Meditation and mindfulness practice encompasses many things. In its essence, it is a simple practice, but it contains a wide range of mind and heart practices that work together to make us happy, complete and present. On the one side, the “mind practices” teach us presence, awareness and attention. This is perhaps the more obvious side of mindfulness and meditation. Today, however, I want to dedicate this blog post to the four qualities of love. These are often referred to as the “heart practices”. They can be cultivated in and out of meditation practice and are known as the four brahmavihāras. The term Brahma-vihara is Pali, and comes from two words: Brahmā (deity or heavenly king) and vihāra (abode or dwelling). Thus, Brahma-vihara can be translated to mean sublime or divine abodes, or a state of mind one reaches by following these practices. The four Brahma-viharas are mettā (loving-kindness), karuṇā (compassion), muditā (empathetic joy) and upekkhā (equanimity). Brahma-viharas are qualities of the heart, and thus make up the other side of Buddhist meditative practices of the mind.
Loving-kindness is the intention and ability to offer joy and happiness. It is characterised by friendliness, gentleness, amity, good will and an active interest in the wellbeing of others. The universal loving-kindness concept of Metta is discussed in the Metta Sutta of Buddhism, but its origins may have predated Buddhist teachings. Loving-kindness meditation teaches us care and unconditional love, both towards others and towards ourselves.
Compassion is the intention and ability to recognise and identify others’ suffering as one’s own, with the aim and capacity to relieve and lighten their sorrows. It is practiced through mindful breathing, deep listening, deep looking and communication. It is a quality of really feeling with another human being, rather than simply feeling for them.
Empathetic joy is the intention and ability to be happy because others are happy. It is characterised by contentment, gratitude and appreciation. It is joy for ourselves and for others, and joy in the knowledge that the two are not separate constructs. This type of joy, pure joy, is practiced through mindfulness and dwelling happily in the present moment.
Equanimity is the intention and ability to treat everyone equally and impartially. It is characterised by non-attachment, non-discrimination, even-mindedness and the act of letting go. It teaches us to love freely, without suffocating or diminishing another. Finally, it teaches us to not discriminate between people, but also not to discriminate between ourselves and others. There are no such boundaries.
It is easy to see how the four qualities of love are intertwined. True love cannot exist without one of these qualities, but these qualities cannot either exist without each other. The unifying trait of all of them is the unity between the “self” and the “others”, and the realisation that no such distinction exists. We cannot treat others unkindly, unequally or ignorantly, if we see them as extensions of ourselves. We are no longer either the one who loves or the one who is loved. We are simply love.
So maybe true love really does exist. And that’s a pretty great thought!