The four divine abodes (brahma-viharas in Pali) are the Buddha’s foundational teachings – the ones that connect most directly with our intention of liberation. Referred to as divine because they encompass immaculate and Godlike qualities.
- Metta: loving-Kindness, goodwill
- Karuna: compassion
- Mudita: sympathetic, altruistic joy
- Upekkha: equanimity
While these four seemingly simple instructions may seem to be the culmination of a lifetime of practice, I see them more as a daily devotional that begins with each breath.
Loving-kindness and goodwill of course must begin with ourself. Indeed, this is the fertile soil that we cultivate to grow our practice. The richer the soil, the greater the crop. And the naturally occurring outgrowth of this becomes compassion. Compassion toward the self and all other beings.
And as the sprouting of compassion matures, the joy of a fertile crop becomes clear and visible.
Lastly, is to understand the place that equanimity fills in this process.
As Gil Fronsdal put it so succinctly:
“Equanimity is one of the most sublime emotions of Buddhist practice. It is the ground for wisdom and freedom and the protector of compassion and love. While some may think of equanimity as dry neutrality or cool aloofness, mature equanimity produces a radiance and warmth of being. The Buddha described a mind filled with equanimity as “abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill-will.”
And it is in this sublime state that I find I have the most to learn and absorb.
Equanimity means that we can embody all the other sublime states without having aversion, clinging or desire. To simply be where we are and accept other beings with unconditional love and non-judgement. There is no place for our own personal stories, likes and dislikes. No dogmas, colors or walls between us. And only speaking for myself, and from personal experience, I find this to be the one state that is the most gradual to mature. This is perhaps some of what the Buddha was talking about when he suggests that we have a well-guarded mind. Seeing that if we are not awake, we will not observe how these thoughts so quickly arise and give root to our own suffering and displeasure.
Like a poison being sprayed on your crop, the other three abodes can quickly wither and die without upekkha. And in seeing this, I can begin to understand why equanimity is so important in my daily practice, and a critical foundation toward understanding this life and the cessation of suffering.
So while many of you, like me, begin each day with loving-kindness meditation, my encouragement to you is to also bring these four intentions off the cushion with you. Buddhism is indeed not a practice by the numbers, but one to be walked until there is only the path.
May you be at peace with yourself and others, may you be free of suffering and the causes of suffering.