Practicing the Four Viharas:
Love, Compassion, Joy, and Peace
By Will Tuttle, Ph.D.
The first of the Four Viharas (Abodes) is maitri, which is a loving and kind regard for everyone equally, whether they are friend or foe, human or non-human. The idea behind the Four Viharas is that we all have a true home within where our authentic self is continually shining, and this true home has four aspects, which are aspects of our enlightened nature. As I discussed last month, they are love, compassion, joy, and peace.
As we focus on these qualities of our true nature, we purify our consciousness. Unity teaches us that whatever we focus on and put our attention on expands. By cultivating these four qualities of our mind and engendering them consciously, we deepen our connection with the matrix of life and heal old wounds that keep our minds distracted and anxious.
Here is the practice of loving-kindness:
With each exhalation let go of thinking, and with each inhalation engender within your heart the feeling of love. Allow the feeling of lovingkindness to wash into your heart and fill it with every inhalation, and with every exhalation, let this feeling of love flow out into the world, filling the space around you with love. This love is a feeling of benevolence and goodwill, of wanting others to be happy and to be blessed with the causes of highest happiness. Breathe in love, and then exhale, radiating lovingkindness. Deeply feel what this quality of pure love feels like in your heart, in your body, and in your mind, beyond thinking. If you’re distracted, immediately relax and return to love, engendering and radiating love. Feel this love as being universal like the warmth of the sun: shine love to those who are close to you, to those who are neutral, and even to those who are distant or difficult for you. Radiate love to all. Breathe and allow lovingkindness to flow to each and every being in your world. Send love to yourself as well, truly loving the unique and beautiful being that you are, fully and unconditionally with both appreciation and forgiveness. Allowing that feeling of love to expand, you become a breathing, living fountain of love, shining love in all directions simultaneously, like an ever-expanding sphere, breathing and radiating love. . . .
This is the first part of the practice of the Four Viharas. Our outer life flows from our inner life. May your life be filled with loving-kindness this month!
By Will Tuttle, Ph.D.
As I discussed last month, the idea behind the Four Viharas (Abodes) is that we all have a true home within, and when we deepen our connection with this inner home, we find that it is our true self, continually radiating wisdom into our life. This inner home has four primary aspects, which are aspects of our enlightened nature. They are love, compassion, joy, and peace.
The second of the Four Viharas is karuna, which is compassion, a feeling of truly caring for the welfare of others and of wishing others to be free from suffering and from all causes of suffering. Additionally, compassion is characterized by a definite yearning to act to help relieve the suffering of others. Like intuition, compassion is strengthened as we use it, like a muscle. As we practice the Four Viharas and strengthen our connection with our inner home, we become willing to listen deeply to others and to try to understand them. Through the Four Viharas, we have the opportunity to harmonize the inner and outer worlds through interrelating, with no sense of superiority to others. We needn’t repress, or act out, or even alertly watch the negativity within ourself because it has spontaneously transformed into compassion by the presence in our consciousness of the Four Viharas. This living presence, through patient and regular practice, establishes the mind in its true home. As Unity teaches, whatever we focus on and put our attention on expands. By cultivating these four qualities of our mind and engendering them consciously throughout the day, we heal old wounds that keep our minds distracted and anxious.
Here is the practice of compassion:
With every exhalation, allow the feeling of compassion to radiate from your heart, filling the space around you with the energy of compassion. Inhaling compassion, allow it to fill your heart and every cell of your being, and then when you exhale, let compassion flow forth to all beings who are in any way suffering, and fill the world around you with empathy and compassion. Visualize an ever-expanding sphere of light radiating from your heart, filling the entire world with compassion, and embracing all living beings in the loving light of universal compassion. See compassion encircling the earth for everyone. Allow yourself to send this feeling of compassion also to yourself, a sense of caring and patience and understanding for yourself, nourishing yourself and being loyal to the truth within yourself. Breathing compassion, become compassion, and being the living embodiment of compassion, allow this feeling to radiate from you as you shine the light of compassion, filling the world with the light of compassion.
Mudita: Sympathetic Joy
By Will Tuttle, Ph.D.
This month we look at mudita, the third of the Four Viharas (Abodes) that are the four aspects of our true spiritual home. In this ancient and universal practice, we cultivate these four essential aspects of our basic awakened nature, which are loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and peace.
Mudita is typically translated from the ancient Sanskrit as “joy” but it is not the self-centered joy that arises just because I get something I want in the outer world. Rather, it is a deeper type of joy that is related to pure being, and it also manifests as joy in the joy of others. It is an excellent antidote to jealousy, and it brings inner peace. I remember back in 1984 when I was living as a Zen monk in a monastery in Korea, and one day all of the seven or eight “foreign” monks (from U.S., Germany, Australia, Denmark, etc.) were each given a little gift of a small wrapped sweet cake. I put mine away in one of the wooden lockers, thinking to have it that evening. When I came back to get it later, it was gone! One of the other monks had taken and eaten it! For a fleeting moment I was disturbed, but I had been doing the Four Viharas every day quite a bit, and I spontaneously felt into how nice it must have been for this unknown monk to not only have one cake, but to have a second one on top of it! I found myself really enjoying the thought of him enjoying the cake, and my disappointment utterly vanished without a trace. I was truly even happier than before. This may be an example of the liberating action of mudita in our lives.
Here is the practice of joy:
With every inhalation, engender the feeling of sympathetic joy in your heart. This is a feeling of opening to and delighting in the joys of others and in the world around you. It is the pure joy of being: joy in the cycles of life, in the endless vistas of becoming, and in the mysterious adventure of living. This is the great joy that needs no reasons or outer cause. Allow this joy to come bubbling into your heart and into every cell of your being. With every inhalation, allow this transcendent joy to fill your heart, and with every exhalation, allow this joy to overflow from your heart, filling every cell in your being and pouring out through your skin, filling the space around you with joy, and filling the entire world with joy. Breathing and radiating the boundless joy of being, allow it to radiate out from you like an ever-expanding sphere, filling the world with the light and energy of unselfish, transcendent joy. Breathing in, engendering joy, and breathing out, radiating joy and seeing all living beings and the earth bathed in the truth of joy.
This is the third part of the practice of the Four Viharas. Our outer life flows from our inner life. May your life be filled with joy this month!
By Will Tuttle, Ph.D.
Today we look at upekha, the fourth of the Four Viharas (Abodes), completing the 5-installment series on this 2,500-year old meditation practice from Asia. In this time-tested
One of the key elements of upekha is a feeling of equality: that we have love and goodwill for all beings equally. This is an often-neglected aspect of teachings on inner peace. Although it somehow seems “natural” for us humans to love some people more than we love others, this in-group/out-group mentality actually causes all of us enormous suffering. The very heart of upekha is cultivating the ability to care for and love everyone equally. Even those people who are neutral to us, or who are difficult, offensive, or frightening to us, and even those animals we think of as pests or mere commodities to be used for food, research, or entertainment: all are to be equally included in the sphere of our love, compassion, and sympathetic joy as those people and animals who are close to us. This represents a radical reorientation in our thinking and feeling, and it creates the possibility of peace in our lives, and peace in our world. We are called by upekha to cultivate love even for our so-called enemies and, as Jesus put it, to “bless those that curse you.” The practice of equanimity brings inner peace, and is one of the chief attributes of one who is dedicated to the path of spiritual awakening.
Here is the practice of inner peace:
With each inhalation, engender in your heart the feeling of peace. This feeling of peace arises effortlessly from your understanding that you are always and irrevocably connected with the radiant web of living consciousness, and with the loving source of all life. And for the heart filled with the first three viharas—love, compassion, and joy—peace arrives naturally and easily. The feeling of peace flows into your heart, mind, and body with every inhalation, and you deeply open to this feeling of harmony and serenity. With every exhalation, allow the energy of peace to flow out from your heart, and feel your heart as the heart of the universe. Breathing and radiating peace, allow this feeling of deep peace to permeate every cell of your being and to radiate outward, filling the world and the universe with the truth of radiating, all-embracing peace.
This is the fourth and final part of the practice of the Four Viharas. Our outer life flows from our inner life. May your life be filled with inner peace this month!
Will Tuttle, Ph.D., composer, pianist, Zen priest, and author of The World Peace Diet, is cofounder of Karuna Music & Art and of the Prayer Circle for Animals and Circle of Compassion ministry.