wants to be happy, but happiness cannot be achieved in isolation.
The happiness of one depends upon the happiness of all and the
happiness of all depends upon the happiness of one. This is
because all life is interdependent. In order to be happy, one
needs to cultivate wholesome attitudes towards others in society
and towards all sentient beings.
best way of cultivating wholesome attitudes towards all sentient
beings is through meditation. Among the many topics of meditation
taught by the Buddha, there are four specifically concerned
with the cultivation of loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative
joy and equanimity. These four are called the Four Immeasurables
because they are directed to an immeasurable number of sentient
beings, and because the wholesome karma produced through practising
them is immeasurable. The four are also called the sublime states
of mind because they are like the extraordinary states of mind
of the gods.
the wholesome attitudes of loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative
joy and equanimity, people can gradually remove ill will, cruelty,
jealousy and desire. In this way, they can achieve happiness
for themselves and others, now and in the future. The benefit
in the future may come through rebirth in the fortunate realms.
the first immeasurable, is the wish that all sentient beings,
without any exception, be happy. Loving-kindness counters ill
will. The attitude of loving-kindness is like the feeling which
a mother has for her newborn son. She wishes that he may enjoy
good health, have good friends, be intelligent and successful
in all that he attempts. In short, she wishes sincerely that
he be happy. One may have the same attitude of loving-kindness
for a particular friend or for others in one's class, community
or nation. In all these cases, one wishes that the person or
persons concerned enjoy happiness.
of loving-kindness in the instances mentioned above is limited
to those for whom one has some attachment or concern. The meditation
on loving-kindness, however, requires one to extend loving-kindness
not only towards those whom one feels close to, but also to
others whom one may know only slightly or not know at all. Finally,
one's loving-kindness is extended to all sentient beings in
all the realms of existence. Then only does the ordinary wholesome
attitude of loving-kindness found in daily life reach the state
of the sublime or the immeasurable.
the second of the immeasurables, is the wish for all sentient
beings to be free from suffering. It counters cruelty. People
can observe the natural attitude of compassion in the world
around them. When a mother, for example, sees her son seriously
ill, she will naturally be moved by compassion and earnestly
wishes that he may be free from the suffering of his sickness.
In the same way, most people have experienced the feeling of
compassion upon seeing the suffering of a relative, a schoolmate
or even a pet. All these are examples of the ordinary feeling
of compassion. To become a sublime state of mind, compassion
has to reach beyond the limited group of individuals or beings
whom one loves or cares for. Compassion has to be extended to
all sentient beings in all the realms of existence before it
becomes an immeasurable.
immeasurable is appreciative joy. It is the wholesome attitude
of rejoicing in the happiness and virtues of all sentient beings.
It counters jealousy and makes people less self-centred.
their daily lives may experience appreciative joy. It is like
a mother's joy at her son's success and happiness in life. In
the same way, almost everyone will have at one time or another
experienced the feeling of joy at the good fortune of a friend.
These are the commonly experienced forms of appreciative joy.
When one meditates on appreciative joy and extends it to all
sentient beings and not just to loved ones only, one then experiences
appreciative joy as a sublime state of mind and as an immeasurable.
the last of the four immeasurables, is the attitude of regarding
all sentient beings as equals, irrespective of their present
relationship to oneself. The wholesome attitude of equanimity
counters clinging and aversion.
can be experienced in common forms in daily life. When a grown-up
son settles down with his own family, he begins to lead an independent
life with responsibilities of his own. Although his mother still
has her feelings of loving-kindness, compassion and appreciative
joy towards him, they are now combined with a new feeling of
equanimity. She recognises his new independent and responsible
position in life and does not cling to him.
a sublime state of mind, however, the attitude of equanimity
has to be extended to all sentient beings. In order to do this,
one needs to remember that one's particular relationships with
one's relatives, friends and even enemies, are the result of
previous karma. Thus one should not cling to relatives and friends
while regarding others with indifference or hatred. Moreover,
one's relatives and friends in this life may have been one's
enemies in a past life and may again become enemies in the future,
while one's enemies in this life may well have been one's relatives
and friends in the past, and may again become one's relatives
and friends in the future.
on the Four Immeasurables
methods have been taught for practising the meditation on the
Four Immeasurables. They are designed to help one extend systematically,
the wholesome attitudes of loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative
joy and equanimity to all sentient beings by beginning where
it is easiest to develop them. To practise the meditation on
loving-kindness, one should begin with oneself. One should cultivate
the wish to be happy. Gradually, this practice will enable one
to eliminate unwholesome attitudes and actions that produce
unhappiness in one's life. When one has developed a feeling
of loving-kindness towards oneself, one should go on to develop
it towards a close relative or friend. When this is accomplished,
one can move on to the more difficult task of developing loving-kindness
towards strangers and even enemies. One then extends this attitude
to all members of one's community and nation and finally to
all sentient beings in all the realms of existence.
compassion, one may begin with an individual whose suffering
naturally arouses a feeling of compassion. Once compassion has
been aroused in this way, one can go on to develop it step by
step towards relatives, friends, strangers and even enemies.
Finally, like loving-kindness, compassion can be extended to
all sentient beings without exception. When cultivating appreciative
joy, one begins with a fortunate friend. Thereafter, one can
extend one's attitude of appreciative joy to relatives, strangers,
enemies and then to all sentient beings. In cultivating equanimity,
however, one is advised to begin with a stranger because one
is naturally free from strong feelings of clinging or aversion
to him. Then, having aroused the wholesome attitude of equanimity,
one can extend it to relatives, friends, enemies and all sentient
wholesome social attitudes through practising the meditation
on the Four Immeasurables will bring about a change in one's
personal and social life. To the extent that one can free oneself
of ill will, cruelty, jealousy and desire, one will experience
greater happiness with regard to oneself and in one's relations
with others. One will find that at home, at school and at play,
one can experience a new sense of harmony with all. Later, these
wholesome attitudes will help one to relate successfully to
others both in one's career and in one's social life. Even after
this life, the wholesome karma gained by cultivating the Four
Immeasurables will lead one to rebirth in more fortunate circumstances.
is interdependent. Therefore the happiness of one individual
depends upon that of others. The Buddha taught the Four Immeasurables
- loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity
- in order to remove ill will, cruelty, jealousy, clinging and
the Four Immeasurables are extended to all sentient beings.
Through cultivating the Four Immeasurables, people can achieve
happiness now and in the future.