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The Four Immeasurables

by Ven Sangye Khadro

Immeasurable Love

May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes.

How do we come to love someone? What does it take for love to arise in our hearts? Iím not talking about the sort of love we fall into when we meet an attractive, charming or sexy person. That sort of love does not usually run very deep or last very long. It can disappear at the first disagreement!

The sort of love involved in immeasurable love is a genuine feeling of caring and respect for others. We wish them to be happy and to have whatever they need for a healthy, satisfying life. It can also be called loving-kindness.

Several different factors give rise to such love. One is realizing the important role people play in our lives. For example, we love our parents because they brought us into the world and give us the food, shelter, love and protection we need. They console us when we are sad or frightened and take care of us when we are sick. We love other family members and friends because we share with them the joys and sorrows of life. We love our teachers because from them we learn the knowledge and skills we need to earn a living and deal with the challenges of life. But do we love the bus driver who takes us to work or school each day? You may think Iím joking. "I donít even know him - heís a stranger!" But remember, love is a feeling of caring and kindness. Loving someone doesnít mean we must have a close relationship. It means we care about that person, appreciate what that person does for us and wish that person happiness.

There are many people who contribute to our well-being without our realizing it. By thinking about what they do for us we can feel loving-kindness for them. For example, the food and drink we consume each day come to us because of the hard work of farmers, lorry drivers, factory workers and shopkeepers. Houses, schools, offices, shopping centres and roads were built by labourers. Many people work to provide us with water, gas, electricity and public services; others produce our clothes and furniture, the books, music and movies we enjoy, and the appliances that make our lives easier. In short, everything we have, use and enjoy comes to us from other people.

Other beings are also important from the point of view of our spiritual development. How could we practise ethicsógiving up killing, stealing and so forthówithout the existence of beings that we could kill or steal from? How could we cultivate generosity if there were no one in need? Even enemies are important because they incite our anger and thus give us the chance to work on patience, one of the most valuable qualities on the spiritual path. These ideas come from a meditation known as "Remembering the Kindness of Others", which is one of the best methods for developing immeasurable love.

Another factor giving rise to immeasurable love is realizing that all beings are the same in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering. For this there is a meditation known as the "Equality of Self and Others". We think, "Just as I want to stay alive and be happy, so does everyone else. Just as I do not want to experience pain and problems, nor does anyone else." This thought can be used to overcome fear or aversion for people who look strange or who misbehave. It helps us to understand that they are, at heart, just like ourselves.

Furthermore, every being has buddha-nature, the potential to become free and enlightened. Even those who live unethically and do many harmful deeds have a nature that is pure and good, and one day (probably after many lives) they will attain enlightenment. If we can accept these ideas and keep them in mind whenever we meet another living being, then instead of feeling, "you are different from me," we will feel, "you are just like me" and loving-kindness will arise naturally. Love also involves wishing everyone to have the causes of happiness. That means we wish them to cultivate positive, wholesome attitudes and behaviour. Giving money, food and kindness fulfils peoplesí present needs but doesnít ensure their future happiness. A person may have everything he needs to be happy here and now, but if he does not live ethically and instead acts in a way that harms himself and others, suffering rather than happiness awaits him in the future. Therefore, we also need to help people create the causes of happiness and avoid the causes of suffering. The love we develop should be pure and unselfish, expecting nothing in return. Pure love is similar to the kind of love a mother feels for her child. When the child is young, the mother is happy to care for all its needs, even though the child cannot give much in return. On the other hand, if we love people as long as they are nice to us but stop loving them when we no longer get what we want, our love is not pure but mixed with attachment and selfishness. This is called "conditional love" because it involves demands and expectations. The less self-centred we can be, the more pure and unconditional our love will be. Pure love also transcends boundaries. It is not right to think "I love my own children but not other children," or "I love the people in my country but not those in other countries," or "I am a Buddhist so I love Buddhists but not Christians, Muslims, etc." or "Iíll be nice to humans but not to animals and insects." To love and help only those of our own race, religion, country or gender is to limit ourselves. If we neglect even one being, our love is not fully developed, not immeasurable. We might worry that we have enough love for our family and friends but not for every single living being! "If I try to love everyone Iíll be exhausted!" But we need not worry about that. Love is an inexhaustible energy. Learning to be more loving is like discovering a natural spring within us: however much love we give, more will always come bubbling up. It is our habitual self- centredness and self-limiting ways of thinking that constrict the flow of love. As we gradually lessen these our ability to love will increase.

We should also be careful to avoid the opposite problem: developing loving-kindness for "all beings" while overlooking the ones around us. It sometimes happens that we have a peaceful meditation on love for all beings, but when we finish meditating we act unkindly to our family members, friends or colleagues! To develop properly, our practice of love should start with the people we live with and meet every day. Gradually we can extend it to beings around the world, in other realms and in distant galaxies!