January 14, 2014

The 4 Immeasurables.

May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes;
May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes;
May all sentient beings not be separated from sorrowless bliss;
May all sentient beings abide in equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger.

The Brahmaviharas, or Four Immeasurables, are a list of four Buddhist virtues that we can cultivate through our meditation practice.

They are considered antidotes to negative mental states.

I think they’re called ‘immeasurable’ because their impact on our practice is so great that it can’t be measured. But, who knows.

Although this list of virtues has it’s origin in Buddhism, it would probably work equally well in any religious tradition. The Four Immeasurables are sometimes discussed as virtues in texts of Jainism and Hinduism—but they are Buddhist in origin (we think).

The Four Immeasurables are: Loving-kindness, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity.

Loving-kindness is the wish that others be happy. That sounds easy, but it is supposed to include everyone, not just our friends and people we know, but everyone. When we cultivate loving-kindness, we are trying to extend it, first to all the people we love, then to the people we feel neutral about, then to the people we dislike/hate. Only when we can really cultivate this can it be said to reach the Immeasurable level. Loving-kindness counters ill will.

Compassion is similar. It is the wish for others to be free from suffering. Again, we want to cultivate compassion and try to extend to include all beings, not just the ones who we love, or who we think ‘deserve’ it. Wishing suffering upon others or turning a blind eye to it is not helpful to us. It can plant negative seeds in our minds. Compassion counters cruelty.

Joy is the attitude of rejoicing at the happiness and virtues of other sentient beings. Again, we want to cultivate joy and try to extend it to all beings. When others are happy, we want to take joy in this. This is the counter to jealousy.

Equanimity is the attitude of regarding all beings as equals, regardless of their relationship to oneself. This sounds simple, but it’s probably the hardest to cultivate. It involves trying to view all things as equal, not being attached to our circumstances or to our desires. Letting things just be as they are. Equanimity counters clinging and aversion.

The four immeasurables is a set of teachings that are designed to open the heart and improve our relationships to others and also our relationships to ourselves.

The Buddha said, “I teach only suffering and the end of suffering.”

This is something we can forget sometimes if we are studying some of the really deep teachings.

Teachings like the four immeasurables remind us that we have a goal, to be free from suffering.


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Editor: Bryonie Wise

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