According to the Buddha’s teachings, the foundation of happy and meaningful relationships is the cultivation of four Sublime Attitudes, also known as Brahma Viharas, Divine Abodes, or simply Heart Practices: Metta (Loving-kindness), Karuna (Compassion), Mudita (Joy) and Upekkha (Equanimity).
Metta is usually translated as loving-kindness, friendliness and benevolence. We can think of Metta as softening – softening the body, the heart-mind, the breath, emotions, attitudes… But most importantly, it is softening the voice. With Metta, we learn to soften the voice of our inner critic, the voice of our ambitions, our judgements, and our expectations. We connect to our inherited Buddha Nature, and learn how to be kind, loving, and forgiving.
Karuna is generally defined as compassion, empathy and deep understanding of suffering of others. By cultivating compassion and self-compassion, we get an intuitive sense of connectedness that allows us to go beyond judgement and the illusion of separation. Compassion means embracing our common vulnerability, our common fears, our common pain, and learn how to express kindness.
Compassion also brings a profound understanding of the cause of fundamental human suffering, which is Avidya. Avidya is usually translated as ignorance, the desire to control, the desire to change, and the futile grasping of impermanence. It often emerges from our biological fears, inner insecurities and a lack of love. Compassion has the power to transcend Avidya through acts of kindness, volunteering, and helping one another.
Mudita, or sympathetic joy, is an ability to be happy for others without jealousy or judgement. Most people find this attitude the hardest of all. It may be explained by the fact that most of us grow up in a highly competitive environment, and victory of another person often signifies our own loss. With the attitude of Mudita we re-educate ourselves and try to see the world as abundant, so there is no need to be competitive or fear scarcity. We learn how to praise each other, love each other, and celebrate each other’s success with pure heart.
The last practice is the practice of Upekkha, or equanimity. Equanimity can be described as composure, calmness, and the ability to maintain the balance and inner peace, whatever the context. By cultivating Upekkha, we awaken our heart wisdom that is peaceful, quiet, and intimate. We gain the ‘ocean perspective’ on life, surpassing our own limitations, fears, insecurities, and reactivity. We connect to that inner space that so many mystics and poets are talking about – the space of faith, eternal love, infinite joy, and boundless freedom.