Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly

The Four Immeasurables Leave Nothing Untouched

IN THE Tevijja Sutta (Sutra of the Threefold Knowledges) the Buddha introduces the “four immeasurables” of loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity to Vasettha, a young brahmin, saying, “Vasettha, a tathagata arises in the world, a fully enlightened buddha, and preaches the dharma that is lovely in its beginning, in its middle, and in its ending, in the spirit and in the letter, and displays the perfected and purified holy life. Following the tathagatha’s example, a disciple then goes forth, practices the moralities, and attains the first jhana. Then, with a heart filled with loving-kindness, the disciple fills the whole world, upward, downward, across, everywhere.”

The Buddha continued, “And it is by this meditation, Vasettha, by this liberation of the heart through loving-kindness, that the disciple leaves nothing untouched, nothing unaffected in the whole world. This, Vasettha, is the way to union with Brahma.”

The four immeasurables are variously known as the “abodes of Brahma” (brahmavihara), divine abidings, heavenly abodes, or the four sublime or excellent states. They are excellent because, in their manifestation, they are limitless. They are sublime because they point to the most wholesome, most loving, most affirming way of relating to others and ourselves.

Louis Massignon, a Catholic scholar of Islam, said religious historians should, through their scholarship, broaden their perspective on a time and culture to such an extent that they might feel the way the people they studied felt. He called this exercise the science of compassion—a way to “make place” for the other in our minds. This is precisely

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