The Four Brahma Viharas

The Four Brahma Viharas

The Brahma Viharas are four qualities or Buddhist virtues that are cultivated with meditation practices.  These qualities of the mind and heart are cultivated using mindfulness and insight meditation.

In this article I will go over what each of the Brahma Viharas are and what they mean for Buddhists.  I also include passages from the Buddhist sutras that are relevant to the Four Brahma Viharas.

the four brahma viharas

Bodhisattva of Compassion, Avalokiteshvara

Etymology

Brahma Vihara is Pali term that is commonly translated as “divine abodes” or “the sublime abodes of Brahma”.  The word brahma means “highest, superior” and the word vihara means “to dwell, live, abide”.

These are essentially mindsets that are cultivated in the practice of meditation which are said to make the mind like that of the Brahma which was also the name given to the supreme god of Buddha’s time.

These four states of mind are also called the “Four Immeasurables” or the “Four Perfect Virtues” and all of them are interrelated with and support each other.

The Four Immeasurables

  1. Loving-Kindness (Metta)

    “Here, monks, a disciple dwells pervading one direction with his heart filled with loving-kindness, likewise the second, the third, and the fourth direction; so above, below and around; he dwells pervading the entire world everywhere and equally with his heart filled with loving-kindness, abundant, grown great, measureless, free from enmity and free from distress.” — The Buddha, Digha Nikaya 13

    This is an active feeling of good will toward all and is sometimes translated as “love” though the term “loving-kindness” is a better translation. This can be described as a kind of soft affection towards oneself and others.

  2. Compassion (Karuna)

    “Here, monks, a disciple dwells pervading one direction with his heart filled with compassion, likewise the second, the third and the fourth direction; so above, below and around; he dwells pervading the entire world everywhere and equally with his heart filled with compassion, abundant, grown great, measureless, free from enmity and free from distress.” – Digha Nikaya 13

    This results from loving-kindness (metta) and involves identifying the suffering of others as one’s own.  This can be described as an open heart that cares about everyone.

  1. Sympathetic Joy (Mudita)

    “Here, monks, a disciple dwells pervading one direction with his heart filled with sympathetic joy, likewise the second, the third and the fourth direction; so above, below and around; he dwells pervading the entire world everywhere and equally with his heart filled with sympathetic joy, abundant, grown great, measureless, free from enmity and free from distress.” – Digha Nikaya 13
    The feeling of joy because of the happiness of others, even if you didn’t contribute to it. This is sympathetic joy, the ability to be happy when you see others be happy.

  2. Equanimity (Upekkha)

    “Here, monks, a disciple dwells pervading one direction with his heart filled with equanimity, likewise the second, the third and the fourth direction; so above, below and around; he dwells pervading the entire world everywhere and equally with his heart filled with equanimity, abundant, grown great, measureless, free from enmity and free from distress.” – Digha Nikaya 13

    Upekkha is a balanced state of mind that is maintained no matter what is going on around us. It is the quality of the heart that allows us to remain stable in the midst of everything going on in the world.

Summary

The result of cultivating the Brahma Viharas is happiness itself.  Meditating on and cultivating these four mind states requires us to change how we perceive ourselves and others.  When we cultivate the Four Brahma Viharas, we become more loving, compassionate, empathic, and balanced.

Thanks for reading this article on the Brahma Viharas, and if you have any thoughts or questions please leave them in the comments below.  I’d love to hear from you!

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2 Responses to The Four Brahma Viharas

  1. Rob says:

    Really interesting stuff. Even just reading all the quotes has a bit of a calming effect! I’ve recently started getting into meditation myself, and I will certainly try to utilize some of these states of mind. I think the most challenging state for me is Equanimity. There’s always so much going on around us, it’s often very difficult to stay balanced.

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Rob,
      Thanks for your comment. Equanimity does seem difficult to achieve given the pace of the modern world, but it comes with consistent meditation practice.

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