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