BUDDHISM > FOUR IMMEASURABLE MINDS
How can we help others to find happiness? One way is through the practice of the four immeasurable minds.
The first mind is that of loving-kindness, which is offering happiness to others. Second is the mind of compassion, which is the intention and wish to relieve the suffering of others. The third is joy, which is felt when beings experience happiness. And fourth is equanimity, being neither averse to nor attached to anything. We understand that we cannot cause others to transcend suffering or to feel happiness or joy, but we still have the wish that all beings will be able to accomplish such freedom and joyfulness.
We start this practice with those who are closest to us--our family and friends. We then extend it to those we know and like, and gradually keep expanding this practice outwards until we feel loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity for all beings in our world, and eventually for all beings throughout the universe. Ultimately, the capacity of our mind to care for all beings becomes immeasurable. Then the mind embraces the expanse of space and encompasses the vastness of the universe.
The first mind is loving-kindness, which is the practice of selflessness, of continually seeking to benefit others, of helping others to find happiness. When we wish to hurt another, we are experiencing anger. If we then wait for an opportunity to inflict harm on that person, we are experiencing animosity. When animosity continues for a long time, it becomes hostility. When we act upon these thoughts through speech or actions, the hostility becomes cruelty. Loving-kindness is the way to counter these destructive emotions.
To offer happiness to others, we need to know what they want, and for this, we need to listen and understand. If someone tells us that they do not need or want something, but we insist on giving it to them, we are only offering frustration and irritation, not happiness. If they wish for nothing, then giving them nothing is the offering of happiness. We should try to give others what they wish for as long as it is not harmful; even if what they like is something we do not. Our personal desires or opinions should not enter into it.
So often in our wish to make others happy, we project what we like onto them, and then we act accordingly. Our intentions may be good, but without wisdom, the best of intentions can backfire, exasperating others and disappointing ourselves. To offer happiness, we need to set aside the thinking that others wish for what we wish for and, instead, provide other people with what they truly wish for.
Second, compassion is the wish and intention to alleviate the suffering of others. It counters sorrow and anxiety. It is the unconditional care and concern for all living beings, the ability to realize that all beings suffer, not just ourselves or those we care for. All too often we find ourselves trying to ease the suffering of those we love and care for, but for other people whom we do not care for or even dislike, it is an entirely different matter. Ideally, our compassion should be held equally to all.
The third mind is that of joy, which is wanting all beings to be free from unhappiness and being sincerely happy, without any trace of jealousy, when they accomplish this. Joy counters sadness. It is the state of great contentment and ease.
The fourth mind is equanimity, which is letting go. It counters attachment and aversion. It is to stop clinging and to no longer judge or discriminate. It does not mean that we do not love. It means that we love equally and impartially: like a mother who loves all her children. Loving every one of her children, a mother’s love for one child is not lessened. Loving all her children with equanimity does not mean she is indifferent to what her children feel or do. She simply loves them unconditionally and without expectations.
Equanimity in love is non-possessive. It is like the sun shining on all beings equally. The sun does not differentiate, deciding to shine more on this person and less on that person. Neither does the sun cling to those it shines on. It shines on all it sees with warmth and brightness—equally.
When we can view everyone with equanimity, we will understand that people are who they are. If we expect them to conform to our ideals, we will smother them and destroy the very person we care for. How much better it would be to just accept people as they are, without any of our pre-conceived views and personal judgments. Our only wish should be for them to be free from suffering, and to be happy and filled with joy.
Developing the four immeasurable minds requires much time, enthusiasm, and dedication. Although our four minds today may seem to be very small and narrowly focused, their gradual expansion to encompass the whole universe will bring us immeasurable joy.