Head & Heart Together
Bringing Wisdom to the
The brahma-viharas, or "sublime
attitudes", are the Buddha's primary heart teachings — the ones that connect most directly with our
desire for true happiness. The term brahma-vihara literally means "dwelling place of brahmas".
Brahmas are gods who live in the higher heavens, dwelling in an attitude of unlimited goodwill, unlimited
compassion, unlimited empathetic joy, and unlimited equanimity. These unlimited attitudes can be developed from
the more limited versions of these emotions that we experience in the human heart.
Of these four emotions,
goodwill (metta) is the most fundamental. It's the wish for true happiness, a wish you can direct
to yourself or to others. Goodwill was the underlying motivation that led the Buddha to search for awakening and
to teach the path to awakening to others after he had found it.
The next two emotions in the list are
essentially applications of goodwill. Compassion (karuna) is what goodwill feels when it
encounters suffering: It wants the suffering to stop. Empathetic joy (mudita) is what goodwill
feels when it encounters happiness: It wants the happiness to continue. Equanimity (upekkha) is a
different emotion, in that it acts as an aid to and a check on the other three. When you encounter suffering
that you can't stop no matter how hard you try, you need equanimity to avoid creating additional suffering and
to channel your energies to areas where you can be of help. In this way, equanimity isn't cold-hearted or
indifferent. It simply makes your goodwill more focused and effective.
Making these attitudes limitless
requires work. It's easy to feel goodwill, compassion, and empathetic joy for people you like and love, but
there are bound to be people you dislike — often for very good reasons. Similarly, there are many people for
whom it's easy to feel equanimity: people you don't know or don't really care about. But it's hard to feel
equanimity when people you love are suffering. Yet if you want to develop the brahma-viharas, you have to
include all of these people within the scope of your awareness so that you can apply the proper attitude no
matter where or when. This is where your heart needs the help of your