A Warm Welcome to All as we gather around the terminals. Whether we feel calm and peaceful, or worn out and agitated, we can pause for a while to make some resolution to practise in the coming moments and beyond.When needing inspiration and a bit of spark in Buddha Dhamma then bring to mind the Four Brahmaviharas!
The Brahmaviharas (brahma + viharas) are known as the Divine (or Sublime) abidings (or modes of conduct). They may be viewed as expressions of Love. They are also attributed with the title the "Four illimitables" (appamannya) in that they have no bounds.
These sublime modes of conduct are as follows (in Pali and then English translation):
Let us explore each of these in turn - I use for today's reference source, Ven. Narada's, 'The Buddha and His Teachings'.
1. metta is radiation of loving kindness without exception. It is very much like the way the suns' rays shine uniformly in every direction and is characterised by benevolence. This kind of friendliness is fundamental to getting on with each other; its practice may culminate in sabbattata, being the identification of oneself with all living beings.
The cultivation of metta (metta bhavana) is one of the most common forms of meditation practised by all Buddhists - either through a practise devoted explicitly to the development of positive mental states or when sharing merit of any such states that have accrued during a practise.
In some of my first formal meditation instruction I was taught the metta bhavana at the FWBO's Glasgow Buddhist Centre and I found that it could be particularly energising. Such a practise is traditionally in successively more difficult stages, one popular version (which the FWBO taught me) is as follows:
[saying of the Buddha Gotama]
Karuna is kindness that is borne out of compassion at the sorrowful plight of others. It manifests in acts of charity that are aimed at relieving the suffering, both on a physical level and on a spiritual level. The Christian Gospels relate many instances of the works and teachings of Jesus that are full of karuna - healings at many different levels and the story of the Good Samaritan. The Buddha Gotama faced many a disagreeable mug and tried to help them all. As the result of his karuna, there were many dramatic turnarounds in character: one of the most remarkable was Angulimala, who had become a murderer, but on encountering the Buddha, was persuaded to reform, and in due course was accepted into the Noble Order of Bhikkhus (see the Angulimala Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya).
On a collective level, karuna manifests in compassion and action for human rights, though in such cases the need for the next two brahmaviharas becomes especially important.
As an indication of how difficult this practice can be, consider any sports team that you have supported or currently support with some vigour. Now consider a rival team competing with 'your' team and winning! How much can you rejoice in the other team's victory?!
The cultivation of mudita overcomes a false dualistic view that separates "them" from "us" in any context - sporting, economic, religious etc .. Hence East can rejoice in West and West in
East; followers of various religions can extol the virtues of other religions, and in this way happy and peaceful re-associations can be fostered. I saw a nice gesture of Inter-Faith
mudita in the May '96 edition of 'The Middle Way', the quarterly publication of the UK Buddhist Society: Cardinal Arinze wrote a letter with warm wishes to Buddhists celebrating Vesakh
(commemorating the birth, Enlightenment and passing away of Buddha Gotama).
Basing action in upekkha means that acts of loving compassion, kindness and sympathetic joy are appropriate for the situation. To be able to act with this basis requires tremendous
strength in the face of ever-changing tides. One may experience a see-saw of responses that vary from consternation to oodles of praise. In the face of all this, one must remain
internally unmoved like a rock - just as the great heroes keep very cool and calm in crisis situations.
Links related to the Brahmaviharas
An Anecdote of Sayagyi U Ba Khin - Metta Bhavana and Vegetarianism concerns the question of whether not being a vegetarian can be consistent with the practice of metta bhavana. This was a fine speech, well grounded in references to suttas, that was given as a spontaneous response to the issue that was raised during a talk given by a Pali scholar visiting Burma in the 1950's. This was kindly made available by the Sayagyi U Ba Khin Memorial Trust, in the UK. However, the page is no longer available, so I've only pointed to an archived version.
NoteThis article was originally one of a series of contributions I made as a 'Buddhist Guide' for the Mining Company.
- Paul Trafford