Ati Marga header
Books Online
Reading List
Senge Bio
Contact Us

An Overview
The Practice of Virtue
The Development of Insight

Speaking from the Heart
Even for a casual observer it should be clear that the teachings of the Buddha are universal in nature. That is, all sentient life that is in form undergoes suffering. This suffering arises from a cause and can be brought to an end. How to achieve this is a teaching that is pertinent to everyone, everywhere. The four sublime states of loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity are also universal and the ideal for all sentient life, not only the human and animal realm, but for whatever other sentient life there may be. When we begin the study and practice of loving-kindness, we should realize we are beginning a work that is infinite. Given that, let us ponder: What is the highest embodiment of love? The polar opposite of love is selfishness and self-concern - so the highest manifestation is selfless, love free of all possessiveness. Love combined with the insight that there is nothing to possess and no one to possess it, is its highest embodiment. Love by nature, even in its simplest and most mundane form, is a transcendence of self.

The more we unfold in the development of loving-kindness, the closer we come to a universal experience. When we love all beings with equality, the sense of a separate self is left behind. Love by nature is inclusive. As we develop it, we realize that to be exclusive and have preferences creates its opposite. Dislike, aversion and even hatred are created by exclusive love. When we focus our love only on our nuclear family and small circle of friends, those outside this circle are seen as potential enemies. When we confine our love to only those who are members of our racial heritage, religion or nation, again those outside of this sphere are seen as potential enemies. If we understand this, we realize whenever we create limits or boundaries to loving-kindness, we create aversion and thwart the very nature of love.

So when we practice loving-kindness, we should know that it embraces all living beings from the smallest to the greatest; from those that are our intimates, to those we hardly know; from creatures that crawl on the earth to ones that swim in the ocean or fly in the air. Being impartial in our expression of love, we should include all sentient beings and not just those who are useful and bring us pleasure or those we find charming. It is this love, the all-embracing love of the noble mind that we must cultivate. In this way, we make no distinction between lowly creatures and highly evolved ones. We do not merely love good people, but also those who are caught in evil, destructive and self-serving behavior. It is easy to love a noble and good person, but the low-minded unwholesome person is the one most in need of it. We should understand that in such individuals the seed of goodness might not have had the conditions to develop and grow. It may have died because of lack of warmth and support or it may have been trampled underfoot because of cold and callous behavior. We lose our sense of separateness from those caught in destructive behavior when we understand that conditioning can smother the seed of goodness within us. We realize that given those circumstances, we also might be in states of hatred or in denial of the need for love. When we cultivate loving-kindness it should be combined with the knowledge that we are all travelers in the round of existence, and the mere fact that we are in form means that we are subject to the same laws of suffering as everyone else.

We should be very mindful and aware of the differences between love born of sensuous desire and the altruistic state of loving-kindness. When sense desire is the cause of our actions, we are caught in the fire of passion that scorches and tortures us; it inflicts more wounds than it cures. One moment it flares up, in the next moment it can be extinguished and often it leaves behind more coldness, loneliness and pain than was felt before. Loving-kindness by contrast, is like a good friend who cannot be shaken, one who does not waver under difficult circumstances. This love is a comforting coolness in the fire of passion; it is life-giving warmth in the cold desert of loneliness. We must cultivate the heart of empathy so that we do not see ourselves as separate from those caught in the pit of suffering. When we have this empathy, we know the severe deprivation of isolation and we can experience the despair of others. It is the sublime noble heart, which knows and understands the depths of suffering and is always ready to help. When we have cultivated love to the point where it becomes a powerful force, then it is given to others freely so that they may have strength in overcoming their fears and obstacles. This is the loving-kindness proclaimed by the Enlightened One as the liberation of the heart and the highest manifestation of beauty. This love, conjoined with insight, shows the path that leads to the end of suffering. This is the highest loving-kindness proclaimed by all of the Awakened Ones.

When we ponder the nature of compassion, we see that it arises due to our awareness of the great suffering in the world. Most of us have closed our eyes, our ears and our hearts to this suffering. We build walls around us to protect us from the outside world. We have become affluent and fear poverty in the ghettos of our cities, we fear the homeless, the violent and the dispossessed. We have built political, social and philosophical rationales for our selfishness. Our hearts have become rigid and our minds narrow, so that we will not experience the vast ocean of suffering that surrounds us. We have become obsessed with our own petty grief and joy and the walls we have built to protect us have become our prisons. With our hearts and minds in spiritual atrophy, how is it possible for us to strive for a higher goal? The bureaucracy we have built prevents us from experiencing the suffering and has devoured our freedoms and our sense of connectedness. We have become so jaded that we see those who can still experience loving-kindness as suckers to be taken advantage of.

The only cure for this fatal disease is to be released from the prison of selfish craving and realize the freedom that a compassionate life brings. It is only compassion for others that can remove the bars of our imprisoned heart and open the door to nobility. In this way we will open our eyes and ears to the truth that surrounds us. It is compassion that lifts the inert weight and paralysis of self-involvement and gives us the wings to aspire to higher realization.

Because of compassion we never lose sight of suffering, even if we personally have become free of it. It is this experience that strengthens us so that we do not flap in the wind of popular sentiment and become the servant of opinion polls. It is compassion for others that will help us reconcile our own sorrows, failures and tragedies. If we observe with an open mind we will see many have suffered much more than we have. We should look into the past and see the great caravan of humans and animals burdened with sorrow, lamentation, grief, pain and despair. We should know that this burden is the inheritance of all present in this cycle of becoming. Those who possess the eye of wisdom will see this has existed for an unfathomable period of time, coming into being and passing away again and again. It is when we experience this that the heart of compassion truly opens. We know for certain that ignorance and the lack of compassion are the source of this great suffering - the great law of Karma. Knowing this, we keep guard and do not give way to the selfish impulses of greed and hatred. Those caught in delusion run from one state of suffering to another with no idea of the cause - they cannot even imagine an escape. It is only insight into the law of causality that will produce true compassion and not merely a response to an isolated moment of suffering. Our compassion should be extended to include those who are in happiness but are unaware of causality, unaware that this ignorance creates the endless cycle of becoming.

To be in a compassionate state does not render us a victim. It is through compassion that our thoughts, words and deeds are freed from the prison of self-involvement. Because of this we do not waver, we remain firm and resolute. We know only this mind of sure confidence is able to help. May we commit ourselves to discover all possible means to alleviate the suffering of the worlds! May we continually strive to perfect the sublime and noble heart that knows and understands and is always ready to help! May we acquire great strength, so we can freely give to others! May we acquire great wisdom, so we can show the way that leads to the end of suffering! May we become descendents of all the Awakened Ones, who have realized this goal to perfection!

When we ponder the nature of sympathetic joy, some may find it strange that in the Buddha’s teaching it is one of the limitless meditations. It is easy to understand how compassion could be limitless, because there are limitless beings caught in suffering. The four Noble Truths are at the core of Buddha Dharma: there is suffering, there is the cause of suffering, there is the extinction of suffering and there is the path leading to this extinction. So how is it possible for there to be an experience of limitless sympathetic joy? The full realization of sympathetic joy only comes to fruition when we experience the cessation of suffering.

Sympathetic joy was communicated in a gesture of the Buddha; he held a flower in his hand as a direct pointing to enlightenment. Kashapa smiles because he understands. Sympathetic joy, even in the simplest and most mundane experience, can be transcendent and infinite. When we have developed loving-kindness and compassion, sympathetic joy is a totally natural response to seeing someone break free from the bonds of suffering and enter the victory of limitless joy. When first we see it, it is like a rare flower emerging from the muck and grime, but once we focus on it we gradually begin to see it everywhere. All of creation is seeking liberation in the freedom of limitless consciousness. In every grass seed there is the potential for unfoldment and this is the potential we celebrate. This is not clinging to a form, but recognizing the consciousness behind the form and seeing in essence, it is free. When we begin to cultivate this realm, we share in the joys of all those who have gone before us. We are transformed by that experience and we are roused to noble aspirations and actions beyond our previous imagining. As we are able to help others increase the true happiness of liberation, our joy expands and brings us solace in the face of the truth of suffering. Within us will awaken the desire to lead all beings to this realization, which is already present but merely ignored. This joy and happiness is found amidst the woes and sufferings of everyday life. It is discovered by all those who have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. In the small victory that brings joy is reflected the great victory of the most sublime heights. The teachings of the Enlightened Ones are the path to this realization. One who is harried by grief and suffering for the world cannot enter this realm of blissful abiding. It is only the mind that is serene and recollected, abiding in happiness, that can enter the liberation of wisdom.

The more insight and clarity we have, the more we are able to recognize what to celebrate. When we see the noble life being led by those who achieve happiness in the here and now, we realize that they are the seeds for future unfoldment. We celebrate and hail them as true heroes! When we know liberation and understand that all beings are in search of it, let us celebrate the truth that all are destined to realize it; the great and noble heart will be realized by all. The realization of sympathetic joy is the noble heart combined with insight. It is the discovery of the living truth that is declared by the enlightening mind. One who resides in sympathetic joy has great strength and is able to give of themselves without depletion. This state, because it has forgotten selfish concerns, rides the crest of the wave of awakening with sure-footed confidence and is a light for those still caught in realms of suffering. This is the Path of the Awakened Ones realized to perfection.

When we ponder the nature of equanimity we understand that it is the inevitable result of developing loving-kindness, compassion, and sympathetic joy to a limitless experience. The closer we come to full maturity of these states, the closer we are to equanimity. When we love all beings equally, equanimity is present towards any given individual. When we have compassion for all beings equally, equanimity is present towards any given individual. When we have sympathetic joy for all beings equally, equanimity is present towards any given individual. True equanimity, as a divine abiding, only exists as a culmination of the other three states. Having said that, we now must look at the cultivation of equanimity as a discipline in and of itself.

Equanimity is a perfect unshakable balance of mind, rooted in insight. When we are aware that all of life is in a state of flux and change and moving between contrasting opposites, we see the cause of suffering. We recognize rise and fall, success and failure, gain and loss, praise and blame as being the drama and struggle of those caught in this suffering. Equanimity transforms the roller coaster of life into our teacher. It is here that we know happiness and sorrow imposed on us through the development of love as a discipline. We know disappointment and satisfaction imposed on us through the development of compassion as a discipline. We know hope and fear imposed on us through the development of sympathetic joy as a discipline.

Equanimity is not retreating from life and abandoning the struggles of life, but instead opening our heart and allowing the discipline of altruism to naturally mature into the heart of wisdom. It is the great heart that embraces the waves of emotion and caring that hurl us up and down - no sooner do we find a moment of success, then we also see innumerable shortcomings. Equanimity is the only way to ride the dragon of becoming with fearless poise and composure. It is the mature heart that is secure in this restless sea of existence. Our skill in helping others is born of equanimity and becomes an island of refuge for all that meet us.

We know directly from our experience that we must have the courage to begin again and again, sometimes with only the faintest hope of success. We look into the face of sickness, old age and death and are shaken not. We have not dulled our awareness through indifference, but instead heightened it to see and know this great ocean of suffering. This is a deliberate and hard training, not the casual outcome of a passing mood. Equanimity comes through the maturity of our heart. It does not come about through conscious effort or exertion. It does not have to be maintained, because if it was through exertion that it came to be it would one day weaken and finally be defeated by the trials of life. Because it is rooted in insight, it has the power of self-renewal and resists despair. With insight we understand the nature of change, we know it to be the cause of suffering. We know clinging to a self is the root of the desire to have permanence in the midst of change. We see that the imprisonment of the mind comes from actions in thought, word and deed to preserve, protect, augment, embellish and preen the illusion of a self.

Karma is the womb and builder of our becoming a self. This blind building has no beginning or end unless we see the truth of its existence and with decisive clarity bring it to an end. We must recognize that karma arising from our deeds has a life of its own and the laws of causality take us where we will not. Our actions are our inheritance. We are not separate from the cause and result - everything is the outcome of our own mind. It is this awareness that is the base of true equanimity. It is this awareness that frees us from hope and fear. We recognize the undeviating justice in all the circumstances of our life. Therefore, how could we have fear when we know that all circumstances that we meet are only reflections of ourselves?

Wholesome actions are our only refuge. As we develop on the path we will recognize the power of this truth. Understanding of the past and courage in the moment will help us cultivate the good in the face of hardship. We should know that it is never too late to begin this process, that it is always the right time for wholesome action. However, it is only the realization of emptiness, freedom from a self, that is a protection from the hard blows of destiny. We are forever vigilant to abide in this perception spotless and pure, we embrace whatever arises. We know the Bodhi mind can never be prevented from reaching its goal. It is this certainty that produces the patience of mind to bear adversities in the present. When we understand this fully, we will see the results of our actions as a beloved friend, because whether good or bad, they are our teachers. Even when they bring us sorrow and pain, we will know them as our friends. We will develop skill in recognizing how our actions return to us, often in guises almost unrecognizable. We should remain alert and make conscious the unconscious motives that propelled us. We should learn to read the messages conveyed by our experience. In this way suffering becomes our teacher and friend. This teacher may be stern and unremitting, but always will be truthful. This is how we develop knowledge of how the illusion of self is built. Equanimity shows us suffering as our friend and is the powerful impulse born from the recognition of karma that leads us to final emancipation.

Disgust arises when we experience our craving; disgust arises when we see what delusion builds; disgust arises when we see how the conflicts of life sap our energy for awakening. It is equanimity towards these formations that is our freedom. Equanimity is the natural culmination and crown of the four sublime states. Equanimity should never be thought of as a negation of love, compassion and sympathetic joy, nor should we think of it as a state that sees the previous three as inferior and leaves them behind. In fact, equanimity includes them and is part of their very nature. The advanced practitioner will see how they are inseparable from one another. Loving-kindness guards compassion from partiality, prevents it from selecting and excluding and in this way aversion does not arise. Love gives to equanimity its boundless measure and a kind of fervor that is the root of the spiritual life. It is this fervor, transformed and controlled, that is the perfection of equanimity.

Compassion reigns in love and sympathetic joy, it does not let us forget the dreadful states of suffering. Compassion reminds us of the highest goal. Though loving-kindness and sympathetic joy are limitless, they co-exist with awareness of suffering. It is compassion that bridges the gap between these states. Compassion knows it is only in the attainment of Nibbana that suffering comes to an end. Compassion does not allow us to reside in loving-kindness and sympathetic joy as a retreat from the mundane life. Compassion stirs and urges us to give love to a wider and wider sphere of sentient life. It inspires us to acquire great skill and means to liberate all sentient beings. In this way it helps sympathetic joy attain the boundless state. Compassion guards equanimity, for if it was not for compassion, equanimity might become a kind of cool indifference, a selfish and indolent isolation. Compassion urges us to enter the battlefield again and again until equanimity has reached perfection. Like the skilled dispassionate surgeon, we demonstrate to others what must be abandoned.

Sympathetic joy reigns in compassion, so the immensity of suffering does not overwhelm us. Sympathetic joy reminds us to celebrate the perfection of what is. It soothes the painful burning of the compassionate heart. It prevents us from falling into melancholy or a sentimental grief that paralyses us from acting. It is sympathetic joy that enlightens the compassionate mind of release. Sympathetic joy gives to equanimity mild serenity and prevents it from becoming harsh indifference. It is the divine smile on the face of the Enlightened One, the smile that is present with the knowledge of suffering. It is the smile that gives us solace and hope that inspires us to become fearless and confident. It is the smile that knows “Wide open are the doors of deliverance” and thus speaks to us of the transcendence that has gone beyond.

Equanimity rooted in insight reigns in and restrains the other three. It is here that we come to know how to best express our loving support of others, what skillful means compassion would manifest, and what the highest celebration in joy there is. Equanimity prevents love and compassion from being dissipated in the labyrinth of uncontrolled emotion. It is only equanimity born of insight that keeps us vigilant, our sights clearly focused on the final goal. It does not allow us to be satisfied in merely the mundane experience of sympathetic joy. It will not allow us to forget what we must strive for.

Equanimity is the great leveler. Equanimity helps us to become free of the roller coaster of success and failure that loving others subjects us to. It transforms the sentiments of love into the unchanging firmness and loyalty of the good friend. Equanimity endows loving-kindness with the virtue of patience. Combined with compassion it becomes unwavering courage and fearlessness. It is only this boundless compassion which is able to face the abyss again and again. It is wisdom arising out of equanimity that enables us to cultivate the art of helping others. Equanimity when combined with compassion produces patience. It is this patient devotion to others that brings about the great success.

Loving-kindness could degenerate into a mere sentimental goodness. Compassion could degenerate into mere manipulation. Sympathetic joy could degenerate into an infantile happiness. It is equanimity that gives us the detachment to see ourselves from afar, without bias or vested interest. Equanimity frees us from praise and blame and frees us from the view that we could collect virtues. Equanimity frees us to be in the moment of action without a desire. Equanimity gives us the overview that does not merely see isolated instances of virtue, but the whole of life, the ocean of universal consciousness. Equanimity is present in the other sublime states as they near ideal realization of the limitless.

If equanimity were not rooted in insight it would not perform its proper function. But we would be foolish to think of this as a kind of rigidity. Equanimity is not a kind of dullness, nor is it a frozen heartlessness. We should never think of equanimity as an emotional ‘emptiness.’ Instead we should think of equanimity as ‘fullness’, the fullness of understanding. It should be seen as complete in itself. Only with equanimity can we attain the heights of inner strength that allow us to come face to face with what is.

It is equanimity towards our own formations that is the enlightened view. Whatever has become stagnant, it dissolves; whatever has becomes dammed up, it releases; whatever obstructs us, it destroys. It dries up the emotional whirling like the sun dries up the dew in the morning. It watches the chattering intellect like one watches monkeys playing in a tree. It is the majestic stream of consciousness, pure and radiant. Equanimity is the state from which true mindfulness can arise. True faith is born here, because it does not allow us to fall into sentimentality. True wisdom is born here, because equanimity prompts clear insight. True strength and energy are born here, because we know where to focus our will. The mind of calm recollectedness is born here, because equanimity brings us to the great ocean of universal consciousness. These five inner faculties grow into a power and force, which can never be lost or shaken by the world and its views. Consciousness can no longer be enticed into the labyrinths of endless suffering. Consciousness can no longer be diffused by the armies of conflicting and partial views. Mindfulness stands guard while equanimity gives us objectivity, so that we are not bound to partial view and pass through the world untouched. Nowhere clinging, nowhere abiding - free. Thus the holy life is lived. The Purified Ones are diamonds, able to reflect the rainbow. What they reflect does not alter their nature. It is not a view, but infinite viewing; it is not the law of causality, but all causal relations. All things conditioned move towards an end, however, the unconditioned has no beginning or end. In this stillness of non-arising or passing away, the Holy Ones reside in equanimity, free of craving, neither coming nor going, neither arising nor passing away, neither in this world, nor in between, nor gone beyond. This truly is the end of suffering.
{ back to top }
Terms of use: You may copy, reformat, reprint, republish, and redistribute this work in any medium whatsoever, provided that: (1) you only make such copies, etc. available free of charge; (2) you clearly indicate that any derivatives of this work (including translations) are derived from this source document; and (3) you include the full text of this license in any copies or derivatives of this work. Otherwise, all rights reserved.