To get the best out of this website, please read on...
We have set your language based on your browser language settings or location. To change language use the flag above.
We'd like you to have the best possible experience of our new site, and we notice you're using an older browser that isn't compatible with some of the latest developments on the internet.
We've designed things so Free Buddhist Audio will continue to work for you, but we invite you to a better experience of the web now and in future if you have a few minutes to upgrade...
Install (or update from an older version) a future-friendly browser:
We provide transcribed talks by 35 different speakers
Suriyavamsa, Glasgow, UK
Nagabodhi, London, UK
Vajradarshini, Valderrobres, Spain
Viryaja, Toowoomba, Australia
Vajratara, Sheffield, UK
Vicki, Seattle, USA
Padmatara, San Francisco, USA
... be friendship. As, say, in tathata, where the ta makes the noun an abstract noun. So this
particular sutta deals simply with metta: it’s called the Metta Sutta. Perhaps we should think of it
as a poem, it is actually in verse, not in prose. Sometimes, by the way, metta is translated as
‘good will’. That conveys quite a bit of its meaning, though again it isn’t quite emotional enough,
but it’s not a bad rendering of metta. Good will, as when you have good will towards somebody,
you have disinterested love for them, you wish them well, you would like to help them, you even
try to help them, that is your good will towards them.
Kularatna: It’s very weak, though, isn’t it - good will?
S: Compared with the Pali word, yes. Perhaps it’s significant that our words for the more refined,
as we might say spiritual, emotions, positive emotions, are so weak. The words which we have
for the comparatively unrefined emotions, or even negative emotions, are quite strong. Like hate,
anger, fear, despair. These are all quite strong words. Even love is quite strong. But when it
comes to the more refined, more positive, spiritual emotions, it’s as though the words that we
have  for them become weak and tepid.
Mark: That’s because presumably we say a strong emotion is a negative one.
S: Yes, yes. Because we don’t very often experience an emotion which is completely positive,
and skilful, and which is at the same time very strong. Our strong emotions tend to be negative
emotions, our positive emotions tend to be weak emotions, unfortunately.
Lokamitra: Just for the sake of this seminar, could you define a skilful emotion, as we’re going
to be talking about it?
S: Well, a skilful emotion basically is one that is dissociated from loba, dosa and moha, that is to
say dissociated from craving, ego-centred craving; from hatred, which means a confirmed and
settled dislike of somebody and a willingness to do them harm - not just a momentary burst of
anger; and moha, in the sense of mental confusion and bewilderment, and wrong misguided
Nick: I can never remember which Pali words correspond to greed, hatred and delusion. Can you
S: In Sanskrit, loba, dvesha and moha, and in Pali it’s loba, dosa and moha. Dosa instead of
Nick: Loba being greed?
S: Loba being greed. Again it is a very strong word. It’s greed, craving. The word loba is used in
modern Indian language, lobi. If you are a very greedy person they say, ‘Oh you are a real lobi’, a
really greedy person. If they see you just sitting there and eating so many sweetmeats, licking
your fingers, all that kind of thing, they’ll say ‘Oh he’s real lobi’.[Laughter] One should also say,
with regard to metta, that there is something ecstatic about it. In trying to emphasise its positivity
and its ardour as it were, that there’s something ecstatic about it, it carries you as it were outside
yourself, which is what ecstasy literally means, it means to be carried outside yourself, to stand
outside yourself. So metta when fully developed has a sort of ecstatic quality about it, while
remaining quite calm and balanced and harmonious. [Long pause]
S: All right then, so now let’s come on to the first verse of the sutta: 
He who is skilled in his good and who wishes to attain
that state of calm, nibbana, should act thus.
This is the first half of the first verse.
Karaniyam atthakusalena yam tam santam padam abhisamecca
So ‘skilled in his good’- atthakusalena, this is a quite important expression. ‘Good’ is attha. It
means good. It also means goal. One’s aim. There is a sort of connection between one’s good,
and one’s goal or aim, do you see this? Something can hardly be your goal or your aim in the true
sense unless it is also good for you, unless it is also your good. But here the suggestion is that the
aim or the good is the ultimate good or the ultimate aim, for the sake of which all lesser goals or
all lesser goods exist. I think that it’s Mrs Rhys Davids who in some of her writings about early
Buddhism makes the point that early in the Buddha’s teaching career, the word attha was very
much in use, I don’t know if anyone’s ever come across this point - that nibbana wasn’t much
used, bodhi even wasn’t much used, but the attha was very much referred to. There are quite a
few traces of this in the Pali Texts as we have them at present. It’s the Goal with a capital G as it
were. For instance, it might be asked, why does somebody leave home, why does somebody Go
Forth, or why does somebody meditate? It’s for the sake of the attha, the Goal, the aim, the good,
in that highest sense. It’s not exactly an abstract term, it’s rather general, it’s not too specific; in
that sense, in that way it’s a useful sort of term, it just conveys a sense of something higher,
something even ultimate, towards which you are making your way, which is your aim, which is
your goal, which is your good also. Do you get the idea? That attha means all this.
So ‘he who is skilled in his good’, literally ‘by the one who is skilled in his good’,
Lokamitra: Karaniya, what does that mean?
S: ‘Should act’. But we will come to that in a minute.
S: Or ‘let him act’. So ‘skilled in his good’. You know here you get this word skilled, kusala, or
here kusalena. Kusala is just quite literally skill, in the first place, the quite ordinary sense. You
speak of someone being skilled at handicrafts, someone being skilled in the way. This word
‘skilled’ is very important in Buddhism, as well as in its abstract form, skill. [Pause] It roughly
corresponds to what we would call in English that which is good. 
Padmavajra: It comes from the word kusalena, does it?
S: Yes. Well, kusala in general. Kusalena is only another grammatical form. His kusala, skill, or
one who is skilled, and kusalena, by one who is skilled. So it’s rather interesting that Buddhism
should have this word ‘skilled’. There isn’t anything like this, say, in the corresponding Christian
tradition. That the good person in a way is the skilled person, the person who does things in the
right way, avoiding what we would call negative emotional states, cultivating positive emotional
states, cultivating clarity of vision. In other words Buddhism would say that the spiritual life is
not so much a matter of goodness, it’s more a question of skill. So what does skill involve or
what does it suggest when you speak of spiritual life in this sort of way?
Priyananda: It implies a degree of intelligence.
S: It implies a degree of intelligence, and also a sort of practical capacity. It clearly isn’t just a
theoretical thing. There’s intelligence required, but also practice. So skill or skilful implies both
of these. So ‘skilled in his good’. So what does that mean, what does that suggest - someone
being skilled in his good? It means someone knowing what is really good for him, and also
knowing the right way to go about attaining it. One who is ‘skilled in his good’. [Pause] But you
notice the sutta doesn’t say the ‘good man’ or the ‘holy man’ - it says simply ‘he who is skilled in
his good’. So you get none of the sort of usual, as it were, religious connotations here. Simply the
one who knows what constitutes his real good, what constitutes the real good for a human being,
and who knows the right way to go about realizing that, karaniyam, should act in such-and-such
way, should behave in such-and-such way.
So then the text goes on to be a bit more specific about that attha, that good, what constitutes a
man’s good or his goal. Yam tam santam padam abhisamecca ‘That state of calm, Nibbana’
Nibbana, by the way, is the translator’s gloss, we may say, the original simply says santam
padam. Santam is the same as shanti, in Sanskrit, it’s peace. Padam is a state or an abode. It’s the
abode of peace, or the state of peace. It’s the same word as you get in the title of the
Dhammapada. If you like it’s the peace factor. Pada also literally means that. [Pause] So this
might be paraphrased as saying, He who is skilled in his good, that is to say in the state of calm,
nirvana, and who desires that, should act thus.
Or one might say simply, He who is skilled in his good, and wishes to attain - abhisamecca is
wishes to attain - the state of peace, or the abode of peace, should act thus.
So why do you think that this word peace has been selected here? When the nature of the goal is
amplified, or when the nature of the goal, the attha or the good, is specified in greater detail, why
is shanti, why is peace especially mentioned, do you think? Why shouldn’t it say bodhi? I mean
leaving aside metrical considerations and so on. But why peace?
Mike: We can only experience metta as that peace.