The Four Viharas

Originally published in Unity Newsletter, June 2006

By Will Tuttle, Ph.D.

Ultimately, the only empowerment we find in our lives is spiritual empowerment. Spiritual empowerment arises in us naturally as we make the long journey from our head to our heart—from our conditioned beliefs about who and what we are and what life is to an inner and direct experience of our essential freedom and wholeness.

This journey is through quieting the inner dialogue that keeps our minds busily revolving around the constructed self we have been taught falsely to believe is who we are. This means exploring the path of meditation, allowing our mind to relax into its original home. In meditation, we make a complete break with how we “normally” operate. We enter into a state free of all cares and concerns, in which there is no competition, no desire to possess anything, no anxious struggle, and no hunger to achieve. Meditation is healing because we soften the currents that bring conflict and violence into our lives and world. It is an ambitionless state in which we begin to release all the emotions and concepts that have imprisoned us, and to return to our natural joy and simplicity.

One of the most ancient meditations is known as “The Four Viharas.” Vihara is an old Sanskrit word meaning “home” or “abode,” and this meditation is designed to bring us into our true home—our heart. This home is seen to have four aspects: Loving-kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, and Peace or Equanimity. In the Four Viharas practice, we breathe quietly and on each inhalation we engender a sense of loving-kindness, and with exhalation we allow this feeling of loving-kindness to expand from our heart as light and to fill the whole world. Then we do the same with compassion, joy, and peace, engendering each in turn in our heart with each inhalation, and then with each exhalation radiating them in all directions, like ever-expanding spheres of light, and filling our world and the universe with the energy and truth of compassion, joy, and peace.

It is a practice that can be done while seated quietly or also when walking, sitting, waiting in lines, jogging—the possibilities are limitless! And one of the most beautiful things about this practice is that it brings our daily mind into alignment with the truth that we are essentially, and it thus helps to heal our afflicted emotions. Through this, we can learn to transform the energy of our emotions and we’ll find with time that instead of reacting with irritation, jealousy, or anxiety in situations, we’ll naturally begin to feel our connection with the source of our life—the divine essence that manifests in our life as lovingkindness, compassion, unselfish joy, and equanimity. As our outer world flows from within, spiritual empowerment flows from practicing the presence of truth in our lives. What you are—and what we all are—is Love, Compassion, Joy, and Peace!

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.

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