“May all that have life be delivered from suffering.”

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When this one was passed onto me I thought that it might well be scriptural — possibly from the Karaniya Metta Sutta. But even though it’s very much in line with Buddhist teachings it doesn’t seem to be Buddhist at all.

The origins of this particular form of words seem to be in the works of the 19th century German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer. He said “I know of no more beautiful prayer than that which the Hindus of old used in closing their public spectacles (just as the English of today end with a prayer for their king). They said, ‘May all that have life be delivered from suffering.'”

I believe that what he was referring to is the fourth line (“May no one suffer”) from the following mantra:

Om, Sarve bhavantu sukhinaḥ
Sarve santu nirāmayāḥ
Sarve bhadrāṇi paśyantu
Mā kashchit duḥkha bhāgbhavet
Oṁ Shāntiḥ, Shāntiḥ, Shāntiḥ

This means:

May all be prosperous and happy
May all be free from illness
May all see what is spiritually uplifting
May no one suffer
Om peace, peace, peace [source]

As far as I’m aware there’s nothing exactly like “May all that have life be delivered from suffering” in the Buddhist scriptures.

The Karaniya Metta Sutta does say:

May all be well and secure,
May all beings be happy!

But that’s not quite the same. Oddly, I haven’t so far found anything in the Pali canon that expresses a direct wish that beings be free from suffering, which strikes me as very odd indeed! If you know of anything, please let me know.

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6 thoughts on ““May all that have life be delivered from suffering.””

  1. Seems like it might be from the chant “Radiating Metta” (in Burmese, “metta po”), coming from the line “dukkhā muccantu”, which means “May [all beings] be free from suffering”.

    Here’s a link to the chant on Buddhanet http://goo.gl/71M2PH

    1. Yes, the similarity did strike me, and it’s possible that Schopenhauer confused a Buddhist chant with a Hindu one, although he was familiar with the Upanishads and it seems unlikely that he would have made that confusion.

  2. In the chanting we do the Reflection on Universal Well-Being has the line:

    Sabbe sattā sabbadukkhā pamuccantu
    May all beings be released from all suffering

    which is really quite similar depending on how you translate it.

    1. Yes, it’s common to find post-canonical statements wishing that beings be free from suffering, but to my surprise I haven’t yet been able to locate any in the scriptures. Do you know the origin of the Reflection on Universal Well-Being?

      1. I don’t know the origin off-hand but given that this is one of the reflection chants of the Forest Sangha theravada tradition I always assumed they were all canon.

        I find a short discussion about it here: http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?t=17007 which doesn’t resolve the origin of the chant so much.

        Maybe I’m just naive enough to think that if it’s in Pali, it’s canon?

        1. Pali was still being used for composition well over a millennium after the Buddha’s death (see the 6th century Visuddhimagga, for example) and probably much later than that. So it’s certainly not the case that if something is in Pali, it’s canonical.

          I’m pretty sure that the metta chant isn’t from the suttas. It may be found in one of the Abhidhamma texts or something, though.

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