Being and the Brahma-viharas

When the mind is not caught in grasping, it dwells in the Four Heavenly Abodes. Read the following article and listen to the suggested audio dharma talks, and then deepen your understanding of the teachings by contemplating the reflections provided In this guide.


For Your Reflection:

1. Start to notice whenever your mind is in a “friendly” state toward others. Each time you notice the presence of this feeling of “loving-kindness,” start to cultivate it by spreading it to specific people and groups of people. Many things can inspire loving-kindness, such as being in nature, receiving help from another, performing acts of service, feeling gratitude, and even just being in a good mood. Once you have confidence in recognizing loving-kindness in yourself, start to formally practice it in your meditation. And when you’re walking down the street, select someone who’s a stranger and start sending them loving-kindness. Like a muscle, loving-kindness gets stronger with practice.

2. Begin to explore your relationship to compassion. Are you able to have compassion for others but not yourself, or vice versa? Or are there some people whom you feel compassion for but not others? See if you can hold yourself accountable for your unskillful actions but still have compassion for your mistakes, forgetfulness, acts of selfishness, and any suffering they create. Can you do this for others? The truly compassionate heart does not pick and choose. It sees suffering, and as the Buddha said, it quivers in response.

3. For most people sympathetic joy is often the most underdeveloped of the four brahma-viharas. However, when you can experience sympathetic joy, your happiness has a thousand sources rather than just your own single point of happiness. Be alert to how you respond to the happiness of others. Is there envy or resentment? Or do you have a feeling not having enough? Notice the suffering that arises when such emotions are present, and then look for any degree of happiness you feel in the presence of another’s well-being. Sympathetic joy grows slowly, but it does grow.

4. You may not be distinguishing between calm and equanimity in your practice. It’s skillful to be calm in your practice, and you certainly want to cultivate the ability to be calm. However, equanimity is a steady quality of the mind that can receive any experience without being overcome by it, even such emotions as anger, anxiety, or fear. It is through equanimity that you are able stay with and examine difficult mind states and learn to release them. Throughout your day be aware of how much equanimity you have and invite more equanimity to arise. Then when you first sit down to meditate, notice how much equanimity is present and at various points during your sitting invite more equanimity to arise.

5. All four of the brahma-viharas affect each other such that when you cultivate one you are gaining strength in the others. It’s more than likely though that you are not balanced among the four and one or two need more cultivation. It is important that you overcome your mind’s resistance to working with the ones that are most difficult for you. Please be modest in your ambition. Be patient with yourself. Be willing to start with how things are. In this attitude you will find all the brahma-viharas.

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