Cultivation of the Brahma-Viharas
by DaeJa Napier
Reprinted with permission from the Northwest Dharma News. Published by the Northwest Dharma Association.
The Buddha taught that this world that we share is the first of the happy realms. It hovers ever so slightly above the thick density of suffering that manifests if we fall from the grace of human opportunity. In fact, one aspect of happiness lies in our own capacity to maintain and live with this clarity of purpose. A life informed by practice will slowly point the way to what it needs to survive and flourish. The process of staying alive in the heart as we awaken in the dream eventually points its way to the cultivation of the brahma-viharas.
The brahma-viharas are multi-significant terms. Brahma-viharas means divine abode, noble modes of conduct, ethical discipline and sublime states of mind. They are limitless and immeasurable. The brahma-viharas are the supreme dwelling in metta (lovingkindness or good will), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy) and upekkha (equanimity). They are aspects of our truest nature and are referred to as mind/heart liberators. These sterling virtues are termed the illimitables in that they have no limits and are extended to all beings without measure and exception. They are also referred to as the removers of all barriers, the healers of wounds suffered throughout existence and the restorers of magnanimity and home long forgotten.
When cultivated directly, through practice, the brahma-viharas create the foundations of humane society and promote true sister-and-brotherhood as they restore the equipoise between self and other. Through diligence and devotion to these principles and practices, we begin to understand that the multitude of experiences called life have sprung from our own actions as a result of thoughts, words and deeds performed in this life or in earlier existences.
As this perspective born of insight deepens, we begin to embrace this realm of existence. Now each moment presents itself with the perfect conditions for the practice.
We humans are mysterious beings with inconceivable creative potential. Latent within us, in each moment of life, are both wholesome and unwholesome tendencies. Even within the experience of loving — the most sanctified moments with those we hold most dear — the inner turbulence of the unconscious forces of greed, ill will and delusion may begin to move and overwhelm our best intentions.
The brahma-viharas safeguard one’s Vipassana (clear seeing), allowing us to honor the distinction between reaction and response. With this clarity, it is possible to engage in a conscious, gentle dismantling of the conditioning that binds us to suffering. We need a tremendous devotion to a lifetime of practice in order to develop the great-heartedness it take to complete our task to learn and relearn that love is unobstructed presence of mind.