The Brahma Viharas by Hugh Byrne
By Hugh Byrne | Jan 30 2012
The Four "Divine Abodes" or "Immeasurable" States
The audio of the talks given for this class series is available under "DSPP Spring 2012: The Brahma Viharas," on our Talks series page.
The Buddha taught that "whatever one frequently thinks and ponders upon will be the inclination of one’s mind." If we sow thoughts of anger and hatred, those will become the qualities of our mind; if we sow thoughts of love and generosity, those will become the qualities of our mind.
As a mother watches over her child … so with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings.
~ Metta Sutta
He also provided a path of training that helps us to see the thoughts, words, and actions that lead us to continued suffering and those that lead to freedom from suffering.
A key teaching and practice was to “abandon what is unskillful” and “cultivate the good.”
We abandon the unskillful—afflictive states of heart/mind, such as greed, cruelty, anger, and jealousy—by opening fully to our experience with mindfulness, compassion, and love. In opening fully—radically accepting our experience just as it is—we come to see the essential "emptiness' of these states—that they only have power over us if we cling to or resist them.
We cultivate the good by nurturing and developing states of heart and mind that lead to happiness and freedom. The Buddha taught that four qualities of an awakened heart—that naturally arise in a heart that is free of clinging, aversion and ignorance—can also be developed and cultivated and can bring beauty and kindness to the world. These qualities are known as the Brahma (divine) Viharas (abodes).
These four qualities—loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic (or appreciative) joy, and equanimity—are called divine abodes because they can become the natural dwelling-place of the heart—the place we feel most at home.
These qualities are also called the "four immeasurables" because they have the capacity to purify the heart and generate positive energy beyond measure—and because they extend immeasurably to all beings in all realms of existence. They are unbounded, measureless.
The first of the divine abodes is loving kindness (metta), a quality of heart that is boundless, pure, and open—a love that extends to all beings without attachments or exclusion. Compassion (karuna) is the expression of an open, loving heart meeting the suffering of others—the quivering of the heart in the face of suffering. Sympathetic joy (mudita) is the quality of an open, loving heart meeting the happiness and well-being of others. And equanimity (uppekkha) is the expression of an unshakeable composure of heart—a love that embraces all beings with wisdom, balance, and serenity.
If you would like to deepen your study and practice of the Brahma Viharas, join IMCW senior teacher Hugh Byrne for a six-week course beginning Monday, February 27. Each class will include guided meditations on the Brahma Viharas, a talk, and a period for discussion and questions. For information and to register see the Brahma Vihara class series webpage.
May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness
May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering
May all beings never be separated from the joy that is beyond all sorrow
May all beings abide in equanimity