"The desire to do good, to bring about the happiness and well-being of
others, is effectively cultivated in Buddhism by the systematic
practice of the four "sublime attitudes" (brahmavihara):
loving-kindness (metta), compassion (karuna), altruistic joy (mudita),
and equanimity (upekkha). By cultivating these qualities a Buddhist
can gradually remove the mental defilements such as hatred, cruelty,
and envy, and bring into being the most exalted virtues. The sublime
attitudes elevate human beings to a divine-like stature; they break
the barriers that separate individuals and groups; they build bridges
more solid than those constructed of stone and steel.
1. Metta is goodwill, loving-kindness, universal love; a feeling of
friendliness and heartfelt concern for all living beings, human or
non-human, in all situations. The chief mark of metta is a benevolent
attitude: a keen desire to promote the welfare of others. Metta
subdues the vice of hatred in all its varied shades: anger, ill-will,
aversion, and resentment. The Buddha said:
Hatreds do not cease through hatreds
Anywhere at anytime.
Through love alone do they cease:
This is an eternal law.
(Dhp. v. 5)
This stanza is of special significance to us in this nuclear era when
the most appalling destructiveness has erupted all over the globe.
Peace will never be achieved by meeting force with force, bombs with
bombs, violence with retaliation. Metta or loving-kindness is the only
effective answer to violence and destructiveness, whether by
conventional weapons or nuclear missiles.
2. Karuna is the attitude conveyed by such terms as compassion,
sympathy, pity, and mercy. Its basic characteristic is sympathy for
all who suffer, and it arouses a desire to relieve or remove the pain
and suffering of others. Karuna helps to eliminate callousness and
indifference to others' woes. It is the direct antidote to cruelty,
another vice common in the world today. It is compassion that prompts
one to serve others selflessly, expecting nothing, not even gratitude,
3. Mudita is altruistic joy, appreciative joy: the desire to see
others rejoicing in their happiness, the ability to share the
happiness and success of others. This attitude is the complement of
karuna: while karuna shares the sorrow of others, mudita shares their
joy. Mudita is the direct antidote to envy. Envy arises over the good
fortune of others: it resents those who achieve position, prestige,
power, and success. But one who practices mudita will not only be
happy when others do well, but will try to promote their progress and
welfare. Hence this attitude is of vital importance for achieving
social concord and peace.
4. Upekkha, the last of the four sublime attitudes, is equanimity.
Upekkha establishes an even or balanced mind in an unbalanced world
with fluctuating fortunes and circumstances: gain and loss, fame and
ill-repute, praise and blame, pleasure and pain. Upekkha also looks
upon all beings impartially, as heirs to the results of their own
actions, without attachment or aversion. Upekkha is the serene
neutrality of the one who knows.
The constant, methodical, and deliberate cultivation of these sublime
virtues in everyday life transforms the attitudes and outlook of the
practitioner. They should be the foundation of all Buddhist social
action, as well as of individual and collective peace and harmony.
Buddhist social welfare work may take many forms, but what is most
essential is the spirit in which it is performed. This spirit should
be marked by the subordination of the private good to the good of the
whole. For Buddhist social work to be of real value, action should
spring from genuine love, sympathy, and understanding for one's fellow
humans, guided by knowledge and training. Welfare work should be the
perfect expression of compassion, untouched by condescension, washed
clean of pride even of the pride of doing good. It should be a sheer
manifestation of the brotherhood of all human beings.
The four sublime attitudes should be diligently cultivated with
unremitting effort by every true follower of the Master. These
qualities never become obsolete. They convey a universal message which
transforms us into universal human beings."
From: "A Simple Guide to Life" by Robert Bogoda, Buddhist Publication