What is Immeasurable Minds?

Why is my business called Immeasurable Minds?

Immeasurable is not an easy word to spell or to find on Google…

I couldn’t think of a name I could really settle on, one that I would be happy with for a long time – not just for 2014…

I don’t have a tattoo as I’m sure I’d change my mind about whatever symbol I choose… choosing a business name is a big decision… but then, one night while I was teaching my regular meditation class in Namaste Yoga Centre, Belfast, the thought ‘immeasurable minds’ as a business name came to my mind. Wow I thought brilliant and random…

I completely forgot that every six weeks in my classes at Namaste I teach a meditation on the four immeasurable minds…. I’d never called it that but that’s what it is… “the week five meditation”. You’ll have to sign up to find out more…

So what exactly are the immeasurable minds… well certainly greater minds than mine have defined it and I really recommending reading up on it. But basically the four immeasurable minds are the four minds of love or the four sublime minds as taught by the Buddha. They are:

  • Love or Loving-kindness (metta)
  • Compassion (karuna)
  • Sympathetic Joy (mudita)
  • Equanimity/equanimity (upekkha)

(Original Pali word in brackets. Pali is the language of the Buddhist scriptures, these four are known under the name of Brahma-vihara, the great vehicle.)

Mindfulness and the four immeasurable minds

With mindfulness all of these qualities increase. I choose this name because I aspire to increasing these qualities in my life and the lives of people who come to my classes!

It is said that these four attitudes provide the answer to all situations arising from social contact. They are removers of tension, peace-makers in any conflict, and the healers of wounds.

Buddha on the four immeasurable minds

The Buddha taught the following to his son Rahula (from “Old path white clouds” by Thich Nhat Hanh):

“Rahula, practice loving kindness to overcome anger. Loving kindness has the capacity to bring happiness to others without demanding anything in return.

Practice compassion to overcome cruelty. Compassion has the capacity to remove the suffering of others without expecting anything in return.

Practice sympathetic joy to overcome hatred. Sympathetic joy arises when one rejoices over the happiness of others and wishes others well-being and success.

Practice non-attachment to overcome prejudice. Non-attachment is the way of looking at all things openly and equally. This is because that is. Myself and others are not separate. Do not reject one thing only to chase after another.

I call these the four immeasurables. Practice them and you will become a refreshing source of vitality and happiness for others.”

The following is taken from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Teachings on Love.

Love (Maitri)

The first aspect of true love is maitri, the intention and capacity to offer joy and happiness, To develop that capacity, we have to practice looking and listening deeply so that we know what to do and what not to do to make others happy.

If you offer your beloved something she does not need, that is not maitri. You have to see her real situation or what you offer might bring her unhappiness.

Without understanding, your love is not true love. You must look deeply in order to see and understand the needs, aspirations, and suffering of the one you love. We all need love. Love brings us joy and well-being. It is as natural as the air. In order to be loved, we have to love, which means we have to understand.

Maitri can be translated as “love” or “loving kindness.” Some Buddhist teachers prefer “loving kindness,” as they find the word “love” too dangerous. But I prefer the word “love.” Words sometimes get sick and we have to heal them. We have been using the word “love” to mean appetite or de­sire, as in “I love hamburgers.” We have to use language more carefully. “Love” is a beautiful word; we have to re­store its meaning. The word “maitri” has roots in the word mitra which means friend. In Buddhism, the primary mean­ing of love is friendship.

We all have the seeds of love in us. We can develop this wonderful source of energy, nurturing the unconditional love that does not expect anything in return. When we understand someone deeply, even someone who has done us harm, we cannot resist loving him or her. Shakyamuni Bud­dha declared that the Buddha of the next eon will be named “Maitreya, the Buddha of Love.”

Compassion (Karuna)

The second aspect of true love is karuna, the intention and capacity to relieve and transform suffering and lighten sor­rows. Karuna is usually translated as “compassion,” but that is not exactly correct. “Compassion” is composed of com (“together with”) and passion (“to suffer”). But we do not need to suffer to remove suffering from another person.

To develop compassion in ourselves, we need to practice mindful breathing, deep listening, and deep looking. The Lotus Sutra describes Avalokiteshvara as the bodhisattva who practices “looking with the eyes of compassion and lis­tening deeply to the cries of the world.” Compassion con­tains deep concern. You know the other person is suffering, so you sit close to her. You look and listen deeply to her to be able to touch her pain. You are in deep communication, deep communion with her, and that alone brings some relief.

One compassionate word, action, or thought can reduce another person’s suffering and bring him joy. One word can give comfort and confidence, destroy doubt, help someone avoid a mistake, reconcile a conflict, or open the door to liberation. One action can save a person’s life or help him take advantage of a rare opportunity. One thought can do the same, because thoughts always lead to words and actions. With compassion in our heart, every thought, word, and deed can bring about a miracle.

When I was a novice, I could not understand why, if the world is filled with suffering, the Buddha has such a beautiful smile. Why isn’t he disturbed by all the suffering? Later I discovered that the Buddha has enough understanding, calm, and strength; that is why the suffering does not overwhelm him. He is able to smile to suffering because he knows how to take care of it and to help transform it. We need to be aware of the suffering, but retain our clarity, calmness, and strength so we can help transform the situation. The ocean of tears cannot drown us if karuna is there. That is why the Buddha’s smile is possible.

Joy (Mudita)

The third element of true love is mudita, joy. True love al­ways brings joy to ourselves and to the one we love. If our love does not bring joy to both of us, it is not true love.

Commentators explain that happiness relates to both body and mind, whereas joy relates primarily to mind. This example is often given: Someone traveling in the desert sees a stream of cool water and experiences joy. On drink­ing the water, he experiences happiness. Ditthadhamma sukhavihari means “dwelling happily in the present mo­ment.” We don’t rush to the future; we know that every­thing is here in the present moment. Many small things can bring us tremendous joy, such as the awareness that we have eyes in good condition. We just have to open our eyes and we can see the blue sky, the violet flowers, the children, the trees, and so many other kinds of forms and colors. Dwelling in mindfulness, we can touch these wondrous and refreshing things, and our mind of joy arises naturally. Joy contains happiness and happiness contains joy.

Some commentators have said that mudita means “sympathetic joy” or “altruistic joy,” the happiness we feel when others are happy. But that is too limited. It discriminates between self and others. A deeper definition of mudita is a joy that is filled with peace and contentment. We rejoice when we see others happy, but we rejoice in our own well­being as well. How can we feel joy for another person when we do not feel joy for ourselves? Joy is for everyone.

Equanimity (Upeksha)

The fourth element of true love is upeksha, which means equanimity, nonattachment, nondiscrimination, even mindedness, or letting go. Upa means “over,” and iksh means “to look.” You climb the mountain to be able to look over the whole situation, not bound by one side or the other. If your love has attachment, discrimination, prejudice, or clinging in it, it is not true love. People who do not understand Buddhism sometimes think upeksha means indifference, but true equanimity is neither cold nor indifferent. If you have more than one child, they are all your children. Upeksha does not mean that you don’t love. You love in a way that all your children receive your love, without discrimination.

Upeksha has the mark called samatajñana, “the wisdom of equality”, the ability to see everyone as equal: not dis­criminating between ourselves and others. In a conflict, even though we are deeply concerned, we remain impar­tial, able to love and to understand both sides. We shed all discrimination and prejudice, and remove all boundaries between ourselves and others. As long as we see ourselves as the one who loves and the other as the one who is loved, as long as we value ourselves more than others or see ourselves as different from others, we do not have true equanimity. We have to put ourselves “into the other person’s skin” and become one with him if we want to understand and truly love him. When that happens, there is no “self” and no “other.”

Without upeksha, your love may become possessive. A summer breeze can be very refreshing; but if we try to put it in a tin can so we can have it entirely for ourselves, the breeze will die. Our beloved is the same. He is like a cloud, a breeze, a flower. If you imprison him in a tin can, he will die. Yet many people do just that. They rob their loved one of his liberty, until he can no longer be himself. They live to satisfy themselves and use their loved one to help them fulfill that. That is not loving; it is destroying. You say you love him, but if you do not understand his aspirations, his needs, his difficulties, he is in a prison called love. True love, allows you to preserve your freedom and the freedom of your beloved. That is upeksha.

For love to be true love, it must contain compassion, joy and equanimity. For compassion to be true compassion, it has to have love, joy, and equanimity in it. True joy has to contain love, compassion, and equanimity. And true equanimity has to have love, compassion, and joy in it. This is the interbeing nature of the Four Immeasurable Minds. When the Buddha told the Brahman man to practice the Four Immeasurable Minds, he was offering all of us a very important teaching. But we must look deeply and practice them for ourselves to bring these four aspects of love into our own lives and into the lives of those we love.