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What Are The Four Immeasurables?

Updated: May 15

I often say that the Buddha gave us a roadmap.  What I mean by this is that he gave us specific practices that help to alleviate suffering.  If you’re a list maker (I am), then you might notice that many of these teachings were handed down as lists.  We have the Four Noble Truths, The Noble Eightfold Path, the Three Pure Precepts, the Ten Grave Precepts, and the six (or 10) Paramitas.  Also Included in the Buddha’s “roadmap” is the teaching about The Four Immeasurables.  

The Four Immeasurables first appear in the Digha Nikaya (Long Discourses) section of the Pali Canon in the Tevijja Sutta.  In the story, the Buddha introduces the Four Immeasurables: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity to Vasettha, a young brahmin (caste of Hindu priests).  Two and a half millennia later, The Four Immeasurables, whether you practice Buddhism or not, are practical tools for life.

1. Loving-kindness (Metta)

Loving-kindness, or metta, is the practice of sending wishes (prayers) of  well-being, safety and happiness to oneself and others. It begins with cultivating feelings of love and goodwill towards ourselves and extends to all beings.  Those we know well, know peripherally, and even those we do not know. Those we like and those whom we find challenging to like.  Practicing with Metta regularly fosters feelings of empathy and interconnectedness. By embracing Metta, we open our hearts to the world, and nurture compassion.

Practice: Start by silently repeating phrases like:  May I be happy.  May I be healthy. May I be safe.  May I be at ease. 

Extend these wishes to others by replacing "I" with "you," or"they," If you want to send these wishes to specific people, insert their names. 

2. Compassion (Karuna)

Compassion, or karuna, involves recognizing and acknowledging  the suffering of others. In an article by The Greater Good, compassion is said to literally mean “suffering together.” It encourages us to respond to the pain and struggles of others with kindness. By cultivating compassion, we create a ripple effect of empathy and support in our family, friends,and communities near and far. Showing compassion to ourselves and others cultivates a more caring and resilient society.

Practice: Reflect on the suffering of others and mentally send wishes such as "May you be free from suffering." “May you be free from enmity and danger.”

3. Sympathetic Joy (Mudita)

Sympathetic joy, or mudita, is the ability to rejoice in the happiness and success of others. It involves letting go of jealousy and comparison and celebrating the accomplishments of those around us. Cultivating sympathetic joy allows us to rise above ego, and find genuine happiness in the well-being of others.

Practice:  Notice the next time you begin to feel jealous at the success or happiness of others. Reframe this into taking your feelings out of the situation, and authentically showing happiness for their happiness. 

4. Equanimity (Upekkha)

Equanimity, or upekkha, is the practice of maintaining balance in the face of life's challenges. It involves accepting the impermanent nature of existence and responding to situations with calm, clarity, and wisdom. With equanimity, we can navigate life's ups and downs without being overwhelmed by our emotions.

Practice: Cultivate a sense of equanimity by observing your thoughts and emotions without reacting to them.  At Rising Lotus, we call this taking the Sacred Pause. .

The Four Immeasurables offer practices for cultivating compassion and wisdom in our lives. By practicing loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity, we can create more harmony and compassion  in our daily lives.  The ripples then go out to the world. 

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