There are four sublime attitudes that we can cultivate at any level in accordance with our skill. In this article I am not going into the various philosophical views that exist about them and I am also not going into any specific details concerning the traditional practices of the numerous Buddhist and Pre-Buddhist lineages. I am merely interested in exploring these four attitudes in order to induce learning, contemplation and experience within myself and you – the reader. May this article be helpful!
Metta – Loving Kindness
The first attitude is often defined as “a wish for someone to be happy and well”. I say “someone” in order to make it clear that it always should include oneself. The power and efficiency of this attitude is depending on our direct comprehension of suffering and our faith (or experience) that it can possibly end. We can wish someone to experience three types of happiness:
1. Ordinary Happiness: All kinds of wholesome and harmless pleasantries such as good health etc.
2. Extraordinary Happiness: The bliss that arises from a still mind which is well trained in Meditation.
3. Supreme Happiness: Supreme bliss that arises from the complete ending of all suffering.
It is important to understand that this is what we actually all desire. We all want to experience happiness and wellbeing, pleasant situations and inner peace. So by making this wish conscious, I find myself in the situation to ask skillful questions such as: “Well, how can I help myself to be truly happy and well?” That’s the beginning of kindness in action. The wish turns into skillful actions aiming at the three types of happiness.
Karuna – Compassion
Compassion is what Kindness experiences when it encounters suffering. Compassion is truly mature, when it is based on a complete and direct understanding of suffering and its end. Before that it is very weak, often mixed up and confused with pity. Compassion can be defined as “a wish for someone to be free from suffering”. As above, we could count three types of suffering:
1. Ordinary Suffering: All kinds of unwholesome and harmful experiences such as bad health etc.
2. Extraordinary Suffering: All pleasant experiences eventually turn unpleasant and on and on…
3. Supreme Suffering: Ignorance – not knowing the end of suffering.
These are points that I am offering for reflection. Wishing someone to be free from suffering is a wholesome state of mind. Once you are able to empathize with yourself and others and clearly start to understand the nature of suffering, compassion becomes stronger. The strengthening of compassion means that it becomes more pure. The less we grasp an independently existing self, the less it will be stained by pity and self-interest.
Mudita – Empathetic Joy
The third of the sublime attitudes is an aspect of Kindness as well. It’s what Kindness experiences when it encounters Happiness. Remember the three types of happiness I mentioned above? Whenever you see any of them arise within yourself or others, learn to actively rejoice in them. Mudita is not only a direct antidote to jealousy and the fault-finding mind – it’s also a very easy way to feel much better. Mudita is the joy that is experienced when encountering skillful and wholesome qualities within yourself and others. It’s truly an excellent state of mind.
You can cultivate empathetic joy anytime and anywhere. It will only lead to benefit and wellbeing both within yourself and others. Instead of talking about the faults of others, talk about their success and their goodness. If you find nothing good or true to say, don’t talk. When looking at yourself, can you find joy in your accomplishments, your good qualities? Do you actively enjoy your own kindness, your generosity and the way you do things well? If not, start right now! It will make your life so much better!
Upekkha – Equanimity
Equanimity is when your mind is even, serene and impartial. It rests within its center, like a stable mountain. Equanimity exists on many different levels and culminates with the development of the fourth Jhana – a very deep meditative state. We can practice equanimity when our mindfulness becomes stronger. Instead of following thoughts, emotions and sensations we can stay centered in the knowing of them. What allows us to be and stay centered is the quality of upekkha. Not being moved by conditioned pleasure or pain is in itself one of the highest pleasures.
The state of equanimity is very skillful and should be developed frequently. Instead of swallowing all kinds of experiences like a fish swallows bait, we swim around them and see them for what they are from a distance – bait. What we call “good” and “bad” exists co-dependently and consistently changes from one state into the other like day and night. Chasing the night we will suffer the day – chasing the day, we will suffer the night. Equanimity arises when we truly understand that chasing never ends the chase. Peace can’t be found in changing circumstances – but only within.
Practicing The Sublime Attitudes
Not being able to do something perfectly should not be an obstacle to us exploring and cultivating these precious states. If you are able to be a little bit more kind to yourself and acknowledge it, you are already doing a great job. Developing our mindfulness and consciously creating the sublime attitudes is truly a rare miracle in itself. No matter how “small” your efforts are – they are good and have a high quality! We focus on quality, not on quantity or speed. It doesn’t matter how fast you are progressing, really not! What matters is that you do it right, with sincerity!
The golden rule of thumb is: Radiate the states from the inside out! First you must learn how to receive yourself with kindness and compassion. You need to follow the internal (mentally created) states with wise and skillful actions, building momentum and strength over time. Remember: Better slow and with quality, than fast and ignorant! Once you are building positive energy in mind, energy and body you can increase its power with empathetic joy and equanimity. The joy is boosting our wholesome energy – equanimity keeps it from leaking. Such a store of wholesome energy must be used to build the power of deeper meditation and eventually to transcend all duality completely.