Metta and the Other Brahma Viharas
Metta is one of the Four Brahma Viharas. Brahma in this case has been translated as divine or noble. The word – as qualified in the path of purification – is meant in the sense of best and immaculate. This is because being best and immaculate is the best attitude towards beings and those who practise it have immaculate minds like those of the Brahma gods.
Vihara means abiding and living. And so those who practise these are said to be abiding or living in the divine or noble way.
The Four Brahma
These four are attitudes towards other beings. They are also favourable relationships. They can also be extended towards an immeasurable scope of beings and so are called immeasurables.
In a way the first three are different shades of each other. Compassion (karuna) and sympathetic joy (mudita) can overlap with Metta but not with each other. Compassion sees into the suffering of beings while sympathetic joy sees into their happiness. Metta can be applied to both situations. Equanimity however differs in the sense of being a detached (yet with understanding) state. The cultivation of the first 3 into absorptions has been described as similar and is attainable to the 4 lower rupa jhanas, while equanimity enters only in the 5th. Hence the other three have to be cultivated before the absorption of equanimity can be reached.
Karuna Bhavana is the
cultivation of compassion. In the cultivation it can be brought into
concentration and absorption just like Metta Bhavana. The benefits of the
practice are similar to the 11 benefits described for Metta Bhavana.
Whilst Metta must not be mistaken for attachment, Karuna must be distinguished from sadness or grief. The thing that makes us sure is a strong and firm mindfulness that keeps the quaking mind strong and determined. So here we will find a heavier yet stronger emotion. And to balance it and make it lighter, we ought to remember to nurture softer and lighter tones of mental states while we are developing the concentration of Karuna.
The direct enemy of
Metta is anger, and that of Karuna is cruelty and so the ways of removing
it are similar to that for removing anger.
1. contemplation of
dangers of anger or cruelty
The object of compassion is a suffering being and so we have to see the suffering of a being.
For a start, it should not be anyone too close which could cause grief. It should not be a hostile one that we could even be glad about it! The opposite sex and the dead are also not suitable. We are advised not to consider whether the person is dear, neutral or hostile. Instead we ought to choose one who we can clearly see as suffering.
Suffering can be in three ways.
In a way we have to
know exactly how the person feels. Sometimes we may even have to think
hard and be with him and listen to him often to know him better.
However traditionally the aspiration is dukkha pamuccantu – may he be free from suffering. It is clear that the degree and quality of compassion comes with the degree of understanding of what suffering is.
Sometimes I have tried to extend this one wish to more than one to overcome monotony.
Samsaric suffering also includes sufferings in woeful states like hell.
Once I even
However I strongly believe that any ventures outside traditional methods that have been time-tested should be exercised with discretion and care.
When compassion and strong concentration have reached their depth and power, one would be able as in Metta Bhavana to enter into the first absorption. The attainments of its mastery as well as other higher absorptions are also similar to Metta Bhavana in approach. Then one may radiate Metta to the dear person, neutral person, unpleasant person and then hostile person in succession. Finally one can also proceed on to the specified and unspecified pervasion of Karuna in the 10 directions.
1. Sabbe satta
3. Sabbe bhuta
4. Sabbe puggala
5. Sabbe attabhava
pariyapanna dukkha pamuccantu
6. Sabbe itthiyo
7. Sabbe purisa
8. Sabbe deva
9. Sabbe manussa
vinipatika dukkha pamuccantu
In the Westerly
In the Northerly
In the Southerly
In the South-Easterly
In the North-Westerly
In the North-Easterly
In the South-Westerly
In the Below direction
In the Above direction
Repeat 10 directions for all living things, all creatures, all individuals, all personalities, all female kinds, all male kinds, all nobles, all common folk, all deities, all humans and all unhappy states. All these total 132 aspirations (12+120 = 132).
Karuna in daily life involves welfare work – ranging from old folks to spastic children, and kindness to animals to transference of merits to unhappy spirits (petas). It would be most applicable in hospitals and welfare services, where there are suffering beings. Sasana work which involves spiritual education and helps to relieve daily sufferings and samsaric sufferings also needs compassion. Even in educational institutions like schools compassion is applicable. However compared to Metta it may not be so widely applicable because one may not see any obvious suffering and people too don't like to be seen as suffering either.
Therefore it does not arise as often in daily life though it may arise easier when the situation is present.
For Bodhisattas of aspiring Buddhas, it becomes the motivating force for supreme enlightenment. In such a case one has to develop the great compassion – maha karuna – through deep reflection of the beings suffering in samsara.
Mudita means sympathetic joy or rejoicing at others' happiness and prosperity. It is the opposite of jealousy or envy, and therefore it is suitable for one wishing to overcome it.
The object and near cause of sympathetic joy is the prospering or happy being. So one who wishes to develop mudita should select such a person who is doing well spiritually and materially. Preference will of course be given to spiritual happiness as it is a more true and lasting type. Material gains may include good wealth, good health or good looks and so on.
Usually it is not easy for this state of mind to arise, especially when one sees another doing better than oneself. It is often easier to feel indifferent or even jealous! For a lot of people it has to be cultivated. So for a start one is advised to do it to a very intimate person. One is more likely to rejoice in his happiness owing to the closeness. Anyone lesser may be more difficult. The opposite sex and the dead are also not suitable for the beginner for the very same reasons as given in the section on Metta.
One can arouse the Mudita for the very close person by feeling how happy and prosperous he is. When one sees one's very good friend happy, one rejoices as well. Then one urges more of such states to arise, develop them and be concentrated.
One makes use of the wish:
1. May he not cease
from having whatever material gains acquired.
We may also extend it in the more positive sense:
1. May he continue to
have whatever material gains acquired and may he gain even more.
In another suggestion, an author gives the aspiration with reference to the 4 favourable worldly conditions, i.e.
1. gains or
Hence it will be as
A more positive translation of the above may also be rendered as the following:
1. May he continue to
have whatever gains he has acquired.
As one radiates mudita to the close companion one will eventually also deepen in concentration to arrive at the 1st absorption. Then one can follow up to reach the 4th absorption but stop short of the 5th in the same way as in Metta Bhavana. Then one can do the same to the dear person, neutral person, disagreeable person and the hostile person. Finally one arrives at the specified pervasion, unspecified pervasion and the 10 directional Mudita.
One cannot help but notice the fact that Mudita is a lighter emotion than the previous two. In fact it is like a high pitch or fine clouds that lift one up high and quickly.
As such it may not be so clear at the start and would require a lot of exertion. One has to be patient or else frustration may set in. When aroused plentifully one can notice its distinct feeling, usually described as more blissful compared to the previous two. It can be so blissful that one feels almost sour in the bones and high in the head.
In mudita one should be careful that one does not fall into joyful attachment to and satisfaction with worldly things. One has to remember one's mindfulness and keep the mind in control and detached. Otherwise it is very easy to fall prey to such attachments. Keeping the wishes more to spiritual happiness is playing safe.
Envy on the other hand is its direct enemy. One has to make sure it does not arise to obstruct development of mudita. One should then reflect on the demerits of envy if it should arise. Its demerits can be similar to that of anger but special reference can be made with regards to lack of friends, attendants and helpers because one regards anyone who can do better than oneself as one's own enemy.
Mudita in 10
One then applies it to all the other 11 classes of beings. After that one continues with 10 directions for each class:
1. In the Easterly
direction may all beings not cease from having whatever gains
Comparatively, the occurrence of Mudita in daily life is even less common. One condition is that one has to be among people who are doing well spiritually or materially. It is not easy to be good in both. Moreover one needs to be very good natured, with closeness to many, and unselfish to have spontaneous and easy mudita. When we meet such people we see them so uplifted that they seem to be floating.
It is therefore advisable to frequent places where there are good people around or where meritorious actions are done or virtues practised. They serve as a source of inspiration as well as rejoicing. For example when we hear of or see someone doing charity no matter how small the sum we ought to rejoice fully instead of commenting that he could have given more.
When we see someone meditating strenuously we rejoice at his diligence. When people come to listen to dhamma talks we rejoice at their interest. Rejoicing helps us to see even the least significant of anyone's good qualities.
At home we can rejoice
as long as anyone is happy. Even when we ask "How did you sleep last
night?" and when we find that he slept well, we can rejoice at that.
Rejoicing adds happiness upon happiness until it becomes really
The fourth divine abiding is equanimity which is a balanced and even state of mind that arises on seeing that all beings will reap the results of their good and bad actions.
Therefore for more
effective practice, one would need to study and understand what
Kamma is, and how these actions can bring about their results.
In the practice of Upekkha Bhavana one first selects the neutral person. Bearing him in mind one reflects that he is the owner of his own Kamma. The understanding factor will play an important part e.g. in the beginning because it is very easy to be caught by its close enemy – mere dullness, indifference, where one may just be reciting mentally "all beings have Kamma as true property" like a parrot. When one does so with understanding, the even state of mind with regard to the person arises.
Traditionally the words used are:
Kammassaka hotu – He is the owner of his own Kamma.
One repeats this to continue the state of equanimity. Whilst doing so the concentration will develop. When the mind does so sufficiently it will enter into absorption.
However equanimity meditation enters only into the 5th form absorption owing to its indifferent feeling and so on. Hence it is possible only when the other three divine abidings have been mastered.
If one has not, one will at most reach access concentration. Nevertheless it can also help us balance our minds in our daily lives.
To bring the mind over to equanimity from the other divine abidings one has to reflect on the peacefulness and quietness of equanimity first as it will serve as a motivation to detach oneself from the joyful states and then move higher to the more peaceful 5th absorption.
Equanimity has always been thought of as being cold and unfeeling and so many people turn away from it. In actuality it is a very nice state – peaceful, subtle, soft and so on. All the other pure and beautiful mental factors such as lightness, softness, quietness, flexibility, and rectitude become very obvious. So too with faith, detachment, acceptance and so on. If one can think of it as such, one will want to have such a state of mind more often. With such a balanced state one can definitely carry out one's work more efficiently.
When one has done so successfully with the neutral person, one can proceed to the dear one and the rest in the same way. After that it will also be done on specified, unspecified and directional pervasion.
As we can see, the Four Divine Abidings are different attitudes towards beings, and although each is different with its own unique characteristics, they are also very good attitudes and strike blameless, favourable or balanced relationships with others. They can bring much peace and happiness in the troubled world we live in, which are torn by ignorance, pride, jealousy, stinginess, suspicions, greed, anger and so on.
Once the Deva king
Sakka asked the Buddha, "Why do beings who wish to be free from anger and
ill-will, who do not want to quarrel and be ill-treated, who pray for
happiness, peace and freedom, are yet not free from danger and
One who is envious is one who wants to be happier than another but cannot. People like that also cannot stand others who are happier than themselves. Miserliness also does not want another to have a share in one's happiness and does not want another to be as happy as oneself. The result is a lot of fighting and quarrelling. These have their roots in anger and anger stems from greed and ignorance.
The Four Divine Abidings are the immediate answer to ease such conflicts.
The Dhammapada says
When we see the different elements of brahma vihara we can say that although they are all good attitudes, one of them may be more suitably applied to a certain situation. If we are clear as to which one we can call up strongly so that the state fits well in the situation, we get to do what we wish for effectively.
For example, when
there is jealousy around, we produce a lot of sympathetic joy. This should
give a good example to offset this negative tendency prevailing.
Conquer anger by
The same would be most applicable if such defilements do arise within ourselves. One important point here is that to overcome stronger anger one will need stronger love and so too between jealousy and sympathy, stinginess and liberality, cruelty and compassion. If one is unable to, one may need to resort to strong equanimity or detachment and understanding.
In another sutta one is advised that when one meets with a really hostile person and Metta does not work, one resorts to compassion. If that too fails, one is advised to have equanimity.
Another application of
combinations arises within one's meditation itself.
Then we can try switching likewise with different types of individuals, specified and unspecified pervasion and directional. And with each aspiration one may choose to enter a certain type of chosen divine abiding and absorption. Such skill in mind control needs training but definitely it brings much happiness and peace to oneself.
Such a practice brings strong positive emotions at anytime whenever we wish for them and also gives us the flexibility of mind and relationships. Truly, people can change, and can change very quickly. If we do not adapt we can become very hurt or shocked.
A question may be asked:
Can we change all
around like this when we have not attained any absorption?
Often, people do recite the aspirations concerning the Four Divine Abidings, one following another.