The overarching Dhamma practice for the human realm–the realm of being affected by people and events, and by our moods, limitations and disappointments–is the cultivation of empathy (anukampa). This is the fellow-feeling that motivated the Buddha to teach; it’s the sense that we live in a shared scenario with its qualities, problems and potential. When it’s activated, it follows one or more of four intentions: loving-kindness (metta), compassion (karuna), sympathetic joy (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha). Collectively they are known as the ‘measureless’ or the ‘sublime abiding’ (brahmavihara), states that are all ‘lofty, uncramped, measureless, free from hatred and ill-will, ‘to others as to myself.’ They are all described in this way. It defines their basis, the empathic sense.
The Buddha defines these states by what they are not. They are not cramped, they are free from hatred and ill-will, and they are measureless in that they rise above comparisons and judgements–such as , who deserves what, how much I should give, how long should I persist and to whom I should extend goodwill: all these measuring attitudes cramp the heart and limit its potential. So the Buddha brings these states to mind in a way that emphasizes letting go: it’s by the removal of certain blocks that healthy states naturally arise. It’s not just a case of simply pumping out metta on demand, or worrying as to whether one is compassionate enough, but rather that if you understand the obstacles to goodwill and practice releasing them, then a greater potential naturally comes forth.
These brahmavihara are transformative; they change the way our human realm is structured and motivated…
This reflection by Ajahn Sucitto is from the article, Cultivating Empathy.