Lately I’ve been exploring the concept of brahma-vihara. Collectively, brahma-vihara are four states of mind often referred to as the “four immeasurables” or the “four perfect virtues”. Brahma here is translated as ‘divine’ or ‘noble’ and vihara as ‘abiding’ or ‘living’. One who practices brahma-vihara, then, is said to be living in a divine way.
The four virtues are:
Swami Satchidananda (1914-2002), a yoga master, interpreted the yoga sutra (1.33) pertaining to the brahma-vihara this way: “By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.” He went on to say “If you use the right key with the right person, you will retain your peace.”
It occurs to me that for many of us there is a need to cultivate all of these virtues for ourselves before we can really practice them with others. If we are able to treat ourselves with kindness and compassion, to essentially nurture ourselves in a way that we typically look to others to do, we will become this energy. Why, then, does it seem so difficult at times to treat ourselves with loving kindness, to practice compassion for ourselves, to feel joy and not feel like that is undeserved in some way? We come into the world divine beings, and end up hearing messages that cause us to forget who we really are; we externalize our feelings of self-worth and look to others to comfort us and to make us happy. We need to become our own best friends before we can become the kind of people we wish to be.
Meditation on the brahma-vihara can help with this. I will explore the four virtues in separate posts.