What is a boundless heart? Does it exist? How can I get one? Sounds like a bit of a risk, doesn’t it?
The phrase is lifted from a sutta (verse from the Pali canon) that many card-carrying Buddhists are familiar with or even have memorized: The Karaniya Metta Sutta, or The Buddha’s Words on Loving Kindness. This verse is chanted regularly by monastics and lay practitioners in my tradition, and it lifts the heart. Much has been written about the Metta Sutta, so I’ll just say a few things about it.
At its essence, the sutta is a list of instructions for happiness — our own and others’. It starts simply, as many suttas do, with practical instructions on how to behave in body and speech, and what kind of attitude to take toward life. Memorizing this sutta has improved my outlook and response to everyday irritations, because the phrases ring in my ears just when I need them to: “contented and easily satisfied,” “not proud and demanding in nature,” “may all beings be at ease.” The Metta sutta offers simple and direct words to live by and an attitude of heart opening to explore in each moment.
In the middle, the sutta draws on the strong sense of love and protection a mother feels for her child, and asks that we extend it to all beings, however difficult. This section of the Metta sutta is pivotal and carries the reader into a depth of practice and potential that leads to complete awakening, nibbana — nirvana in sanskrit — where there is no clinging or worry or doubt, only love.
The Buddha’s Words on Loving Kindness is a reminder that much is accomplished in the spiritual life through small acts of kindness and a skillful attitude toward our circumstances. It’s an aspiration worth contemplating, and really, imprinting fully onto the heart.
THE BUDDHA’S WORDS ON LOVING-KINDNESS
(Karaniya Metta Sutta)
(Now let us chant the Buddha’s words on loving-kindness.)
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 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 recollection.
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.