The Four Immeasurables (Four Brahmaviharas)

The Four Immeasurables are

  • Equanimity (Tib. tangnyom), (Pali: metta) which is the wish that beings may be free from attachment to some and aversion to others.
  • Lovingkindness (Tib. jampa), (Pali: karuna) which is the wish that living beings may have happiness and its causes.
  • Compassion (Tib. nyingjé), (Pali: mudita ) which is the wish that living beings may be free from suffering and its causes.
  • Joy (Tib. gawa), (Pali: upekkha) which is the wish that living beings may remain happy and their happiness may increase further.

The Four Immeasurables are mindstates or emotions that when present, help us cultivate qualities that clear away obstacles to experiencing our truest nature. They are cultivated both in formal mediation and through carrying practice. One can also recite the Four Immeasurables Prayer (This is just one of many translations.)

May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May they be free of suffering and the causes of suffering.
May they never be seperate from the highest bliss which is without suffering.
May they come to rest in the great equanimity, free from attachment and aversion to those close, and far.

The great thirteenth century Tibetan Dzogchen master Longchenpa taught that the entire conduct of the bodhisattva can be summarized into two aspects: (1) aspirational bodhichitta and (2) application (or action) bodhichitta.

Longchenpa explained that aspirational bodhichitta is based on the Four Immeasurables: (1) Immeasurable Loving Kindness, (2) Immeasurable Compassion, (3) Immeasurable Joy, and (4) Immeasurable Equanimity. (My own teacher always taught this sequence beginning with equanimity, saying if one actualized this, the others would come naturally.)

Because sentient beings are as limitless as space, our practice of the Four Immeasurables must also be immeasurably applied to all beings, not focused on any particular one or ones. We begin developing these in our heart by chanting aspirational prayers such as the prayer above. Thus, aspirational bodhichitta is mainly applied at the levels of mind and speech. Through practice, it becomes the cause of action bodhichitta. In action bodhicitta, we act from the wish to benefit others, without exception.

The ‘near enemies’ of the Four Immeasurables are

  • indifference (insead of loving-kindness)
  • pity (instead of compassion)
  • envy (instead of empathetic joy) and
  • jealousy (instead of equanimity).

The ‘near enemies’ are qualities or emotions that we may develop that may seem like the immeasurables, but instead are ones that increase suffering, not diminish it.


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