The brahmavihāras are a series of four Buddhist
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 virtues and the meditation practices made to cultivate them. They are also known as the four immeasurables (Sanskrit: apramāṇa, Pāli: appamaññā).

According to the Metta Sutta
Metta Sutta
The Mettā Sutta is a Buddhist discourse found in the Pali Canon's Suttanipāta and Khuddakapāṭha . Ten verses in length, the Mettā Sutta extols both the virtuous qualities and the meditative development of mettā , traditionally translated as "loving kindness" or "friendliness." It is sometimes...

, Shākyamuni Buddha
In Buddhism, buddhahood is the state of perfect enlightenment attained by a buddha .In Buddhism, the term buddha usually refers to one who has become enlightened...

 held that cultivation of the four immeasurables has the power to cause the practitioner to be re-born into a Brahma realm
Brahma (Buddhism)
' in Buddhism is the name for a type of exalted passionless deity , of which there are several in Buddhist cosmology.-Origins:The name originates in Vedic tradition, in which Brahmā appears as the creator of the universe...

 (Pāli: Brahmaloka). The meditator is instructed to radiate out to all beings in all directions the mental states of: 1) loving-kindness or benevolence, 2) compassion, 3) sympathetic joy, and, 4) equanimity. The four immeasurables are also found in Patañjali
Patañjali is the compiler of the Yoga Sūtras, an important collection of aphorisms on Yoga practice. According to tradition, the same Patañjali was also the author of the Mahābhāṣya, a commentary on Kātyāyana's vārttikas on Pāṇini's Aṣṭādhyāyī as well as an unspecified work of medicine .In...

's Yoga Sutras (1.33), a text composed long after the beginning of Buddhism and substantially influenced by Buddhism. These virtues are also highly regarded by Buddhists as powerful antidotes to negative mental states (non-virtues) such as avarice, anger and pride.

Etymology & translations

  • Pāli
    - External links :* *...

    : cattāri brahmavihārā (IAST
    The International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration is a transliteration scheme that allows a lossless romanization of Indic scripts as employed by the Sanskrit language.-Popularity:...

    : )

Brahmavihāra means “Brahma
Brahma (Buddhism)
' in Buddhism is the name for a type of exalted passionless deity , of which there are several in Buddhist cosmology.-Origins:The name originates in Vedic tradition, in which Brahmā appears as the creator of the universe...

 abidings”, or "sublime attitudes."
It may be parsed
In computer science and linguistics, parsing, or, more formally, syntactic analysis, is the process of analyzing a text, made of a sequence of tokens , to determine its grammatical structure with respect to a given formal grammar...

 as "Brahma
Brahma (Buddhism)
' in Buddhism is the name for a type of exalted passionless deity , of which there are several in Buddhist cosmology.-Origins:The name originates in Vedic tradition, in which Brahmā appears as the creator of the universe...

" and "vihāra
Vihara is the Sanskrit and Pali term for a Buddhist monastery. It originally meant "a secluded place in which to walk", and referred to "dwellings" or "refuges" used by wandering monks during the rainy season....

"; which is often rendered into English as "sublime" or "divine abodes".

Apramāṇa, usually translated as "the immesurables," means boundlessness, infinitude, a state that is illimitable. When developed to a high degree in meditation, these attitudes are said to make the mind "immeasurable" and like the mind of the loving brahmā (gods).

Other translations:
  • English: four divine abodes, four divine emotions, four sublime attitudes.
  • East Asia: 四無量心 , 四等(心) , 四梵行 . or .


The four immeasurables are:
  1. Loving-kindness
    Mettā or maitrī is loving-kindness, friendliness, benevolence, amity, friendship, good will, kindness, love, sympathy, close mental union , and active interest in others. It is one of the ten pāramīs of the Theravāda school of Buddhism, and the first of the four sublime states...

    (Pāli: metta, Sanskrit: maitri) towards all: the hope that a person will be well; "the wish that all sentient beings, without any exception, be happy."
  2. Compassion
    Karuā is generally translated as "compassion" or "pity". It is part of the spiritual path of both Buddhism and Jainism.-Buddhism:...

    (Pāli and Sanskrit: karuṇā): the hope that a person's sufferings will diminish; "the wish for all sentient beings to be free from suffering."
  3. Empathetic Joy
    Mudita in Buddhism is joy. It is especially sympathetic or vicarious joy, the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people's well-being rather than begrudging it...

    (Pāli and Sanskrit: mudita): joy in the accomplishments of a person — oneself or another; sympathetic joy; "the wholesome attitude of rejoicing in the happiness and virtues of all sentient beings."
  4. Equanimity
    Upekkhā , is the Buddhist concept of equanimity. As one of the Brahma Vihara , it is a pure mental state cultivated on the Buddhist path to nirvāna.-Pali literary contexts:...

    (Pāli: upekkhā, Sanskrit: upekṣā): learning to accept loss and gain, praise and blame, and success and failure, all with detachment, equally, for oneself and for others. Equanimity is "not to distinguish between friend, enemy or stranger, but regard every sentient being as equal. It is a clear-minded tranquil state of mind - not being overpowered by delusions, mental dullness or agitation."

Loving-kindness and compassion are both hopes for the future (leading, where possible, to action aimed at realizing those hopes). Joy and equanimity are attitudes to what has already happened, but also with regard to consequences for future action. While these four might be delineated as attitudes to the future or past, they contain the seed of the "present" within their core (as a living embodied practice). This is the essence of the spiritual laws of karma, self-responsibility, and right thoughts (samma sankkalpa, literally 'right commitments'). A dedicated intention that all beings are in the "here and now", tranquil, happy, in touch with their gifts and accomplishments, and feeling interconnected by that synergy to eschew suffering by abdication.

Brahmavihāra practice in the Visuddhimagga

The four immeasurables are explained in The Path of Purification
The Visuddhimagga , is the 'great treatise' on Theravada Buddhist doctrine written by Buddhaghosa approximately in 430 CE in Sri Lanka. A comprehensive manual condensing the theoretical and practical teaching of the Buddha, it is considered the most important Theravada text outside of the Tipitaka...

 (Visuddhimagga), written in the fifth century CE by the scholar and commentator Buddhaghoṣa
Bhadantācariya Buddhaghoṣa(Chinese: 覺音)was a 5th-century Indian Theravadin Buddhist commentator and scholar. His best-known work is the Visuddhimagga, or Path of Purification, a comprehensive summary and analysis of the Theravada understanding of the Buddha's path to liberation...

. They are often practiced by taking each of the immeasurables in turn and applying it to oneself, wishing oneself well (omitted while training oneself in mudita
Mudita in Buddhism is joy. It is especially sympathetic or vicarious joy, the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people's well-being rather than begrudging it...

), and then to others nearby, and so on to everybody in the world, and to everybody in all universes.


Although this form of these ideas has a Buddhist origin, the ideas themselves are in no way sectarian. The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement
Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement
The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement is a self-governance movement in Sri Lanka, which provides comprehensive development and conflict resolution programs to villages. It is also the largest indigenous organization working in reconstruction from the tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake....

 uses them in public meditation events in Sri Lanka bringing together Buddhists, Hindus
Hinduism is the predominant and indigenous religious tradition of the Indian Subcontinent. Hinduism is known to its followers as , amongst many other expressions...

, Muslims
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

, and Christians
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

. Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling
Joseph Rudyard Kipling was an English poet, short-story writer, and novelist chiefly remembered for his celebration of British imperialism, tales and poems of British soldiers in India, and his tales for children. Kipling received the 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature...

's inspirational poem If refers to the idea of upekkhā in calling Triumph and Disaster impostors.

The four immeasurables in early Buddhism

In the Tevijja Sutta: The Threefold Knowledge of the Majjhima Nikaya set of scriptures, Buddha Shākyamuni is asked the way to fellowship/companionship/communion with Brahma. He replies that he personally knows the world of Brahma and the way to it, and explains the meditative method for reaching it by using an analogy
Analogy is a cognitive process of transferring information or meaning from a particular subject to another particular subject , and a linguistic expression corresponding to such a process...

 of the resonance of the conch shell of the aṣṭamaṅgala
Ashtamangala or Zhaxi Daggyai are a sacred suite of Eight Auspicious Signs endemic to a number of Dharmic Traditions such as Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. The symbols or 'symbolic attributes' are yidam and teaching tools...


A monk suffuses the world in the four directions with a mind of benevolence, then above, and below, and all around – the whole world from all sides, completely, with a benevolent, all-embracing, great, boundless, peaceful and friendly mind … Just as a powerful conch-blower makes himself heard with no great effort in all four [cardinal] directions, so too is there no limit to the unfolding of [this] heart-liberating benevolence. This is a way to communion with Brahma.

The Buddha then says that the monk must follow this up with an equal suffusion of the entire world with mental projections of compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity (regarding all beings with an eye of equality).

In the two Metta Suttas of the Aṅguttara Nikāya
Anguttara Nikaya
The Anguttara Nikaya is a Buddhist scripture, the fourth of the five nikayas, or collections, in the Sutta Pitaka, which is one of the "three baskets" that comprise the Pali Tipitaka of Theravada Buddhism...

the Buddha states that those who practice radiating the four immeasurables in this life and die "without losing it" are destined for rebirth in a heavenly realm in their next life. In addition, if such a person is a Buddhist disciple (Pāli: sāvaka
Shravaka or Śrāvaka or Sāvaka means "hearer" or, more generally, "disciple".This term is used by both Buddhists and Jains. In Jainism, a shravaka is any lay Jain...

) and thus realizes the three characteristics
Three marks of existence
The Three marks of existence, within Buddhism, are three characteristics shared by all sentient beings, namely: impermanence ; suffering or unsatisfactoriness ; non-self .According to Buddhist tradition, a full understanding of these three can bring an end to suffering...

 of the five aggregates
In Buddhist phenomenology and soteriology, the skandhas or khandhas are any of five types of phenomena that serve as objects of clinging and bases for a sense of self...

, then after his heavenly life, this disciple will reach nibbāna
Nirvāṇa ; ) is a central concept in Indian religions. In sramanic thought, it is the state of being free from suffering. In Hindu philosophy, it is the union with the Supreme being through moksha...

. Even if one is not a disciple, one will still attain the heavenly life, after which, however, one may again be reborn in a hell realm, or as an animal or hungry ghost
Preta, प्रेत or Peta is the name for a type of being described in Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, and Jain texts that undergoes more than human suffering, particularly an extreme degree of hunger and thirst...


A Cavern of Treasures (mDzod-phug)

A Cavern of Treasures is a Bonpo terma
Terma (Buddhism)
Terma are key Tibetan Buddhist and Bön teachings, which the tradition holds were originally esoterically hidden by various adepts such as Padmasambhava and his consorts in the 8th century for future discovery at auspicious times by other adepts, known as tertöns. As such, they represent a...

uncovered by Shenchen Luga in the early eleventh century. A segment of it enshrines a Bonpo evocation of the four immeasurables. Martin (n.d.: p.21) identifies the importance of this scripture for studies of the Zhang-Zhung language
Zhang-Zhung language
Zhang-Zhung is an extinct Tibeto-Burman language that was spoken in what is now western Tibet. The term 'Zhang-zhung language' has been used to refer to two different entities. The first 'Old Zhang-zhung' refers to the language which appears in a small number of documents preserved in Dunhuang. The...


Further reading

  • Buddhas Reden (Majjhimanikaya), Kristkreitz, Berlin, 1978, tr. by Kurt Schmidt
  • Yamamoto, Kosho (tr.) & Page, Tony (revision) (2000). The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra. London, UK: Nirvana Publications.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.