Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Four Immeasurables: Brahma Viharas

Chenrezig (embodiment of compassion): Kalu Rinpoche said "one does not think of the deity's body as solid or material, made of flesh and blood like one's ordinary body, or made of metal or stone like an idol. One thinks of its appearance as inseparable from emptiness, like a rainbow or like a reflection in a mirror."

Also known as the Brahma Viharas (the "supreme" or "divine abidings"), the Four Immeasurable states are found in one brief and beautiful contemplation:

May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes,
May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes,
May all sentient beings be blissful without suffering,
May all sentient beings be equanimous, free of bias,
attachment, and anger.

Humorous talk by Kusala Bhikshu, August 2008*

The Buddha taught the following to his son Rahula, as related in "Old path white clouds" by Thich Nhat Hahn:

"Rahula, practice loving-kindness to overcome anger. Loving-kindness has the capacity to bring happiness to others without demanding anything in return. Practice compassion to overcome cruelty. Compassion has the capacity to remove the suffering of others without expecting anything in return.

"Practice sympathetic-joy [a.k.a., empathy] to overcome hatred. Sympathetic-joy arises when one rejoices over the happiness of others and wishes others well-being and success. Practice non-attachment to overcome prejudice. Non-attachment is the way of looking at all things openly and equally. This is because that is. Myself and others are not separate. Do not reject one thing only to chase after another.

I call these the Four Immeasurables. Practice them and you will become a refreshing source of vitality and happiness for others." (To meditate on these, see List of Sample Meditations).

One definition of love in Buddhism is "wanting others to be happy." This love is unconditional and it requires a lot of courage and acceptance (including self-acceptance). The "near enemy" of love, or a quality which appears similar, but is more an opposite is conditional-love (selfish love, see also attachment). The opposite is wanting others to be unhappy -- anger, hatred. A result which one needs to avoid is attachment.

This definition means that "love" in Buddhism refers to something quite different from the ordinary term of love, which is usually about attachment, more or less successful relationships and sex, all of which are rarely without self-interest.

Instead, love in Buddhism refers to detachment and an unselfish interest in others' welfare.

"Even offering three hundred bowls of food three times a day does not match the spiritual merit gained in one moment of love" -- Nagarjuna.

"If there is love, there is hope that one may have real families, real brotherhood, real equanimity, real peace. If the love within your mind is lost and you see other beings as enemies, then no matter how much knowledge or education or material comfort you have, only suffering and confusion will ensue" -- the Dalai Lama from The little book of Buddhism.

The definition of compassion is wanting others to be free from suffering. It happens when one feels sorry with someone, and one feels an urge to help. The near enemy of it is pity, which keeps others at an emotional distance, without the urge to help. The opposite is wanting others to suffer, or cruelty. Another result one needs to avoid is sentimentality. Compassion thus refers to an unselfish, detached emotion that gives one a sense of urgency in wanting to help others.

From a Buddhist perspective, helping others to reduce their physical or mental suffering is very good, but the ultimate goal is to extinguish all suffering by stopping the process of rebirth and the suffering that automatically comes with conditioned living (enlightenment).

The attitude of a so-called Bodhisattva is Bodhicitta [bodhi = "enlightenment," citta = "mind"]. This is the ultimate compassionate motivation, the wish to liberate all sentient beings from the suffering of cyclic existence. Therefore, one wishes to become a fully enlightened Buddha oneself in order to act as the perfect guide for them. (See compassion).

The definition of empathy is being happy with someone else's good fortune/happiness. Sympathetic joy here refers to the potential of bliss and happiness of all sentient beings, as they can all become Buddhas. The near enemy is hypocrisy or affectation. The opposite is jealousy, when one cannot accept the happiness of others. A result that one needs to avoid is spaced-out bliss, which can easily turn into laziness. Note that sympathetic joy is a great antidote to depression as well, but this is not the main goal. By rejoicing in others' progress on the spiritual path, one can actually share in their positive karma. Sympathetic joy is an unselfish, very positive mental attitude beneficial for oneself and others. In this case, it also refers specifically to rejoicing in the high rebirth and enlightenment of others.

The definition is not to distinguish between friend, enemy, or stranger, but instead to regard every sentient-being as equal. It is a clear minded, tranquil state of mind -- not being overpowered by delusions, mental dullness, or agitation.

The near enemy is indifference. It is tempting to think that "not caring" is equanimity, but that is just a form of egotism.

The opposite is anxiety, worry, stress, and paranoia caused by dividing people into "good" and "bad." One can worry forever if a good friend may not be a bad person after all, thus spoiling trust and friendship. A result to be avoided is apathy as a result of "not caring" enough.
Equanimity is the basis for unconditional, altruistic love, compassion, and joy over others' happiness and Bodhicitta. When there is discrimination between friends and enemies, how can one ever help all sentient-beings? Equanimity is an unselfish, detached state of mind that also prevents one from doing negative actions.

If one tries to befriend an enemy for even a moment, that person becomes a friend. The same thing occurs when one treats a friend as an enemy. Therefore, by understanding the impermanence of temporal relations, wise ones are never attached to food, clothing, reputation, or to friends and enemies.

"The father becomes the son in another life, mother becomes the wife, enemy becomes friend; it always changes. Therefore, there is nothing definite in Samsara" -- the Buddha.

The foundation for practicing the seven-point cause and effect method is cultivating a mind of equanimity. Without this foundation one is unable to have an impartial, altruistic view, because without equanimity one is always partial towards relatives and friends. Realizing that it is better to be without prejudice, hatred, or desire towards enemies, friends, or neutral persons, thus lay a very firm foundation of equanimity -- the Dalai Lama, from Path to Bliss: A Practical Guide to Stages of Meditation.

It is said that the awareness of a Buddha is completely even, like the ocean, taking in equally the joys and sorrows of all people, friends, loved ones, relatives, and those never met. This is the meaning of a statement made by so many of the world's great spiritual teachers, "Love your enemy." It does not mean love the person you hate. One cannot do that. Love those who hate you (from Buddhism with an Attitude: The Tibetan Seven-Point Mind-Training).

*Urban Dharma: Kusala Bhikshu ( is an American born Buddhist monk living in Los Angeles, California. He shares his understanding of Buddhism in a simple, non-technical way through stories, humor, and personal insights. He spoke on the Four Immeasurables at the One Spirit Center for Conscious Living in Simi Valley, CA on 8/4/08.

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