Buddhism A–Z
The Four Brahmaviharas (Divine Abodes)
Illustration by Ray Fenwick.

The four divine abodes, also known as the four immeasurables, or brahmaviharas in Sanskrit, are the supreme emotions or mental states. They are: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. The late Buddhist teacher Ayya Khema described the four divine abodes as “the only emotions worth having.”

These four give us a framework to cultivate positive behaviors and minimize harmful ones. These qualities are considered divine because they represent love and goodwill toward all sentient beings and lead to a sublime and compassionate state of being.

1. Loving-Kindness (metta)

Loving-kindness is the sincere wish for the well-being, happiness, and safety of all beings, including oneself. Loving-kindness, or metta, involves cultivating a boundless and unconditional love that transcends personal biases, boundaries, and preferences. Practitioners extend loving-kindness towards all beings, regardless of their relationship or behavior.

2. Compassion (karuna)

Compassion is our empathetic response to the suffering of ourselves and others. It is the heartfelt desire to alleviate all suffering and the commitment to actively help all beings and support them in their difficulties. Compassion arises from recognizing the interconnectedness and shared vulnerability of all beings.

3. Sympathetic Joy (mudita)

Sympathetic joy is genuinely rejoicing in the happiness, success, and well-being of others. Mudita overcomes jealousy and envy and cultivates an attitude of appreciative joy for the accomplishments and good fortune of others. Sympathetic joy allows one to share in the happiness of others without any self-centeredness.

4. Equanimity (upekkha)

Equanimity is the state of balance, calmness, and non-reactivity toward the changing conditions of life. It involves accepting all that happens to us—pleasure and pain, gain and loss, success and failure—with an even-minded attitude. Equanimity allows us to respond to situations with clarity, wisdom, and impartiality.

These four divine abodes are considered virtuous qualities that contribute to personal happiness, harmonious relationships, and the welfare of all beings. Practitioners can cultivate these qualities through meditation, reflection, and daily mindfulness practices, aiming to expand their capacity for love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. 

These qualities are seen as antidotes to the three poisons and are essential for developing wisdom and the path toward liberation. By cultivating the four immeasurables, practitioners not only develop limitless love but undo what the Buddha called the “near enemies” of the four divine abodes: indifference, pity, envy, and jealousy.

Related Reading

The Four Highest Emotions

Ayya Khema on cultivating loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity.

The Four Immeasurables Leave Nothing Untouched

If you don’t want your happiness to impede that of someone else, says Vanessa Zuisei Goddard, practice the four immeasurables.

Living in the Divine Abodes

Heaven is nowhere else but right here on this earth, when we live with friendliness, compassion, joy, and equanimity.

Buddhism A–Z

Explore essential Buddhist terms, concepts, and traditions.