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The Practice of the Four Immeasurables
Awakening a Kind Heart
by Ven Sangye Khadro
May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes
May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes
May all sentient beings not be separated from sorrowless bliss
May all sentient beings abide in equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger
How to Develop a Kind Heart
Do you want to be happy? Do you want to have a healthy and satisfying life? This is not an advertisement for a marvelous new health product, but an encouragement to be more kind and loving. Everyone wants happiness and health, but not everyone realizes that loving-kindness is an essential ingredient for these. Why? Because loving-kindness frees us from self-centredness and self- importance which disturb our peace of mind. Self-centredness is the cause of such problems as hatred for enemies, envy for rivals and clinging-attachment to family and friends. These disturbing mental attitudes, if untreated, can even lead to physical ailments. Loving-kindness helps us to overcome these problems and paves the way for good relations with friend and foe alike. A kind, loving heart values people more than things. Instead of seeking happiness solely through work, knowledge, consumer goods, sex, travel, entertainment or sports, we devote more energy to the people in our lives. We spend time with them, listening when they want to talk and sharing with them our own thoughts and feelings. In these ways our relationships grow closer and deeper. On the other hand, if we don’t know how to give and receive love we won’t be truly happy, no matter how many degrees we have, how wealthy we are or how high we climb on the social ladder. You may think, "Yes, I know all that. I want to have loving- kindness, but it’s so difficult." This is true. Selfishness, anger and the like arise as naturally as water flowing downhill, while being kind is as difficult as pushing a boulder uphill. But who ever said it would be easy? Loving-kindness is difficult but not impossible. We can change ourselves. When I was young, I did not know how to get along with others. I had a bad temper, behaved selfishly, and suffered a lot because I had few friends. I wished to be like my schoolmates who were cheerful, friendly and kind, but it seemed that I was doomed to be always grumpy and unkind. Later, I discovered Buddhism, which teaches not only that we should be kind, but how to be kind. The Buddha’s teachings reveal a rich array of methods—such as different types of meditation, purification practices and devotional prayer—that can be used to free ourselves of negative attitudes like anger and selfishness and develop positive ones like loving-kindness and compassion. It is my experience that these methods work. Not that my anger and selfishness have completely disappeared! They still arise, but less frequently than before, and kind-heartedness arises more often.
Some people are born with an abundance of wholesome qualities. They are kind, peaceful, respectful, considerate of others and take delight in doing good deeds. They are like this because of their familiarity with these qualities in previous lives. Actually, we all have many good qualities, but in some of us they are less developed. That is why in Buddhism, we train ourselves to think and behave in a kind and considerate way. The more we practise being kind and helpful, the more these qualities will arise naturally and spontaneously. It’s like learning to play the piano: the more you practise, the better you become. One of the best ways to develop a kind heart is through contemplating the four immeasurable thoughts: love, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. They are called "immeasurable" because they extend to all beings, who are immeasurable, and because we create immeasurable positive energy and purify immeasurable negative energy through developing them. They are also called "the four sublime states" because developing them in our minds makes us like the sublime buddhas, bodhisattvas and arhats who are beyond attachment and aversion.
The four immeasurable thoughts are expressed in the following prayer:
May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes;
May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes;
May all sentient beings not be separated from sorrowless bliss;
May all sentient beings abide in equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger.
By reciting this prayer slowly and sincerely one or more times, and reflecting on its meaning, we can develop a heart of kindness towards all beings. So let’s now take a look at the meaning of each of these immeasurable thoughts.