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An Overview
The Practice of Virtue
The Development of Insight
Meditation Exercises

The Brahma-Viharas
The Traditional Meditations

In order to help Westerners understand these levels of altruistic interaction, it is important to have a historical perspective on the age when these teachings were given. At the time of the Buddha the family structure was very strong. It was common for one to have great respect for their grandparents and their mother and father. People lived in small communities in which they had friendships and associations that lasted for generations. In the Suttas there are many examples of this aspect of life, and indeed the Buddha himself, after the attainment of awakening, taught many of his family members. For instance, Ananda, who was the Buddha’s attendant and a major disciple, was also the Buddha’s cousin. The Buddha’s son Rahula became a Bhikku and attained Arahat. His aunt and nursemaid became the firsts Bhikkhuni or nun, and the greatest teaching he gave, the Abbhidhamma, was taught to his mother in the heavenly realms. Because of the structure of society at that time, it was common that individuals would have deep and meaningful interactions with their family members. In the West by contrast, statistically a family moves every seven years, a child is not fostered in a family trade but sent to school where they spend the bulk of their day not associating with their family members. Only in the most liberal of our institutions do we find employers allowing a mother and father time off when they have a child. It is evident that because of our modern day educational system and social structure, the bond between the parent and child does not have an opportunity to grow.

Some may argue that this deep sense of connectedness and interrelatedness is claustrophobic and not necessary for the attainment of enlightenment, and there is a certain degree of truth in this point of view. There are many instances in the Suttas where the Buddha encouraged his disciples to cut off their association with conventional society, give up the burdens of the household life, enter into seclusion and devote the whole of their life energy to the quest for freedom. This teaching is certainly of great value when we are struggling to become free of the entanglements caused by interpersonal attachments. However, if we do not have this continuum or supportive environment as a base, we may simply spend years running around in neurotic circles, searching for the love that we did not receive from mommy and daddy.

Bearing this in mind, in some sense, the practice of meditation may parallel Western psychotherapy. However, there are fundamental differences in overview. In psychotherapy the goal is to help us become a functioning member of society in which we may live a rewarding or a ‘normal’ life. In Buddha Dharma we wish to discover the truth about the nature of life and attain the heights of the human potential. Because of this, the similarities between Western psychology and the teaching of the Buddha occur only in the early stages of development, when neurotic states are being overcome.

The reason why I am using so much space describing something many may consider obvious, is that without a deep understanding of the differences between our societies, certain technical terms, and prerequisites for the meditative life, are misunderstood. In large part this book has been a description of what we must come to terms with in the religious life, and much of this, is dependent upon discriminative wisdom and analysis. However, when we complete the path of freeing ourselves from the defilements we again must look at the main thrust of life and the positive potential of the awakened mind.

With this overview in mind we can now focus on the development of altruism. In the most ancient commentary, the Vimuttimagga, we find that when the meditations on loving-kindness, compassion and sympathetic joy are described, they use as examples the family experience. For example, it is stated that loving-kindness should be understood as the same state present as a mother’s love for her child. Compassion is defined as a state a father is in when teaching his child the right way to live. Appreciative joy is present when both mother and father see their child succeed in living a good and wholesome life. If we look at this teaching and understand it in our own terms, we would have to say, it represents the ideal of loving-kindness, the ideal of compassion and the ideal of sympathetic joy. So, if we do not have an experience of this ideal expression with our mother and father, or with our children, we should then focus on our teacher, or good friend. Such a person should be an embodiment of the Dharma, who manifests the altruistic states with true purity.

There are two methods of practice, and they should be undertaken simultaneously. The first we develop in our daily experience and the second the focus of our meditative practice. The first is a contemplation, and the second a meditation. The first is a base for discursive thinking and sustained thought. The second has the successive stages of jhana as its base. In the contemplative method we work from direct experience regarding one of the previous individuals described. For instance, if we have experienced deep love coming from our mother, we can use that. If we experience deep love towards our child, we can begin with that experience. We should be clearly mindful of the difference between sexual or sensual love, and the love coming from a mother caring for her child. When we have defined clearly this experience of love within ourselves, we can emanate that love towards another sentient being. Here, only general guidelines can be given, because the most important thing is that you extend this experience to the creature you find most lovable. Because human interactions are very often complex and fraught with conflicting emotions, it might be best for you to focus on a pet that you are particularly fond of. Then, by categories begin to extend this state of loving-kindness to other sentient life. It might be helpful for you to use an encyclopedia of animals. The idea here is to experience the love you have for a particular individual, and then extend that state to the next individual you can easily identify with. Gradually, increase the number of sentient beings with whom you can relate to in this way. As we have said, you must begin from an experience of love that was real for you. Gradually working in this way, we begin to realize how all sentient life is in need of loving-kindness.

Next we should focus on compassion. Remembering an instance in which a person was compassionate towards us, we should focus on that experience and identify within ourselves the state of compassion. This may have been for instance, when our father helped us solve a problem or develop a new skill. In the same way we should reflect upon different individuals with whom we have a wholesome and caring relationship. As we are aware of the various sufferings that they experience in life we should cultivate the thought: “If only I could find a way to alleviate their suffering.” Begin in a simple way with individuals whom you can easily help. Then gradually extend your practice to include individuals with whom you have more complex interactions.

Next focus on sympathetic joy. Remember an incident in which you felt the warmth and pleasure coming from your parents when they celebrated your success. Focus on this experience and clearly define within yourself, what it is to be in a state of sympathetic joy. Then focus on someone you can identify with who can produce this state in you. For instance, it may be in watching a child play baseball or it might be in watching a dog run and play on the beach. Whatever instance most readily brings about this state of sympathetic joy in your being, you should clearly focus upon it, recognize it and label it. Then you should be aware of whenever this state spontaneously arises. We will find as we develop in this practice that at first it may seem to be a rarity. However, the more we focus on it the more instances in which it occurs will become evident. Expand this experience until eventually it includes everything we encounter, so that we are celebrating the whole of the manifest universe.

Having fulfilled the previous three states we should then focus on equanimity. We should do this by understanding how, in loving-kindness, due to caring for another being, there is joy and sorrow and eventually there is a deep sense of the suffering present in the world. When we practice compassion we try to find active ways to alleviate that suffering and experience both success and failure in our effort. When we practice sympathetic joy we focus gradually on the victory of life and on the liberation that is already present. When practicing equanimity, we let go of all joy and grief and this comes as a natural progression of realizing any of the three previous states on a universal level. In such a way we extend loving-kindness, compassion and sympathetic joy to all sentient life and because of this we naturally reside in a state of equanimity or neutrality towards any one individual. When we experience loving-kindness for all sentient beings, it is infinite and we are freed of attachment to one sentient life. If we love all beings equally there must be equanimity, since we love a friend the same as we love a neutral person or an enemy. So in each of these three states cultivated, the closer we come to a infinite experience, the closer we are to equanimity. However, in the development of equanimity we specifically focus on the relinquishment or freedom from all desire, all joy, and all grief. We let go of the roller coaster of success and failure and learn to accept the reality of what is clarity and awareness of emptiness.

So how do we develop the four sublime states as a meditative path? We first establish calm in the body and mind. We can achieve this by a regular daily practice. Here I would recommend the breathing meditation combined with the two postures. If we live a very active life it is sometimes difficult to find the time to practice so I will describe the meditation exercise in it’s briefest form.

The two postures are walking and sitting. We should always begin with walking, because this generates energy in the body and mind, which will then helps us maintain an alert and penetrative state whilst we are sitting. We should generally practice half the time walking to the time we sit. For instance, if we are sitting for an hour we should walk for a half-hour. Ideally we should have a walking space of approximately 16 feet. Beginning at one end we stand with our feet together, our left hand holding our right wrist in front of our body and our eyes looking down approximately four feet in front of us. We mentally use the word ‘standing’ and place it on our heads, in our stomach and at our feet. We begin by mentally reciting ‘standing, standing, standing.’ Then we focus on the right foot, we slowly lift that foot and as we do so in our mind we mentally say ‘rising.’ We then move our foot forward and as we do so we say ‘moving.’ Hold this position for a moment and slowly place the right foot on the floor. As we are doing we say ‘placing.’ We should try to feel the air between the sole of our foot and the floor. We repeat this same process with the left foot and so on, until we have completed the 16 feet. At that time we bring our feet together and mentally recite ‘standing, standing, standing.’ Then we pivot our right foot on it’s heel a third of a turn and bring the left foot along side it. If we do this three times we should be facing in the direction from which we had come. Beginning with our right foot, again we should repeat the process for another 16 paces. While we are slowly and mindfully walking in this way we should focus on our breathing. We should be aware of the sensation of the breath as it touches the nostrils, there should be no effort to control or alter our breathing pattern.

After we have completed a half-hour of practice we should then sit cross-legged on a platform approximately two feet high. Our hands should be resting in our lap with the left hand supporting the right. In this way the tips of our thumbs should be touching each other lightly. The spine should be kept straight with the chin slightly tucked in. The eyes should be half-open or half-closed with the gaze resting in space approximately six feet in front of you. The tongue should be curled back with a slight pressure on the roof of the pallet. The mental focus should be placed on the sensation of the air passing into the nostrils. One should mentally think: “As I breathe in may I calm and heal the disturbances of my body. As I breathe out may I calm and heal the disturbance of my body.” Gradually the need for verbalization in the mind will be abandoned. Over a period of time we should focus on first the body, second the feelings, third the states of mind and forth phenomena of the mind. Each time we begin a new category we use the mental recitation. For instance: “As I breathe in may I calm and heal the disturbances of my feelings…of my states of mind…of phenomena of mind.” We could practice each of these categories for a day then the focus of the meditation should change to the main practice.

Now the focus changes to the heart center where you perceive an inward light. This can range in color from gold to rose or peach. As we breathe in we expand and pervade the body with this light and as we breathe out we expand and pervade the body with this light. We should think as we are doing so that the body is being healed of all tensions, conflicts, disease and malformations on the cellular level. During walking and sitting the focus is the same.

We can practice in this way for an extended period of time and then we move to the next category of feelings. In other words, we use the light to dissolve any conflicting feelings we may have. We practice in this way for some time or until there is catharsis. Then we begin to permeate the states of mind with the light of loving-kindness. We use it to dissolve all states of anger, hatred or aversion to others. When this occurs there will be a sense of release and anger will be infrequently experienced. In this way we use the meditation on loving-kindness to dissolve any state of mind that is a hindrance to our progress. After a period of time we will experience catharsis and we should move onto the fourth category which is objects of mind. We examine any thought, sense perception, or mental image arising in consciousness and dissolve those that are a direct hindrance to our practice. At this time we should have a very good awareness of what objects of mind propel us into various states of conflict. We should think: “May I be well and happy, may I be free of enmity, ill will and grief.” Pervading our whole being in this way we become completely suffused with loving-kindness.

We become detached from all sense desires, we let go of all unwholesome states of mind and we enter the first absorption, which is accompanied by thought conception and discursive thinking. This arises because we are detached from the five hindrances and filled with rapture and joy. Cultivating the meditation in this way gradually thought conception and discursive thinking subside. We attain an inner tranquility and oneness of mind. Feeling this tranquility pervade our entire being we enter the second jhana, which is born of concentration and filled with rapture and joy. Cultivating the meditation in this way gradually there is the fading away of rapture and joy. We reside in a state of equanimity and there is clear mindfulness present devoid of rapture and joy. In this way we enter the third absorption.

When we have perfected this state we should begin to expand it in predetermined increments. For instance, we may take an area of six feet from the body and beginning with the direction below, we extend this aura of loving-kindness to that distance. Then in front, to the right, behind, to the left and above us until we have a sphere six feet from the body permeated with this peach or rose colored light of loving-kindness. As we are doing this we should think: “May all the sentient life within this sphere reside in a state of loving-kindness, be free of enmity, ill will and grief and may they abide happily.” When we have perfected this extension we should take it further exponentially until we have encompassed an area the size of a house, then a neighborhood, etcetera until consciousness has expanded to the size of the planet earth. All this time we should pervade the entire sphere with the state of loving-kindness. If we are developing the contemplation, which focuses on individuals in conjunction with this meditation, we will find that the mind has great clarity in focusing on all the sentient life within the sphere. It is important to understand that this exercise is not merely a practice to develop active imagination, but one in which the meditator experiences the expansion of consciousness in a tactile and visceral manner.

When we have completed the practice of loving-kindness we should then develop compassion and sympathetic joy in the same way. However, when developing equanimity one should attain the third jhana while practicing loving-kindness, then using that as the base we cultivate equanimity and enter the fourth jhana.

The Results of the Practice
There has been debate in the various schools that have arisen due to the teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha. It seems that many believe the highest attainment is the realization of Arahat and that this realization is a rejection of all life affirming processes. It seems to me that all schools of Buddha Dharma reject clinging to life, based upon the delusional thought that a ‘self’ will succeed in attaining the objects of happiness. In other words, as long as we believe that somewhere or somehow a self is going to attain the object of happiness, suffering is going to be present. Any teaching that cultivates a desire for a greater becoming is certainly a partial one, and not a full manifestation of Buddha Dharma. Having said that it also should be noted that in the earliest teachings of the Buddha it was clear that he did not advocate that his followers turn away from the suffering of sentient beings and enter Nibbana, as an escape from those sufferings. After the attainment of Arahat he would exhort his disciples to wander forth for the good of the many. In other words, we should never think of the attainment of Path and the realization of Nibbana as a selfish act. The only way we can be selfish is when we protect the self, and of course in the teaching, this is seen as the great delusion.

In the most ancient commentaries it is stated, that one who realizes loving-kindness will easily attain the fine material absorptions. One who realizes compassion will easily attain the sphere of infinite space. One who realizes sympathetic joy will easily attain the sphere of infinite consciousness and one who realizes equanimity will easily succeed in the attainment of neither perception nor non-perception. In the realm of the fine material sphere loving-kindness is the highest attainment, in the realm of limitless space compassion is the highest attainment, in the realm of limitless consciousness sympathetic joy is the highest attainment and in the realm of neither perception nor non-perception, equanimity is the highest attainment.

After we have attained one of the four stages of Holiness, the practice of the four Divine Abidings is said to result in, or have, a particular effect. Because we have had at least a first experience of Nibbana at the Stream Entry level, there is the understanding that all formations are empty. Thus, we know that this realization of emptiness is the true refuge, free of all taint, devoid of any desire for becoming. Because of this the great being, the Bodhisattva, and the Mahasattva, are concerned about the welfare of all sentient life. They wish for the highest state of happiness to be present within each sentient life. With impartiality and without investigating whether they are worthy or not they give the Dhamma to all so that they may be happy and free of suffering. They avoid doing harm to anyone, in this way they purify their being. In order to bring this purity to perfection they train themselves in renunciation. In order to understand clearly what is beneficial and what might injure others they practice insight. For the sake of the welfare and happiness of others they constantly exert their energy. Though they have attained victory through exerting themselves none the less they understand the many forms of suffering others are trapped in. With unfailing truthfulness they keep their commitment to others. With unshakable resolution they work for the welfare of all sentient beings. By reason of equanimity they are free of all expectations. When these ten qualities of generosity, morality, renunciation, wisdom, energy, forbearance, truthfulness, resolution, loving-kindness and equanimity are brought to perfection through the practice of the Divine Abidings we have fulfilled the religious life. Because of this the four resolves are completely unshakable. The resolve to attain the highest wisdom; this is insight into all the permutations of emptiness. The second resolve is truthfulness, which is to develop infinite skill and means in the alleviation of suffering. The third resolve, relinquishment, is the complete letting go, or not clinging to, any predetermined views. The fourth is peace, this is the resolve to embody Nibbana here and now.

How to Recognize it's Success and Failure
The Highest Development

In the material and fine material realm the realization of loving-kindness is the ultimate attainment. In other words, one who is in a state of loving-kindness can easily master jhana using beautiful phenomena. And conversely, those who attain jhana on a beautiful object of meditation will be more readily able to develop loving-kindness.

In the realm of infinite space the realization of compassion is the ultimate attainment. In other words, one who is in a state of compassion can easily master the jhana on infinite space. And conversely, those who attain jhana on infinite space will be more readily able to develop compassion.

In the realm of infinite consciousness the realization of sympathetic joy is the ultimate attainment. In other words, one who is in a state of sympathetic joy can easily master the jhana of infinite consciousness. And conversely, those who attain jhana on infinite consciousness will be more readily able to develop sympathetic joy.

In the realm of neither perception nor non-perception the realization of equanimity is the ultimate attainment. In other words, one who is in a state of equanimity can easily master the jhana of neither perception nor non-perception. And conversely, those who attain jhana on neither perception nor non-perception will be more readily able to develop equanimity.

To reiterate this process simply, the highest attainment in the material and fine material realm is loving-kindness. The highest attainment in the realm of infinite space is compassion. The highest attainment in the realm of infinite consciousness is sympathetic joy. The highest attainment in the realm of neither perception nor non-perception is equanimity.

The Measure of Success
The first measure of our success, when cultivating the four sublime states is that we perceive the beautiful objects that stimulate sense desires with repugnance. The second measure of our success is that we have aversion towards that, which can be corrupted, become foul and decay. There is no longer attachment to compounded phenomena subject to loss. The third measure of our success is that there is a clear understanding that both the beautiful and the foul should be abandoned and seen as repugnant. The fourth measure of our success is in not having repugnance towards either of these states. In other words, we have attained a level of realization where we are in a state of neutrality, not attracted to the beautiful or the foul, and without repugnance towards them. The fifth measure of our success is that we avoid both the beautiful and the foul and with indifference we do not see them as necessary to our freedom. We do not cultivate jhanas on the beautiful, we do not cultivate jhanas on the foul, and we are indifferent to the realizations imparted by both. The sixth measure of our success is that we are able to abide in the beautiful, in total freedom, without attachment or aversion.

It's Near and Far Enemies
When practicing loving-kindness, because this state is provoked by the lovable qualities in others it’s near enemy is sensuality and sense desires. It’s opposite or what we might call it’s far enemy is hatred. When practicing compassion, because we are concerned about the welfare of others it’s near enemy is grief. When we see the suffering of others, because of our concern we may fall into grief however, this would be the defeat of compassion. Compassion’s far enemy should be understood as cruelty, because cruelty is the complete opposite of compassion. When cultivating sympathetic joy it’s near enemy is rejoicing in the material successes of others. In other words, if we do not have insight into the true values of the religious life and we merely celebrate the mundane successes of others we have succumbed to the near enemy of sympathetic joy. The far enemy of sympathetic joy is boredom. This is because boredom is diametrically opposed to being in a state of sympathetic joy. When we are cultivating equanimity our near enemy is ignorant indifference. In other words, if we have not developed the three previous states we may fall prey to hedonic indifference. This could also be described as having equanimity towards the development of the spiritual life by one who is still caught in samsara. The far enemy of equanimity is greed and resentment because one cannot be in a state of equanimity when there is attraction or aversion present. Greed for objects is an active grasping state and not equanimity. Resentment towards others or resentment towards life itself is the complete opposite to the divine state of equanimity.
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