Dr Bhikkhu Bodhipala
(Dr. Bhikkhu Bodhipala is Assistaant Secretary & Editor, Karuna International Brotherhood Mission. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Buddha Jayanti or Vesak is a day celebrated by the Theravada Buddhists of South and South-East Asia as the thrice blessed day of the Birth, Enlightenment and Mahaparinibbana of Gautama the Buddha. It was on this day that Siddhartha Gautama was born, Prince Siddhartha Gautama attained Enlightenment to become Gautama the Buddha, and attained Mahaparinirvana, but all these events took place on the Full Moon day of Vesak.
The message of Buddha’s Enlightenment is a message of hope, goodwill, unity, brotherhood, compassion, love, togetherness and purity of thought. In one word we can say that Brahmavihara or the sublime abodes is the message of Vesak. We all know that the Buddha’s first sermon was of the Four Noble Truths, that of Suffering (Dukkha), cause of suffering (Samudaya), the end of suffering (Nirodha) and the way to eradicate suffering (Magga). And the way to eradicate this suffering was through the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path of Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration, Right Understanding and Right Thought, and this is sub-divided into three parts of Sila (practice of morality), Samadhi (practice of meditation) and Prajna (attainment of experiential wisdom). And when a practitioner diligently practises these one can reach a stage of perfection where they are free from craving (lobha), attachment (raga) and hatred (dosa). Reaching this stage of perfection is also called as Brahmavihara or Abode of Sublime States or Abode of Peace and Tranquillity.
They are also known as the four immeasurables (Sanskrit: apram??a, P?li: appamaññ?). According to the Metta Sutta, the Buddha held that cultivation of the four immeasurables has the power to cause the practitioner to be reborn into a Brahma Realm (P?li: Brahmaloka). The meditator is instructed to radiate out to all beings in all directions the mental states of:
1) Loving-kindness or benevolence
3) Sympathetic joy
The four immeasurables are also found in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra (1.33), a text composed long after the beginning of Buddhism and substantially influenced by Buddhism. These virtues are also highly regarded by Buddhists as powerful antidotes to negative mental states (non-virtues) such as avarice, anger and pride.
In Pali it is called cattâri brahmavihârâ and in Sanskrit catvâri brahmavihârâ?. Brahmavihâra means “Brahma abidings” or “sublime attitudes.” It may be parsed as “Brahma” and “Vihara”; which is often rendered into English as “sublime” or “divine abodes”. Apramâ?a, usually translated as “the immeasurables,” means boundlessness, infinitude, a state that is illimitable. When developed to a high degree in meditation, these attitudes are said to make the mind “immeasurable” and like the mind of the loving brahmâ (gods). In Chinese it is called Sì wúliàng xîn and in Japanese it is called Shi muryô shin, in Korean it is called Sa mulling sim and in Vietnamese it is known as T? Vô L??ng Tâm; literally: “immeasurable states of mind, from apramâ?a-citta”. In Tibetan it is called tshad med bzhi or tshangs gnaw bzhi.
The four immeasurables are:
Loving (kindness) (P?li: metta, Sanskrit: maitri) towards all: the hope that a person will be well; “the wish that all sentient beings, without any exception, be happy”.
Compassion (P?li and Sanskrit: karuna): the hope that a person’s sufferings will diminish; “the wish for all sentient beings to be free from suffering”.
Sympathetic Joy (P?li and Sanskrit: mudita): joy in the accomplishments of a person — oneself or another; sympathetic joy; “the wholesome attitude of rejoicing in the happiness and virtues of all sentient beings”.
Equanimity (P?li: upekkha, Sanskrit: upeksa): learning to accept loss and gain, praise and blame, and success and failure, all with detachment, equally, for oneself and for others. Equanimity is not to distinguish between friend, enemy or stranger, but regard every sentient being as equal. It is a clear-minded tranquil state of mind — not being overpowered by delusions, mental dullness or agitation.
Loving-kindness and compassion are both hopes for the future (leading, where possible, to action aimed at realizing those hopes). Joy and equanimity are attitudes to what has already happened, but also with regard to consequences for future action. While these four might be delineated as attitudes to the future or past, they contain the seed of the “present” within their core (as a living embodied practice). This is the essence of the spiritual laws of karma, self-responsibility, and right thoughts (samma sankkalpa, literally ‘right commitments’). A dedicated intention that all beings are in the “here and now”, tranquil, happy, in touch with their gifts and accomplishments, and feeling interconnected by that synergy to eschew suffering by abdication.
They are called abodes (vihara) because they should become the mind’s constant dwelling-places where we feel “at home”; they should not remain merely places of rare and short visits, soon forgotten. In other words, our minds should become thoroughly saturated by them. They should become our inseparable companions, and we should be mindful of them in all our common activities. As the Metta Sutta, the Song of Loving-kindness says:
When standing, walking, sitting, lying down, Whenever he feels free of tiredness, Let him establish well this mindfulness – This, it is said, is the Divine Abode.
These four – love, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity – are also known as the boundless states (appamanna), because, in their perfection and their true nature, they should not be narrowed by any limitation as to the range of beings towards whom they are extended. They should be non-exclusive and impartial, not bound by selective preferences or prejudices. A mind that has attained to that boundless-ness of the Brahma-viharas will not harbour any national, racial, religious or class hatred.
Today on this occasion of Buddha Jayanti or Vesak let us try to develop this Brahmavihara in us to dispel all sorts of negativities and hatred, ill-will and anger and install in us metta, karuna, mudita and upekkha so that we can create a world where we can all share our love and compassion, unity and brotherhood, equanimity and togetherness with all — high or low, big or small, rich or poor. The Buddha’s message to all mankind was not to harbour evil thoughts, to do good and to purify the mind and by doing this one could create a Brahmavihara inside us and make the world a Brahmavihara by developing our mental growth by respecting each other, by embracing the good of the others, by helping and cherishing the earth that has given us this opportunity to enjoy its nature and above all by radiating boundless love towards all those who are born and yet to be born just like the mother who loves her only only child. This is the message of Vesak — Brahmavihara.