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The Inter-relations of the Four Sublime States by Nyanaponika Thera

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  • Antony Woods
    How, then, do these four sublime states pervade and suffuse each other? Unbounded love guards compassion against turning into partiality, prevents it from
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 13, 2006
      "How, then, do these four sublime states pervade and suffuse each

      Unbounded love guards compassion against turning into partiality,
      prevents it from making discriminations by selecting and excluding
      and thus protects it from falling into partiality or aversion against
      the excluded side.

      Love imparts to equanimity its selflessness, its boundless nature and
      even its fervor. For fervor, too, transformed and controlled, is part
      of perfect equanimity, strengthening its power of keen penetration
      and wise restraint.

      Compassion prevents love and sympathetic joy from forgetting that,
      while both are enjoying or giving temporary and limited happiness,
      there still exist at that time most dreadful states of suffering in
      the world. It reminds them that their happiness coexists with
      measureless misery, perhaps at the next doorstep. It is a reminder to
      love and sympathetic joy that there is more suffering in the world
      than they are able to mitigate; that, after the effect of such
      mitigation has vanished, sorrow and pain are sure to arise anew until
      suffering is uprooted entirely at the attainment of Nibbana.
      Compassion does not allow that love and sympathetic joy shut
      themselves up against the wide world by confining themselves to a
      narrow sector of it. Compassion prevents love and sympathetic joy
      from turning into states of self-satisfied complacency within a
      jealously-guarded petty happiness. Compassion stirs and urges love to
      widen its sphere; it stirs and urges sympathetic joy to search for
      fresh nourishment. Thus it helps both of them to grow into truly
      boundless states (appamañña).

      Compassion guards equanimity from falling into a cold indifference,
      and keeps it from indolent or selfish isolation. Until equanimity has
      reached perfection, compassion urges it to enter again and again the
      battle of the world, in order to be able to stand the test, by
      hardening and strengthening itself.

      Sympathetic joy holds compassion back from becoming overwhelmed by
      the sight of the world's suffering, from being absorbed by it to the
      exclusion of everything else. Sympathetic joy relieves the tension of
      mind, soothes the painful burning of the compassionate heart. It
      keeps compassion away from melancholic brooding without purpose, from
      a futile sentimentality that merely weakens and consumes the strength
      of mind and heart. Sympathetic joy develops compassion into active

      Sympathetic joy gives to equanimity the mild serenity that softens
      its stern appearance. It is the divine smile on the face of the
      Enlightened One, a smile that persists in spite of his deep knowledge
      of the world's suffering, a smile that gives solace and hope,
      fearlessness and confidence: "Wide open are the doors to
      deliverance," thus it speaks.

      Equanimity rooted in insight is the guiding and restraining power for
      the other three sublime states. It points out to them the direction
      they have to take, and sees to it that this direction is followed.
      Equanimity guards love and compassion from being dissipated in vain
      quests and from going astray in the labyrinths of uncontrolled
      emotion. Equanimity, being a vigilant self-control for the sake of
      the final goal, does not allow sympathetic joy to rest content with
      humble results, forgetting the real aims we have to strive for.

      Equanimity, which means "even-mindedness," gives to love an even,
      unchanging firmness and loyalty. It endows it with the great virtue
      of patience. Equanimity furnishes compassion with an even, unwavering
      courage and fearlessness, enabling it to face the awesome abyss of
      misery and despair which confront boundless compassion again and
      again. To the active side of compassion, equanimity is the calm and
      firm hand led by wisdom — indispensable to those who want to practice
      the difficult art of helping others. And here again equanimity means
      patience, the patient devotion to the work of compassion.

      In these and other ways equanimity may be said to be the crown and
      culmination of the other three sublime states. The first three, if
      unconnected with equanimity and insight, may dwindle away due to the
      lack of a stabilizing factor. Isolated virtues, if unsupported by
      other qualities which give them either the needed firmness or
      pliancy, often deteriorate into their own characteristic defects. For
      instance, loving-kindness, without energy and insight, may easily
      decline to a mere sentimental goodness of weak and unreliable nature.
      Moreover, such isolated virtues may often carry us in a direction
      contrary to our original aims and contrary to the welfare of others,
      too. It is the firm and balanced character of a person that knits
      isolated virtues into an organic and harmonious whole, within which
      the single qualities exhibit their best manifestations and avoid the
      pitfalls of their respective weaknesses. And this is the very
      function of equanimity, the way it contributes to an ideal
      relationship between all four sublime states.

      Equanimity is a perfect, unshakable balance of mind, rooted in
      insight. But in its perfection and unshakable nature equanimity is
      not dull, heartless and frigid. Its perfection is not due to an
      emotional "emptiness," but to a "fullness" of understanding, to its
      being complete in itself. Its unshakable nature is not the
      immovability of a dead, cold stone, but the manifestation of the
      highest strength.

      In what way, now, is equanimity perfect and unshakable?

      Whatever causes stagnation is here destroyed, what dams up is
      removed, what obstructs is destroyed. Vanished are the whirls of
      emotion and the meanderings of intellect. Unhindered goes the calm
      and majestic stream of consciousness, pure and radiant. Watchful
      mindfulness (sati) has harmonized the warmth of faith (saddha) with
      the penetrative keenness of wisdom (pañña); it has balanced strength
      of will (viriya) with calmness of mind (samadhi); and these five
      inner faculties (indriya) have grown into inner forces (bala) that
      cannot be lost again. They cannot be lost because they do not lose
      themselves any more in the labyrinths of the world (samsara), in the
      endless diffuseness of life (papañca). These inner forces emanate
      from the mind and act upon the world, but being guarded by
      mindfulness, they nowhere bind themselves, and they return unchanged.
      Love, compassion and sympathetic joy continue to emanate from the
      mind and act upon the world, but being guarded by equanimity, they
      cling nowhere, and return unweakened and unsullied.

      Thus within the arahant, the Liberated One, nothing is lessened by
      giving, and he does not become poorer by bestowing upon others the
      riches of his heart and mind. The arahant is like the clear, well-cut
      crystal which, being without stains, fully absorbs all the rays of
      light and sends them out again, intensified by its concentrative
      power. The rays cannot stain the crystal with their various colors.
      They cannot pierce its hardness, nor disturb its harmonious
      structure. In its genuine purity and strength, the crystal remains
      unchanged. "Just as all the streams of the world enter the great
      ocean, and all the waters of the sky rain into it, but no increase or
      decrease of the great ocean is to be seen" — even so is the nature of
      holy equanimity.

      Holy equanimity, or — as we may likewise express it — the arahant
      endowed with holy equanimity, is the inner center of the world. But
      this inner center should be well distinguished from the numberless
      apparent centers of limited spheres; that is, their so-
      called "personalities," governing laws, and so on. All of these are
      only apparent centers, because they cease to be centers whenever
      their spheres, obeying the laws of impermanence, undergo a total
      change of their structure; and consequently the center of their
      gravity, material or mental, will shift. But the inner center of the
      arahant's equanimity is unshakable, because it is immutable. It is
      immutable because it clings to nothing.

      Says the Master:

      For one who clings, motion exists; but for one who clings not, there
      is no motion. Where no motion is, there is stillness. Where stillness
      is, there is no craving. Where no craving is, there is neither coming
      nor going. Where no coming nor going is, there is neither arising nor
      passing away. Where neither arising nor passing away is, there is
      neither this world nor a world beyond, nor a state between. This,
      verily, is the end of suffering.

      — Udana 8:3
      From: The Four Sublime States: Contemplations on Love, Compassion,
      Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity by Nyanaponika Thera, The Wheel
      Publication No. 6 (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1993).
      For free distribution with the kind permission of the Buddhist
      Publication Society.
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