Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Divine Ways to Abide (The Brahma Viharas)

Chp. 3: The Four Divine Abidings
A professor of Theravada Buddhism once asked me, "Why is it assumed, at all the interfaith gatherings I attend, that God is the uniting factor among the religions? We should be concentrating on humanity rather than divinity."

When it is taken for granted that all people of faith worship a Supreme Creator and Sustainer God, Buddhists and Jains [two of the great Dharmic religions] are excluded.

Although Buddhists believe that there are gods [devas and brahmas] living in many celestial planes of existence, they do not ascribe original creative power to them [in fact, there are many brahmas, "supremes," wielding a power of creation or power over other's creations], nor do they believe that these gods have any influence over ultimate human liberation.
Belief in God cannot, therefore, provide common ground between Buddhists and religions such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. But can common ground be found in what religions say about humanity or about how we can work for a humane society? I believe the answer is "yes."
  • [In the past Buddhist and Catholic ecumenical gatherings have agreed on the centrality of the cause and cessation of suffering (dukkha) as common ground for discussion.]
What are the best ways to abide?
Buddhism speaks of four Brahma Viharas, the "Divine Abidings" or "Supreme Attitudes," and these qualities permeate the whole of Buddhist teaching. They are metta (loving kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy), and upekkha (equanimity).
Metta is boundless loving kindness radiated to all beings -- friends and enemies, strangers, the loved and unloved. It is an action-changing mental orientation.

Karuna is seen where people are so sensitive to the sufferings of others that they cannot rest until they act to relieve that suffering. To a greater degree than metta, karuna involves action or intercession.

Mudita is a quality that challenges me greatly. To show mudita is to feel joy over the successes of others, free of jealousy, envy, and bitterness, to actually celebrate or rejoice in their happiness and achievements even when we are facing tragedy ourselves.
Upekkha is equanimity but has often been misunderstood as indifference or lack of caring when it is actually looking on all things free of bias. It is not apathy in the face of pain, which would be the very antithesis of compassion.

Divine beings abide in mental peace.
Upekkha is really freedom from the self-centeredness that clouds understanding and destroys true discernment and wisdom. People who cultivate upekkha are no longer pulled this way and that by emotional reactions that have more to do with the ego than with actual concern for others. They can see right from wrong and can act with wisdom.
The Brahma Viharas speak to me of the ideals that should direct our lives -- the ideals that can create the kind of society any truly religious person yearns for.

Such a society would be one where loving kindness and compassion triumph over greed, where the success of one person does not mean the demeaning or exploitation of others, where rulers are guided by clear principles of right and wrong rather than hunger for praise or power.

These "Divine Abidings" -- or the way that Maha Brahma [the "Great Supremo," the first born in a world system based on its previous karma in former cycles of existence, being neither male nor female but beyond sexual dimorphism] spends its time -- give us a picture of merit and mundane good.

They touch the hope of all religions and can bring unity of purpose independent of a concept or idea of God.
So let compassion for the good of humanity be at the forefront of religious encounters. May those who come from the monotheistic traditions discover that they can share their hopes for a righteous society with their Buddhist neighbors.

May Buddhists find themselves united with their Catholic, Jain, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim friends in working for a world where loving kindness takes the place of greed. More

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