Throughout our lives
we long to love ourselves more deeply and to feel connected
with others. Instead, we often contract, fear intimacy,
and suffer a bewildering sense of separation. We crave
love, and yet we are lonely.
Does this describe you? Spend
a few moments reflecting on the ways it
By uprooting our personal mythologies of isolation,
spiritual practice uncovers the radiant, joyful heart
within each of us and manifests this radiance to the
world. We find, beneath the wounding concepts of separation,
a connection both to ourselves and to all beings. Freeing
ourselves from the illusion of separation allows us
to live in a natural freedom
rather than be driven by preconceptions about our own
boundaries and limitations.
liberation of the heart which
is love... Buddha
The Buddha taught a
systematic, integrated path that moves the heart
out of isolating
contraction into true connection. That path is still
with us as a living tradition of meditation practices
that cultivate love, compassion, sympathetic joy,
and equanimity. These four qualities are among the
beautiful and powerful states of consciousness
we can experience.
In Pali, the language spoken by the
Buddha, these four qualities — lovingkindness,
compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity — are
called the brahma-viharas. This name is translated
in a variety
of ways. The word
brahma is translated in a variety of ways: as “sublime” or “supreme” or “celestial”.
One translation I like is "best”.
Vihara means “dwelling” or “abiding” or “home”.
Taken together, these four qualities known as the brahma-viharas
form our best home.
You can come to feel at home in these
In the four lessons of
this course you will study and practice these four qualities:
Lovingkindness (metta in Pali) is love toward ourself
and all others. The practice of metta
uncovers the force of love that that
anger and guilt, The culmination of
metta is to become a friend to
oneself and to all of life.
is the “trembling
or quivering of the heart" in response
to suffering, whether our own or somebody’s
else’s. Compassion is born out
of lovingkindness. Compassion is
born out of the wisdom of seeing things
as they are. Compassion also arises
from the practice of inclining the mind,
of refining our intention.
joy (mudita) is actually
taking delight in the happiness of others,
rather than feeling that somehow happiness
is a limited commodity in this world
and the more there is for somebody else,
the less there’s going to be for
us. Sympathetic joy is the understanding
that someone else’s
happiness doesn’t threaten our
happiness, it actually enhances our own
may be thought of as the voice
or the articulation
of wisdom. Equanimity is not indifference;
it’s not apathy; it’s not
resignation. Equanimity is seeing things
as they are. It’s knowing
that no matter how hard we want somebody
to be free of suffering, we’re
actually not in control of the unfolding
of the universe. This understanding shouldn’t
make us pull away, but rather, can give
us the strength to sustain our caring,
because it’s not all tied up with
our own agenda and our own sense of demand.
These four qualities support and enhance one another.
There’s always an interweaving. When we do any
one of these practices appropriately or skillfully,
in a way, we’re bringing in all four.
what is unskillful. One can abandon the unskillful.
If it were not possible, I would not ask you
to do it. If this abandoning of the unskillful
would bring harm and suffering, I would not
ask you to abandon it. But as it brings benefit
and happiness, therefore I say, abandon what
the good. One can cultivate the good. If
it were not possible, I would not ask you
to do it. If this cultivation were to bring
harm and suffering, I would not ask you to
do it. But as this cultivation brings benefit
and happiness, I say, cultivate the good. Buddha
reflecting on these qualities in your life and
on love, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity,
you can establish the brahma-viharas as your home.
are a gift of love that the Buddha himself realized
and embodied, and his gift and legacy
is the opportunity for us to practice this path by
which we learn to develop skillful mental states
and let go
of unskillful ones.
Abandoning unskillful states that cause suffering
is not something you can do out of fear of or contempt
for those states, or out of contempt for yourself for
having those states arise in the mind. Abandoning the
unskillful isn't accomplished by angrily shoving or
pushing away your habits of separation. Rather it comes
as you aspire and learn to truly love yourself and
all beings, so that love provides the light by which
you bear witness to those burdens, watching them simply
Cultivating an awakened
life means aligning ourselves with an
expansive vision of what is possible for us. The brahma-viharas
for sustaining our real, moment
to moment experience of that vision.
Reflections and meditations
In each of this course's
lessons you will be encouraged to stop
reading and reflect on what you are
learning. The goal of this course is
to help affect a shift in your perceptions
of your self and others and to assist
you in nourishing the qualities
of the brahma-viharas. To help affect
this shift, the reflections focus your
awareness on how you habitually think
and feel in various situations with
other people — and with yourself.
At the end of each lesson
you are guided in meditations that help
reveal the heavenly abode already inside
people, a single powerful experience
may propel them out of
Ashoka was an emperor
in northern India about two hundred and
fifty years after
the time the Buddha. In the early
years of his reign, this powerful emperor
bloodthirsty and greedy for the expansion
of empire. He was also a very unhappy
man. One day, after particularly
terrible battle that he had launched in
acquire more territory, he walked
on the battlefield amid i appalling spectacle
of corpses of men and animals strewn
everywhere, already rotting in the
and being devoured carrion-eating
birds. Ashoka was aghast at the carnage
Just then a Buddhist monk
came walking across the battle field.
The monk did
not say a word, but his being was
radii with peace and happiness. Seeing
monk, Ashoka thou^ "Why is it
that I, having everything in the
world, feel miserable? Whereas this
nothing in the world apart from the
robes he wears and the bowl he carries,
yet he looks so serene and happy
in this terrible place."
made a momentous decision on that
battlefield. He pursued the
and asked him, "Are you happy?
If so, how did this come to be?" In
response, the monk who had nothing
introduced the emperor who had
everything to the Buddha's teachings.
As a consequence
of this chance encounter, Ashoka
devoted himself to the practice
and study of
Buddhism and changed the entire
nature of his reign. He stopped
wars. He no longer allowed people
to go hungry. He transformed himself
a tyrant into one of history's
most respected rulers, acclaimed
of years after as just and benevolent.
Ashoka's own son and daughter carried
from India to Sri Lanka. The teachings
took root there and from India
and Sri Lanka spread to Burma and
and throughout the world. Our access
to these teachings today, so many
centuries and cultural transitions
a direct result of Ashoka's transformation.
The radiance of that one Buddhist
monk is still affecting the world
One person's serenity changed the
course of history, and delivered
to us the
Buddhist path to happiness.