Cultivating the sublime states

Continuing from Nyanapolika Thera (
These four — love, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity — are also known as the boundless states, because, in their perfection and their true nature, they should not be narrowed by any limitation as to the range of beings towards whom they are extended. They should be non-exclusive and impartial, not bound by selective preferences or prejudices. A mind that has attained to that boundlessness of the Brahma-viharas will not harbor any national, racial, religious or class hatred.

…To achieve [boundlessness], in most cases, we shall have to use these four qualities not only as principles of conduct and objects of reflection, but also as subjects of methodical meditation. That meditation is called Brahma-vihara-bhavana, the meditative development of the sublime states.

Generally speaking, persistent meditative practice will have two crowning effects: first, it will make these four qualities sink deep into the heart so that they become spontaneous attitudes not easily overthrown; second, it will bring out and secure their boundless extension, the unfolding of their all-embracing range.

In the meditative exercises, the selection of people to whom the thought of love, compassion or sympathetic joy is directed, proceeds from the easier to the more difficult. For instance, when meditating on loving-kindness, one starts with an aspiration for one’s own well-being, using it as a point of reference for gradual extension: “Just as I wish to be happy and free from suffering, so may that being, may all beings be happy and free from suffering!” Then one extends the thought of loving-kindness to a person for whom one has a loving respect, as, for instance, a teacher; then to dearly beloved people, to indifferent ones, and finally to enemies, if any, or those disliked. Since this meditation is concerned with the welfare of the living, one should not choose people who have died; one should also avoid choosing people towards whom one may have feelings of sexual attraction.

Another method of developing the sublime states is:
For spatial expansion, the practice starts with those in one’s immediate environment such as one’s family, then extends to the neighboring houses, to the whole street, the town, country, other countries and the entire world. In “pervasion of the directions,” one’s thought of loving-kindness is directed first to the east, then to the west, north, south, the intermediate directions, the zenith and nadir.

These are the two most commonly used methods for developing these four wholesome qualities of mind:
(1) Repeating phrases which arouse and affirm existing feelings of loving-friendliness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity, and
(2) Starting with one of these feelings and spreading it (visualizing its spread) from its physical or spatial origin outward in all directions until it covers the world.

Some of the themes or phrases that can be used for development are:

“May I be well, happy and peaceful. As I wish to be well, happy and peaceful, may all beings be well happy and peaceful. May I be free from animosity. As I wish to be free from animosity, may all beings be free from animosity. May I be free from mental and physical suffering. As I wish to be…May I live in peace and happiness. As I wish to live…” (Sayadaw U Janaka)

“May we (our parents, teachers, relatives, friends, indifferent persons, adversaries, all living beings) be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to us, may no difficulties come to us, may no problems come to us, may we always meet with [spiritual] success. May we also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems and failures in life.” (Ven. H. Gunaratana)

“May we (all living beings) be free from danger. May we have mental happiness. May we have physical happiness. May we have ease of well-being.” (Sharon Salzberg)

More about the cultivation process next time.

About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
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