Author Topic: 4 Qualities of Mind that Alleviate Suffering  (Read 7060 times)

sonamdhargey

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4 Qualities of Mind that Alleviate Suffering
« on: April 14, 2013, 04:06:20 PM »
The four sublime mental states are qualities of mind that we cultivate in order to alleviate the suffering we experience in everyday life and to feel more connected to others—and the worries and fears we all share. In the language of the Buddha (Pali), they are called the brahma viharas, which means "the dwelling place of awakened beings." The good news for us unawakened beings is that it's easy to begin cultivating the brahma viharas. Indeed, they are an integral part of other religious, spiritual, and humanistic traditions. I present them here with a distinctly Buddhist "flavor."

Metta. The traditional translation for metta is lovingkindness. Meditation teacher, Sylvia Boorstein, uses the word "friendliness." Some Buddhist scholars say that friendliness (specifically, "boundless friendliness") is a more accurate translation of metta because metta derives from the Pali word mitta which means "friend." Whether you prefer the word lovingkindness or friendliness, the Indian sage Neem Karoli Baba captured the essence of metta when he said: "Don't throw anyone out of your heart." That would, of course, include yourself. It would also include that relative who is a thorn in your side. And it would include that politician whose views you abhor.

I like to think of metta as the simple act of well-wishing. Pick some phrases that resonate with you: may I be peaceful; may you be free from suffering; may all beings be safe and happy. I've started practicing metta as an antidote to judging others. As soon as I catch myself judging another ("he shouldn't eat so much," "she shouldn't watch so much TV"), I immediately begin to say my metta phrases, wishing that the person be happy and free from suffering. Although I think of myself as a non-judgmental person, I'm amazed at how often I find myself engaged in petty judgments. I love the effect that switching to metta has. The judgment dissolves and I feel such a human connection to others because I'm wishing for them what I wish for myself.

Sylvia once said that she practices metta by just looking at a person and silently saying, "I love you." That's her well-wishing phrase! When she told this story, I thought "I can't do that." But I've tried it and I can. I've done it in the car. I've done it in the waiting room at the doctor's office. When I do, I feel genuine love for utter strangers. I see that we share this life with its joys and its sorrows, and we share this planet with its beauty and its troubles. The essence of metta practice is to engage all people regardless of whether we share the same world view. Of course, I have my "edges" (certain politicians), but that's why we practice. Sylvia says the best way to cultivate metta for someone with whom we vehemently disagree is to recognize that all beings, including that person, want to be happy.

Karuna. Karuna means compassion. It's often referred to as the quivering of the heart in response to suffering. As with metta, we cultivate it both for ourselves and for others. Responding with compassion to our own suffering gives rise to compassion for others because, as the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron said, "Sorrow has the exact same taste for all of us." And yet, many of us find it hard to cultivate compassion for ourselves. We're our own harshest critics.

The Vietnamese Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh, helped me learn to cultivate compassion for myself. In Commentaries on the Diamond Sutra, he describes how our body responds naturally—without thinking—to its own pain: "When our left hand is injured, our right hand takes care of it right away. It doesn't stop to say, 'I am taking care of you. You are benefitting from my compassion.'" I fell and broke my ankle a few years ago. Before any thoughts about what happened formed in my mind, just as Thich Nhat Hanh said, my hands had already reached out to care for the pain.

Inspired by his teaching, I consciously cultivate compassion for myself by picking a phrase that speaks directly to whatever the source of my suffering is at the moment: "It's hard to be too sick to go out today," "My sweet body, working so hard to support me." Sometimes I stroke one arm with the hand of the other as I repeat my chosen phrase. And, just as Pema Chodron said, as I've learned to cultivate compassion for myself, my heart has opened to others who are suffering.

Mudita. There's not a one-word translation in English that conveys the meaning of mudita. So, unlike compassion for example, we are not necessarily raised to value mudita. It means to feel joy in the joy of others. When we're dwelling in the heavenly abode of mudita, we feel joy when another person is happy. We may not have a one-word translation in English for mudita, but I'm happy to report that neither do we have a one-word translation for the German word schadenfreude which means feeling joy in the misfortune of others. I wish I could say that I've never felt schadenfreude. I have. But since I began practicing mudita, I've noticed that the slightest movement of my mind in the direction of schadenfreude intensifies my own suffering. I no longer take joy in other people's misfortune.

Just as metta is an antidote for our judgmental tendencies, mudita is the perfect antidote for envy. When I became chronically ill, I could be overcome with envy just hearing about people going about their mundane daily activities! It can be a challenge to cultivate mudita. Invariably, when my husband leaves on the six hour drive to visit our ten year-old granddaughter in Southern California, envy still arises, despite 20 years of Buddhist practice. But as soon as I recognize it, I reflect on how unhappy it makes me and how it doesn't get me any closer to L.A. Then I begin to practice mudita, reflecting on the wonderful time they'll be having together. It helps me to be very specific in this reflection—to visualize them talking and laughing together at places I know they love to go. After a while, that envy is replaced with joy in their joy.

Upekkha. Upekkha means equanimity. It refers to a mind that is calm and steady in the face of life's ups and downs. This is a tall order because it means opening our hearts and minds not just to pleasant experiences but to unpleasant ones too. Resisting the latter just adds our own stress to what is already difficult. Lama Yeshe beautifully expresses the essence of equanimity: "If you expect your life to be up and down, your mind will be much more peaceful."

Most Buddhist teachers present the four sublime mental states in the order I've written about them: metta (lovingkindness/friendliness), karuna (compassion), mudita (joy in the joy of others), and upekkha (equanimity). But in her book, It's Easier Than You Think, Sylvia, with her usual common sense and clarity, starts with equanimity. She says that an equanimous mind holds all things in "an ease-filled balance."

Then, she says, from this place of equanimity, when we see people going about their everyday lives, friendliness (metta) is our natural response. When we see someone suffering, compassion (karuna) is our natural response. When we see someone who's happy, joy in their joy (mudita) is our natural response. This is such an insightful approach to the sublime states. It's not surprising that it comes from Sylvia, because being in her presence (whether in-person or through her books) is like being sprinkled with angel dust—"heavenly abode" angel dust! My wish for you is that you begin, even modestly, to cultivate the four sublime states.

Source: www.psychologytoday.com/collections/201108/what-is-spirituality/4-qualities-mind-alleviate-suffering/

RedLantern

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Re: 4 Qualities of Mind that Alleviate Suffering
« Reply #1 on: April 14, 2013, 05:10:56 PM »
By awakening these four qualities or nurturing these qualities,we're simultaneously contacting and encouraging and expanding what's called bodhicita, is essentially a quality of warmth,an experience of our connection with all beings and with all things.
Collectively these four qualities of friendliness or loving kindness,compassion,joy and equanimity are the qualities of true,authentic, and unconditional love.It's said traditionally that we could in some way in the course of our lifetime ,as much as possible help to alleviate suffering in the world.
All practice grows and flourishes by learning to relax with where you are already and ,at the same time,holding
a big vision or keeping the possibility open ,the capacity of all beings is limitless,absolutely limitless.This is such a powerful thing.

Midakpa

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Re: 4 Qualities of Mind that Alleviate Suffering
« Reply #2 on: April 14, 2013, 05:23:02 PM »
These 4 qualities are also known as the four immeasurable kinds of love or simply "the four immeasurables": unlimited love or loving kindness (maitri), compassion or the love that transforms suffering (karuna), the love that offers bliss or joy (mudita), and equanimity or the love that is not attached (upeksha). They are immeasurable because of the countless number of beings that are the objects of these types of love.

Equanimity is the foundation of the other qualities, yet it is the most difficult to achieve and most of us fail at this stage due to our attachment to ordinary appearances. But once we have developed equanimity, the rest comes quite naturally. Thus it is important to overcome our attachment and aversion to people and to view them as equally important to us. This reduces our ego and opens our mind to develop virtues and practice them. Equanimity is one of the factors of enlightenment. Without this factor, the other factors cannot be perfected.

dondrup

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Re: 4 Qualities of Mind that Alleviate Suffering
« Reply #3 on: April 18, 2013, 08:37:48 AM »
Buddhism is about understanding our mind.  It is great to know that professionals in field of Psychology are approaching or had approached the study of the mind from the perspective of Buddhism. Professor Toni Bernhard’s article about the Four Immeasurables at Psychology Today (http://www.psychologytoday.com/aboutcontact), a prominent website, will contribute to the growth of Buddhism.  The truths about the workings of our mind as observed by Lord Buddha stand the test of time.  They are still applicable and relevant today as Professor Toni Bernhard had shared in her article.

yontenjamyang

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Re: 4 Qualities of Mind that Alleviate Suffering
« Reply #4 on: April 19, 2013, 10:31:34 AM »
These 4 qualities are also known as the four immeasurable kinds of love or simply "the four immeasurables": unlimited love or loving kindness (maitri), compassion or the love that transforms suffering (karuna), the love that offers bliss or joy (mudita), and equanimity or the love that is not attached (upeksha). They are immeasurable because of the countless number of beings that are the objects of these types of love.

Equanimity is the foundation of the other qualities, yet it is the most difficult to achieve and most of us fail at this stage due to our attachment to ordinary appearances. But once we have developed equanimity, the rest comes quite naturally. Thus it is important to overcome our attachment and aversion to people and to view them as equally important to us. This reduces our ego and opens our mind to develop virtues and practice them. Equanimity is one of the factors of enlightenment. Without this factor, the other factors cannot be perfected.

I suspect the key to equanimity is to not recognize others as love ones, enemy or strangers but regards all as buddhas (as in having the Buddha nature) but clouded by delusions caused by the five aggregates. it is important to find the common ground of every beings and NOT the differences that we see represented by the aggregates. The aggregates are the things that we sense and are the thing that provide the IDs of each individuals. From our own point of view, our own aggregates cause the arising of the delusions of attachments (love ones), hatred (enemies) and ignorance (strangers). If we can see that all and we are the same and are common and that their interests and ours are intimately linked and ultimate the same, then equanimity arise and then, the other 3 immeasurables of love, compassion and joy  is easy to arise because we have the attitude of others and us are one.
This is what I think.

Dondrup Shugden

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Re: 4 Qualities of Mind that Alleviate Suffering
« Reply #5 on: January 29, 2015, 09:56:22 AM »
To alleviate suffering is efforts which must be from self.  We can learn from religions, books and even attend talks by great leaders.  These methods are all theory, it is the practice that will help.

Matibhadra

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Re: 4 Qualities of Mind that Alleviate Suffering
« Reply #6 on: January 30, 2015, 10:44:58 AM »
Quote
Most Buddhist teachers present the four sublime mental states in the order I've written about them: metta (lovingkindness/friendliness), karuna (compassion), mudita (joy in the joy of others), and upekkha (equanimity). But in her book, It's Easier Than You Think, Sylvia, with her usual common sense and clarity, starts with equanimity. [...] This is such an insightful approach to the sublime states. It's not surprising that it comes from Sylvia, [...]

It does not come “from Sylvia”. Rather, starting the for immeasurables with equanimity, or with compassion, rather than with love, are old Buddhist traditions.