By John Lee Pendall
We already covered two of the Four Immeasurables, now let’s finish off the other two.
Mudita is usually translated as sympathetic joy, and it basically means that—instead of resenting people for being happy—we’re happy that they’re happy. That’s especially the case if they got something that we wanted.
I think that’s a clunky translation, and it doesn’t quite fit with the Mahayana spirit of things. Theravada Buddhism focuses on the absence of an independent, unchanging self; Mahayana focuses on the absence of an independent, unchanging self/everything else. So, being happy for someone else is kind of counter-productive.
Instead of sympathetic joy, we can just call it joy.
Joy is joy, it doesn’t matter if it’s “mine” or “yours.” The same goes for all the other Immeasurables. They’re not just immeasurable because they bring us to a kind of immeasurable state of mind when we meditate with them. They’re immeasurable because they cross all the boundaries between us. Love, sadness and joy aren’t mine or yours, they pass freely as a whole.
The last Immeasurable is upekkha, or equanimity.
Equanimity is a weird word that I didn’t even know until I started practicing Buddhism. We could easily just call it peace.
The war is over, both sides realized that there aren’t really any sides. We’re no longer fighting the world or fighting ourselves. No more fighting with our thoughts and feelings or fighting about other’s. And if we do have to fight, we don’t fight against the need to fight.
The mind is like a huge train station. Everything we encounter is like people hopping on and off of trains. To be at peace, we have to let the mind be the mind, to let everything come and go freely—including the insight that everything comes and goes. We can’t seek peace or rush it along anymore than we can force a seed to sprout. All we can do is provide all the conditions that it needs and then wait for what happens.
The other three Immeasurables are all conditions for peace.
Love is the ground, sorrow the rain, and joy is the light. Buddha’s promise was that, if we have all those pieces in places, then we will wake up and be free of suffering, that seed will sprout.
Really, all we need to do is turn toward the Immeasurables and then keep turning toward them over and over again until they’re identical to ordinary life. It all starts with thought. Just thinking about love, sorrow, joy and peace can make room for them in our minds. Then, when we feel them, we focus on that feeling and that helps it to grow beyond ourselves.
Eventually, it expands so much that we lose everything in it. With that, we lose all of our problems, all sense that there are problems. This peak experience might just last for a moment, but it’s a moment that opens up other moments that we couldn’t experience without it. We can unlock that moment by practicing the Immeasurables.
The Four Immeasurables are only one list of thousands in Buddhism. For the most part, one list is plenty since they’re all related to each other. You can find the Four Immeasurables at work in the Six Perfections for instance, and vice versa. That’s the beauty of Buddhism.
I recommend studying broadly, but then hunkering down with just one teaching and one practice. I’m tempted to make the Immeasurables my practice and teaching, but it’s probably my fate to keep on wandering. But, if I could make my home anywhere, it’d be with them.
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