Practicing the Four Immeasurables

“The teachings on love given by the Buddha… love, compassion, joy, and equanimity, are the very nature of an enlightened person. They are the four aspects of true love within ourselves and within everyone and everything.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

In 2017 Open Circle explored The Four Immeasurables: loving-kindness (“metta” in Pali), compassion, joy (often referred to as “sympathetic joy”) and equanimity, using Sharon Salzberg’s book Loving Kindness- The Revolutionary Art of Happiness as our primary text.   Our study and practice had as its aim the cultivation of these qualities within each of us, learning to express them directly and purposefully in our relationship with ourselves and with other beings in the world.

From that Open Circle activity:

Other resources you may find useful include:

  • The Four Immeasurables- Practices to Open the Heart by B. Alan Wallace
  • Teachings on Love by Thich Nhat Hanh
  • The chapter on The Four Immeasurable Minds in The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, also by Thich Nhat Hanh

There are many versions of The Metta Sutta, the Buddha’s discourse on metta.  The one I resonate with the most is on this website here: It is very similar to the version at the beginning of Sharon Salzberg’s book Loving Kindness. If you are interested, you can use this link for 18 different translations of the Metta Sutta:

These are suggestions from concerning using the Four Immeasurables in your daily life:

  1. LOVING-KINDNESS is a sincere desire for everyone, without exception, to be happy.  At different points during the day, keep it simple and silently say “May you be happy” to random people you see on the street, at work, on the subway. If you can’t muster up an intention for happiness towards people you don’t know, try it with first with yourself (“May I be happy”) or just repeatedly send a wish for happiness towards someone in your life you find it easy to do this for.
  2. COMPASSION is a wish that other people be free from suffering. Some times this one requires an ability and willingness to read between the lines a bit. Often it is easy to notice who is in some kind of pain but usually we overlook those people who might be suffering just as much–like an irate boss or coworker or the person in the subway who’s being so bloody aggressive. So throughout the day, instead of trying to judge and fix and fight back, recognize that most people are experiencing some degree of pain or discomfort in their lives, just as you are. Focus on one or more people each day that you come across and offer them an intention like “May you be free from suffering and whatever is causing it.”
  3. SYMPATHETIC JOY refers to the ability to have a genuine sense of appreciation for someone else’s happiness or good fortune.  It’s helpful to consider that there isn’t a finite amount of happiness in this world that some people hoard and other people miss out on. Happiness is something attainable by all of us. So practice cultivating a sense of sympathetic joy when you see someone who you normally might inspire a feeling of envy. You won’t necessarily make the envy disappear completely or all that quickly, but you can transform it into an understanding that someone else’s experience of great fortune or contentment demonstrates that you can experience those positive things as well. Don’t get caught up in the circumstances and stuff around that person’s happiness (like their money or a job or status) but instead focus on the happiness itself. It isn’t stuff that we want, it’s the good feeling that the stuff brings about within us.
  4. EQUANIMITY is an ability to recognize and experience all things and all beings as equal. Throughout the day consider people with whom you have strong disagreements with and think of how they might have been at the moment of their birth and how they might be at the moment when they will die one day. The time in between goes by in a flash. Birth and death are the great equalizers that we are all subject to. Also, observe each emotion you experience throughout the day and practice with noticing it’s qualities in a neutral kind of way rather than judging it as good or bad. Don’t get caught up in trying to attain more pleasure or in pushing away more pain, just let the day unfold as it does and notice how things are always changing, changing, changing. The sky doesn’t bitch and moan with every passing cloud or storm–it simply hangs out and takes pleasure in being the sky.

May all beings experience loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity!

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