Ven. Ayya Khema had a fascinating life. She was born into a Jewish family in the 1920s and they escaped in 1938. She later became a nun in the Theravada tradition and established a monastery in Australia, a training center for nuns in Sri Lanka, and a meditation center in Germany. She passed away in 1997.

 

By Daniel Scharpenburg

The Metta Sutta is one of my favorite old texts.

It’s less than two pages but encapsulates so much of what is important in our efforts to be wholehearted beings. I’ve been looking for books on the Metta Sutta and this one came to me.

The Path to Peace: A Buddhist Guide to Cultivating Loving-Kindness is a commentary on the Metta Sutta. This little book is only 148 pages and it’s really easy to follow and understand. This is a wonderful book for beginners and for people that have a lot of experience and knowledge. It made me see a text I’m really familiar with in a new way. A lot of books don’t do that.

When I got it I thought, “Oh no, I don’t know if I have time to review another book.”

And then once I started I couldn’t put it down. Maybe you won’t be able to put it down either. It’s like a handbook for living a wholehearted life and I think it’s going to be something I can go back to again and again. There are many virtues that are important for us to cultivate. But in my life experience every time I’ve made a bad decision, it’s been because I didn’t have enough Metta in my heart and I wasn’t open enough.

These teachings can change your life.

This book was put together from a series of talks that Venerable Ayya Khema gave exploring the Metta Sutta. Ven. Ayya Khema had a fascinating life. She was born into a Jewish family in the 1920s and they escaped in 1938. She later became a nun in the Theravada tradition and established a monastery in Australia, a training center for nuns in Sri Lanka, and a meditation center in Germany. She passed away in 1997.

There’s a lot more to her life story than this and after reading this book I think I’m going to get her autobiography which is called, I Give You My Life because I want to know more. I had never heard of her before reading this book and that is unfortunate because I’m learning she was a wise and insightful teacher.

And I suppose she’s still teaching.

This book was put together from some talks she gave. She talked about the Metta Sutta a lot. The actual records are freely available on Dharma Seed, so actually anyone that wants to listen to her speak can. I don’t know what led to this book being made, really, but I imagine someone was listening to those talks and got really inspired. Also, I’m wondering if the publishing world is a little more open to nuns than it was back when she was alive. That’s hard to say.

The book (after the introduction) opens with the Metta Sutta and then she explores it in a way I’ve never seen before.

The Metta Sutta is a guide to how to live a good, loving, harmonious life. I’m going to put the version that’s in the book here and we’ll just call this a long quote:

“The Metta Sutta: The Buddha’s Words on Loving-Kindness” translation by Ven. Khantipalo

What should be done by one who’s skilled

in wholesomeness

To gain the state of peacefulness is this:

One must be able, upright, straight and not proud,

Easy to speak to, mild, and well content,

Easily satisfied,

And not caught up in too much bustle,

And frugal in one’s ways,

With senses calmed, intelligent, not bold,

Not being covetous when with other folk,

Abstaining from the ways that wise ones blame,

And this the thought that one should always hold:

‘May beings all live happily and safe

And may their hearts rejoice within themselves.

Whatever there may be with breath of life

Whether they be frail or very strong,

without exception,

Be they long or short or middle-sized,

Or be they big or small, or thick,

Or visible, or invisible,

Or whether they dwell far or they dwell near,

Those that are here, those seeking to exist,

May beings all rejoice within themselves.’

Let no one bring about another’s ruin

And not despise in any way or place,

Let them not wish each other any ill

From provocation or from enmity.

Just as a mother at the risk of life

Loves and protects her child, her only child,

So should one cultivate this boundless love

To all that live in the whole universe

Extending from a consciousness sublime

Upwards and downwards across the world,

Untroubled, free from hate and enmity.

And while one stands and while one walks and sits

Or one lies down still free from drowsiness

One should be intent on this mindfulness

This is divine abiding here they say.

But when one lives quite free from any view,

Is virtuous, with perfect insight won,

And greed for sensual desires expelled,

One surely comes no more to any womb.”

So, that’s the teaching. The book is divided into two sections, and I’d make the case the original text is too. I put a helpful space in there for you.

The first section is called The Fifteen Wholesome Conditions and when I read that heading I didn’t immediately know what it meant. But it’s from the first half of the Metta Sutta. The first part of the text is a list of 15 qualities to develop and she has short chapters on each. So, for example, there’s a chapter on being upright, one on being easily satisfied, and one on having calm senses.

I’ve read this text many times and never realized it was a list. I thought it was just some inspiring words to reflect on.

In each of these 15 chapters she explores one of them. She masterfully breaks down what it means to be upright and why it’s important.

The second section is called Metta Meditations At the beginning of the section she talks about what it is to open up our hearts to boundless love. Following that introduction the section is entirely devoted to guided meditations to help us achieve this. This is Metta, or Loving-Kindness, Meditation. These are inspired by the second half of the text.

Do people read guided meditations and do them that way? I’ve been known to record myself reading them out loud and then listening to them later when I need to meditate. Metta Meditation has become a big part of my practice in recent years, so I will be making use of the ones in this book.

I am moved and inspired by this book.

This is not just something I have read and enjoyed, it’s something that is already impacting my spiritual practice and therefore changing my life. We need more books like this.

Kindness, compassion, and virtue are things that are fundamental to Buddhism and too often overlooked in favor of other aspects of the path.

 

Photo: Shambhala Publications

 

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