Friday, February 13, 2009

Brahma Vihara Bhavana

How To Practise The Development Of The Sublime States
(Brahma-Vihara Bhavana)

Sayar U Chit Tin

There are four sterling virtues which are collectively termed in Pali
as Brahma-Vihara: Sublime States, Modes of Sublime Conduct or Divine
Abodes. They are also called the four Boundless States, Illimitable

I) _Loving-kindness_: Metta, the first Sublime State;

II) _Compassion_: Karuna, the second virtue that is sublime for man;

III) _Sympathetic or Appreciative Joy_: Mudita, the third sublime

IV) _Equanimity_: Upekkha, the fourth sublime virtue, the most
difficult and the most essential.

The development of these Sublime States (Brahmavihara-bhavana) generally
found in the Sutta is as follows: "There, O monks, the monk with a mind
full of Loving-kindness pervading first one direction, then a second, then
a third one, then the fourth one, just so above, below and all around; and
everywhere identifying himself with all, he is pervading the whole world
with mind full of loving-kindness, with mind wide, developed unbounded,
free from hate and illwill." Hereafter follows the same theme with
Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, and Equanimity.

How To Practise Metta-Bhavana

It is recommended in the Visuddhimagga, the Path of Purification,
that one should go to some quiet place where one could sit in a
comfortable position. Then one should consider the dangers in hate first
and the benefits offered by forbearance. The purpose of this meditation is
to displace hate by forbearance. Then again one cannot avoid dangers one
has not come to see or cultivate benefits one does not yet know.

There are also certain types of individuals towards whom one should
not develop loving-kindness in the first stages. To regard a disliked
person as dear to one is fatiguing, to regard a dearly-loved one with
neutrality is difficult, and if the slightest mischance befalls the
friend, one feels like weeping. When an enemy is recalled anger springs
up, and to put a neutral person in a respected one's or a dear one's place
is fatiguing. Then if it is directed towards the opposite sex one may
arouse lust. Again one should not develop loving-kindness towards a dead
person for one will neither reach absorption nor access, that is to say,
his loving-kindness will make no headway at all. Now at the start it
should be developed only towards oneself, repeatedly saying: 'May I be
happy and free from suffering'; 'May I keep myself free from enmity,
trouble and live happily.'

Cultivating the thought: 'May I be happy' with oneself as example,
then one begins to be interested in the welfare and happiness of others,
and also to feel in some sense their happiness as if it were one's own:
'Just as I want to live happily and not die, so do others.' So in this way
one should first become familiar with pervading oneself with loving-
kindness to serve as an example. Next, one should choose someone who is
liked, admired and much respected; with the thought: 'May he be happy' and
remembering his virtues.

When in this way one becomes familiar, one can begin to practise
loving-kindness towards a dear one, then towards a neutral person as very
dear, and then towards a foe as neutral.

Care should be taken when dealing with an enemy for anger can arise,
and all means must be tried in order to get rid of it. When this is
successful, one will be able to regard a foe without resentment and with
loving-kindness in the very same way as one does the admired person, the
dearly loved one, and the neutral person.

Loving-kindness can now be effectively maintained in being towards
all beings or to certain groups at a time, or in one direction at a time
towards all beings, or to certain groups in succession.

When one can maintain this loving-kindness, made much of it, use it
as a vehicle, use it for a foundation, be established in it, keep it
consolidated and properly managed, one can expect 11 blessings: 'A man
sleeps in peace and comfort, he walks in peace and comfort, he dreams no
evil dreams, he is dear to human beings, he is dear to non-human beings,
the gods guard him, no fire or poison or weapon harms him, his mind can be
quickly concentrated, the expression of his face is serene, he dies
without falling into confusion, and even if he fails to penetrate any
further he will pass on to the world of High Divinity, to the Brahma

This is from the Anguttara Nikaya Ekadassa Nipata, Metta Sutta
(Gradual Sayings).

Karuna Bhavana: Development of Compassion

For the development of compassion one should begin with the task by
reviewing the danger of not having compassion and the advantage of
possessing it. Like Metta (loving-kindness) Karuna (compassion) should not
be directed at first towards a person who is neutral, antipathetic or
hostile, towards a member of the opposite sex or someone who is dead. It
is stated in the Vibhanga, "How does one dwell pervading one direction
with his heart endued with compassion? Just as one would feel compassion
on seeing an unlucky, unfortunate person, so one pervades all beings with

Right at the start, the meditation of compassion should be developed
on seeing a wretched person, unlucky, unfortunate, in every way a fit
object for compassion, unsightly, reduced to utter misery, compassion
should be felt for this person in this way: 'This person has indeed been
reduced to misery; if only he could be freed from this suffering.' If one
cannot encounter such a wretched person, then one can arouse compassion
for an evil doer: "Suppose a criminal is under orders of execution by the
ruler, the executors bund him and lead him off to the place of execution,
flogging him a hundred times. Then the passers-by give him things to eat
and he goes along eating and enjoying these things, still no one will
think that he is really happy. Everyone will feel compassion for him,
thinking: 'This wretched person is going to die soon; every step leads him
nearer to the presence of death.'" So in this way one should arouse
compassion for an evil doer.

After arousing compassion for an unfortunate, wretched and unlucky
person in that way, one should next arouse compassion for a dear one, then
a neutral person and next a hostile person, in the same way. Care should
be taken with regard to an enemy and if resentment arises one must try by
all means to get rid of it in the same way used with loving-kindness.

At one time the Buddha set a very noble example by attending on the
sick Himself and also exhorting His disciples with these words:

"He who ministers unto the sick ministers unto me."

The Buddha showed great compassion towards the courtesan Ambapali,
and also towards Angulimala, the murderer, both were converted and
underwent a complete reformation in character.

Mudita Bhavana: Development Of Sympathetic Or Appreciative Joy

The development of Sympathetic or Appreciative Joy or Gladness should
start with the very dear companion -- one who in the Commentaries is
called a 'boon companion'; for he is always glad; he laughs first and
speaks afterwards. In the Vibhanga it is referred to in this way: 'How
does a meditator dwell pervading one direction with his heart endued with
sympathetic gladness? Just as one would be glad on seeing a very dear and
beloved person, so one pervades all beings with sypathetic gladness.'

Even if someone who is dear to us is unlucky and unfortunate now
Sympathetic gladness can still be aroused by remembering his happiness of
the past in this way: 'In the past he possessed great wealth and a great
following and he was always happy.' Again gladness or appreciative joy can
be aroused by apprehending the future glad aspect in the dear person in
this way: 'In the future this dear person will again enjoy similar success
with gold and silver going about in gold palanquins with great followers
and so on.'

After having aroused altruistic joy and gladness with respect to the
dear one one can then direct it successively towards a neutral one and
then towards a foe. But if one arouses resentment when dealing with a foe,
one should make it subside in the same way as described under loving-
kindness. Mudita is not mere gladness but sympathetic joy which tends to
destroy jealousy, its direct enemy. It embraces all prosperous persons and
is the congratulary attitude of a person, and the tendency is to eliminate
any dislike towards successful persons.

Upekkha: Development Of Equanimity

The development of equanimity is the most difficult and the most
essential of the four sublime states. In the Buddhist Dictionary
Nyanatiloka says, "//equanimity//, also called tatra-majjhattata, is an
ethical quality belonging to the sankhara group (khandha) and should
therefore not be confused with //indifferent feeling// (adukkhamasukha
vedana) which is sometimes also called Upekkha (vedana)." It is one of the
four Sublime Abodes and one of the Factors of Enlightenment. It means
//impartially// or //rightly//, one may discern rightly, viweing justly,
or looking impartially, that is to say, without attachment or aversion,
and without favour or disfavour, in the sense of indifference or neutral

Ven. Narada Thera said, "Equanimity is essential, especially for
laymen who have to live in an ill-balanced world amidst fluctuating
circumstances. Slights and insults are the common lot of mankind. The
world is so constituted that the good and the virtuous are very often
subject to unjust criticism and attack. It is heroic to maintain a
balanced mind in such circumstances.

Loss and gain, fame and infamy, praise and blame, pain and happiness
are eight worldly conditions that affect all humanity."

To develop Equanimity one should look on with equanimity at a person
who is normally neutral. Then towards a dear one, a hostile person and the
rest. In the Vibhanga this is said: 'How does a meditator dwell pervading
one direction with his heart endued with equanimity? Just as he would feel
equanimity on seeing a person who was neither beloved nor unloved, so he
pervades all beings with equanimity.'

Through the neutral person one should break down the barriers in each
case between the three individuals, namely: the dear one, the boon
companion, the hostile one, and himself. How to break down the barriers?

Suppose a man is staying together in an abode with a dear, a neutral,
and a hostile person; and robbers come to him and ask for a person because
they wish to cut his throat and use the blood as an offering. If he points
to one of the three, he has not broken down the barriers. Or if he offers
himself too he has not broken down the barriers either. Why?

Because he seeks the harm of himself and seeks the welfare of others.
Only when he does not see a single person among them to be given and he
directs his mind impartially towards himself and towards others has he
broken down the barriers.

In the development of the four Sublime States, Brahma-vihara Bhavana,
one should practise each of these virtues over and over again so that one
accomplishes mental impartiality towards the four persons, namely,
oneself, the dear person, the neutral one and the hostile person.

The Visuddhimagga says, 'Thus the sign and access are obtained by
this person simultaneously with the breaking down of the barriers. But
when breaking down of the barriers has been effected, he reaches

Metta (Loving-kindness) embraces all sentient beings, Karuna
(Compassion) embraces unfortunate beings, Mudita (Gladness) embraces the
happy and prosperous, and Upekkha (Equanimity) embraces the good and the
bad, the loved and the unloved, the pleasant and the unpleasant.

May all beings be happy and liberated!

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