The brahmaviharas are four prized emotions or mindstates that give us a framework to cultivate positive behaviors and minimize harmful ones. They are called the “divine abodes” because they are the mindstates in which all the enlightened ones reside. They are also known as the “four immeasurables” or “four limitless ones” because they represent love and goodwill toward all sentient beings, without limit.
The four brahmaviharas are:
- Loving-kindness (Pali: metta)
- Compassion (karuna)
- Sympathetic joy (mudita)
- Equanimity (upekkha).
The late Buddhist teacher Ayya Khema described the brahmaviharas as “the only emotions worth having.” By cultivating the four immeasurables, you not only develop limitless love but undo what the Buddha called their “near enemies”: indifference, pity, envy, and jealousy.
You can bring one or more of the four brahmaviharas to mind anytime during your day to renew your loving connection to others. You can also cultivate these qualities through meditation practice. First, stabilize your mind through mindfulness, or calm abiding, meditation. Then bring each immeasurable to mind, first toward yourself and, over time, toward all sentient beings as limitless as space.
- The Four Highest Emotions: Ayya Khema on cultivating loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity — “the only emotions worth having.”
- Living in the Divine Abodes: Sylvia Boorstein tells us some surprising stories about how to practice the divine abodes.