Have you found it difficult to cultivate compassion even though you meditate daily?

You may be keeping a regular mindfulness practice, and although you find you are more present with others, you may find that you are not more compassionate. Both wisdom and compassion are required for enlightenment. How does one cultivate these qualities? For this blog I am going to focus on the four qualities known as the brahma viharas.

The Buddha speaks of the brahma viharas (AKA the four immeasurables) in the Karaṇīyamettā Sutta. They are:

  • mettā (Sanskrit: maitrī), usually translated as loving-kindness,
  • karuna (Sanskrit: karuna), usually translated as compassion,
  • mudita (Sanskrit: mudita), usually translated as sympathetic joy and
  • upekkhā (Sanskrit: upekṣā), usually translated as equanimity.

Loving-kindness and sympathetic joy need some explanation as they are unusual constructions in the English language. Loving-kindness is defined in English as a love typified by acts of kindness. In the above mentioned sutra, the Buddha, likened it to a mother’s loving wish to protect her child. It is expressed as the wish that all beings be safe and happy. Sympathetic joy is finding joy in the good fortune of others.

There are specific meditations for cultivating these qualities. One meditation for the cultivation of compassion comes from Tibetan Buddhism and is called tonglen. Here are instructions for the practice of tonglen: Tonglen There is also the karuna bhavana: Karuna Bhavana In this context, the word bhavana means cultivation. Karuna bhavana literally means compassion cultivation.

The practice for cultivating loving-kindness is called metta bhavana. Here are instructions for the practice of metta bhavana: Metta Bhavana

The practice for cultivating sympathetic joy is the mudita bhavana. Here is a video of a guided version of the mudita bhavana: Mudita Bhavana

The practice for cultivating sympathetic joy is the mudita bhavana. Here is audio for a guided version of the upekkha bhavana: Upekkha Bhavana

These can help with your other meditation practices. As you cultivate these qualities you can bring them into a practice like mindfulness.

No discussion of the brahma viharas is complete without mentioning the near enemies and the far enemies of each one. The far enemy is straight forward. It is the opposite of the brahma vihara. The near enemies are particularly tricky as they are often mistaken for the brahma vihara. This is where a teacher is useful. She or he will recognize this and point it out.

Lovingkindness (metta): Near enemy – attachment; far enemy – hatred

Compassion (karuna): Near enemy – pity; far enemy – cruelty

Sympathetic joy (mudita): Near enemy – exuberance; far enemy – envy

Equanimity (upekkha): Near enemy – indifference; far enemy – restlessness

These can help with your other meditation practices. As you cultivate these qualities you can bring them into your mindfulness practice.

©2016 Stephen L. Martin

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