Path of Transformation» Compassion Training

The Four Immeasurables


Khenpo asks the listeners to give rise to the mind of awakening and listen to the teachings with that vast motivation of bodhicitta.

In the Buddhist tradition, the word immeasurable is applied to four aspects in the Mahayana context. In the lower vehicle, according to the Abhidharma, the practice of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity becomes the cause for rebirth in the realm of Brahma or purity. There is a distinction between the positive mental states and the immeasurable quality of those states.

The term immeasurable in the Mahayana context means that the mind state transcends samsara. The four pure or immeasurable mental states are:

  1. Love
  2. Compassion
  3. Joy
  4. Equanimity

Longchenpa, in his text Resting in the Nature of Mind, explained that if the four mental states are not embraced and endowed with the mind of awakening, the practitioner will still be reborn within the higher realms of gods, particularly the god realms of Brahma. If these mental states are embraced with the path of peace or wisdom and means, as Longchenpa explained, one can transcend samsara. This is what makes the practice “immeasurable”.

We may have the question “How can we practice the immeasurable if we have not yet given rise to bodhicitta”? How do we embrace the mind states with bodhicitta? Khenpo explains that on the pathway, we are motivated by the aspiration. We contrive and develop the intention to give rise to bodhicitta. That intention will lead to nirvana.

Four qualities or distinctions explain the term “immeasurable”.

First, the focus or reference of the mind states is immeasurable. There is no way to count all sentient beings. The perspective is limitless.

Secondly, the merit that is accumulated is also immeasurable. It is the accumulation of both merit and wisdom.

Thirdly, these intentions are immeasurable regarding phenomena or the result. When embraced with bodhicitta, one can realize and attain the supreme qualities such as the ten powers and the four fearlessnesses. Ordinary states of love, etc., are not capable of giving rise to those results.

Fourth, the mindset is immeasurable concerning primordial wisdom. These intentions are the cause of the three, four, or five primordial wakefulnesses to arise.

Love or loving-kindness is the mind that wishes for all sentient beings to be happy. Compassion is the mind that wishes all sentient beings to be free from suffering. Joy is the mind of gladness that wishes that all sentient beings never be parted from happiness or joy. Equanimity is the mind that wishes that all sentient beings be freed from attachment and aversion to those near and far.

Each of these mind states has different divisions. We can divide each of the four into three subdivisions. As an example, we can consider joy. First, we examine the object. This is the joy that focuses on limitless sentient beings and wishes them to have happiness. The immeasurable joy that focuses on the dharma has the perspective of understanding that all sentient beings are impermanent. The third subdivision is without a reference point. Here, there is an understanding of the empty nature of the object. These subdivisions are listed specifically in Candrakirti’s text, Entering the Middle Way. Each of the four mind states can be divided into three.

Alternatively, we can also divide the four mind states into two levels. Here we refer to mind states with reference point and without reference point. Focus or reference point means the practitioner pays attention to all, limitless, sentient beings and cultivates the mind state. When the practitioner is without a reference point, there is awareness of the suchness or dharmata of those beings.

What is the distinction between the mental states? Each one of the states has a unique perspective. Love or loving-kindness is directed at all those sentient beings who do not have happiness. Compassion focuses on those who are tormented by suffering, particularly those who experience constant pain and difficulty. Joy is directed to those beings who are currently experiencing happiness or comfort. We wish that they are never separated from that happiness. And equanimity is directed at those beings who are constrained and tormented by attachment and aversion. If we understand these distinct angles, we can target our contemplations.

Four conditions ensure that we can give rise to the four immeasurables.

  1. The causal condition
  2. The dominant or supporting condition
  3. The condition of the object
  4. The immediately preceding condition

The causal condition is the fact that all sentient beings without exception have buddha-nature. Because we have buddha-nature within us, we have the cause to give rise to these immeasurable states of mind. This gives us the confidence that we can generate such pure states of mind. In the Uttaratantra Shastra, it says that we can know that all sentient beings have buddha-nature because we see the positive qualities of love, faith, and compassion in beings. Even wild, untamed animals demonstrate moments of love and kindness when they care for their own children. Compassion, faith and love can only arise when when we have the causal condition of buddha-nature. It is up to us , however, to cultivate the mind states that allow this buddha-nature to become evident to others.

The dominant or supporting condition for the generation of the four immeasurables s the spiritual friend or guide. We need to be instructed in the way to give rise to these mind sets.

The condition of the object is immeasurable sentient beings. As Khenpo explained before, each mind state focuses on particular situations for sentient beings.

The fourth condition is the immediately preceding condition. Longchenpa explained that we need to understand why we need to practice loving kindness, and then we can generate that mind set. Each mindset depends on the previous. First we give rise to love and then that becomes the condition for the generation of compassion.

If someone has cultivated the four immeasurables and has some experience, one can practice these four mind states in any order. For beginners, Longchenpa and other masters suggest that we begin by cultivating equanimity. By cultivating equanimity first, we loosen the attachment to friends and aversion toward enemies. The mind of equanimity aims to equalize friends and enemies. We work with a feeling of neutrality, smoothing out the big distinctions we usually make between sentient beings. All beings, friends, enemies are strangers are equal in wishing for happiness and wanting to avoid suffering. They all have the right to be happy. And all sentient beings are also equal in having been our loved ones and great friends in the past. We need to contemplate carefully how friends and enemies are equal.

When we practice the mind of equanimity, we focus on three objects. These are friends, enemies, and strangers. It is helpful to first focus on strangers, learning how to cultivate the mind of equanimity. Then we move to focus on our friends. And finally, we move on to our enemies or people we dislike. This progression makes it easier. We also begin with a few individuals and gradually expand to a vast scope of imagining limitless sentient beings. This is the way we train. In the beginning, we do focus on a limited number of individuals.

In a sutra, it says that there is no higher wisdom of the Buddhas than that of the four immeasurables. All the Buddhas practice and express themselves through the four immeasurables. There is no better way to gladden the buddhas. These four immeasurables are the basis for all buddha qualities. They are the transcendence of the pathway of Dharma.

Khenpo then asks all participants to close their eyes and engage in the practice of cultivating equanimity. He follows this with some advice on how we can think about practicing the Dharma when we encounter difficult circumstances. Khenpo gives a personal example of remembering the advice of Dza Paltrul Rinpoche about remembering to practice the Dharma when meeting with adverse circumstances. He remembered the Dharma, “swallowing his words” and did not reply to someone who was challenging him. When we can recall the teachings in difficult situations we can respond with compassion and patience rather than anger. We can practice compassion and love in times of war. We focus on those beings who are deprived of happiness.

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