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The Practice of Benevolence by Robert Bogoda

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  • Antony Woods
    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
    Message 1 of 2 , Jul 31, 2007
      "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,
      in return.

      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
      Society, http://www.bps.lk
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