the process of rebirth is ended for the one who no longer falls into views, who is virtuous, who has attained vision and who has therefore overcome his greed for sensual pleasures. He—indeed! (hi)—does not go (na eti) again (punar) to lay down (seyyam) in a womb (gabbha) in the process of birth (jatu). This is a declaration of awakening, of final emancipation, of breaking once and for all the cycle of rebirth and suffering. It is the ultimate attainment for any human being, and results in a person becoming an arahant or “worthy one”. This is a suitable—and perhaps the only—way to conclude the poem.


Verse 1 - SN 143

This is to be done by one skilled in aims
Who wants to break through to the state of peace
Be capable, upright, & straightforward,
Easy to instruct, gentle, & not conceited,
Verse 2 - SN 144

Content & easy to support,
with few duties, living lightly,
With peaceful faculties, masterful, modest, & no greed for supporters.
Verse 3 - SN 145
Do not do the slightest thing
that the wise would later censure.
Think: Happy & secure,
may all beings be happy at heart.
Verse 4 - SN 146
Whatever beings there may be,
weak or strong, without exception,
Long, large, middling, short,
subtle, blatant,
Verse 5 - SN 147
Seen & unseen, near & far,
Born & seeking birth:
May all being be happy
at heart.
Verse 6 - SN 148
Let no one deceive another or despise anyone anywhere,
Or through anger or irritation wish for another to suffer.
Verse 7 - SN 149
As a mother would risk her life to protect her child, her only child,
Even so should one cultivate a limitless heart with regard to all beings
Verse 8 - SN 150
With good will for the entire cosmos, cultivate a limitless heart:
Above, below, & all around, unobstructed, without emnity or hate.
Verse 9 - SN 151

Whether standing, walking, sitting, or lying down, as long as one is alert,
One should be resolved on this mindfulness.
This is called a sublime abiding here & now.
Verse 10 - SN 152

Not taken with views, but virtuous & consummate in vision,
Having subdued desire for sensual pleasures,
One never again will lie in the womb.







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