Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi often used to say that "Man has to live very carefully. He must be very cautious in his every intention and conduct".
Man’s intentions and conduct form impressions in his subconscious mind. These impressions will decide his future births, as to whether he will be born in higher worlds or lower worlds and whether he will have a good birth or not.
Everyone would like to be born in a good family and would only want good things to happen to him. However, due to his past actions, thoughts, intentions and conduct, this does not always happen. Ultimately, our bhavanas(ideas) are our friends and also our enemies. As per the science of Yoga and Vedanta, man's bhavanas have the utmost importance.
With this background, let us take a look at Lord Buddha's most important teachings of four Brahma Viharas.
These are Maitri, Karuna, Mudita, and Upeksha. Lord Buddha instructed his disciples to practice these four qualities fully and infinitely, on everyone without distinguishing between friends and enemies.
By deeply meditating upon these four qualities everyday, one will be able to make them his own and thereby attain higher worlds. He will not take birth in lower worlds filled with agony. He will be able to live with a still mind and after death, he will attain the world of Brahma.
These four Brahma Viharas are natural virtues of people living in the world of Brahma, which can be considered as the highest in the realms of the Gods or heavens. There is a vast difference between the world of animals and ours. Similarly, there is a significant difference between our world and the world of gods with regard to feelings, experiences and situations. Those belonging to these upper spheres may be regarded as gods. Man can become a god by cultivating these qualities to perfection and by making them his own.
Envy and hatred are common tendencies of humans. By practicing Maitri Bhavana without any restrictions, one is filled with the feelings of goodwill (Maitri). He will not have any enemies either on earth or in any other world. In his presence, even wild animals are tamed. If this is the case with animals, then what to speak of humans?
A person filled with goodwill (Maitri) in his heart, will always have a peaceful disposition and the benefit of excellent physical and mental health by not having undue stress.
By practicing this Bhavana, he can attain to a peaceful state of mind. By gaining freedom from the feeling of hatred, his mind will always be light and happy and will not look at anyone with hatred. With this feeling of goodwill (Maitri), he will not have enemies in any of the three worlds.
Karuna (compassion) Bhavana has to be practiced by thinking about humans and other living beings that are bound by ignorance. In spite of having this rare opportunity to attain noble divine wealth, man is falling into the trap of lust just like an ignorant fool, who, forgetting that he is a king, runs after pennies. Bound by ignorance, he is caught in the vicious cycle of life and death. Unaware that he is getting bound all the more by his actions, he is hankering after momentary gains by resorting to various misdeeds. By doing this he is accumulating bad tendencies and paving the way for his downfall.
How great is the illusion of ignorance that has its grip on the entire world? Not knowing that many enlightened worlds exist across this line of ignorance, human beings are getting drowned in illusion. Thinking that illusion is everything, they are indulging in worthless actions for the gratification of senses. Just like someone being slowly consumed by a mud trap, they are destroying themselves. All living beings in all world are following this pattern.
By practicing Karuna Bhavana without any boundaries, human beings can be completely immersed in compassion. Filled with compassion, they will not become angry at others for making mistakes. This is a divine attribute. By practicing Karuna Bhavana, all Bodhisattvas attain to ultimate fulfillment. With the strength of this Bhavana, the practitioner will gain divine strength and mental resolve to remove bad karma and illness of others.
Mudita means happiness. When we learn about someone else's good thoughts, riches, Dharmic actions, success and progress in spiritual path, then experiencing happiness thinking of their good karma and good virtues is called Mudita. This is an excellent divine quality.
This Mudita Bhavana will remove dark qualities like jealousy, hatred and envy. When looking at the happiness of others, a practitioner with the strength of this Bhavana will be able to feel the happiness of others as his own and will be able to feel happy at the happiness of others. Even without having anything, a practitioner of this Bhavana will be able to feel happy, just by looking at the good virtues of others. This is also a divine quality.
With Upeksha Bhavana, one should forget people who are wicked, who ridicule and who cause harm to him. By practicing this, the low feelings such as anguish, lamentation, helplessness, disappointment, anger, revengeful spite, will disappear from the heart. Heart will be able to remain pure just like sky. Upeksha Bhavana is the most difficult to practice.
Reason for this is that, to be in this Upeksha Bhavana, one has to reduce his ego very much. If ego is very strong, then feelings like revenge will boil and make him frantic/mad. Through the practice of Upeksha Bhavana - being a witness to dualities, one can cleanse the illness of ego.
Swami Brahmananda (Rakhal) is a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna. While he was travelling across the country as a wandering mendicant, and was in Himalayan region, a very interesting event happened. It is very cold in that region. While Swami was sitting near a river bank with calm mind, one person placed a blanket near him. Swami was looking at it. Meanwhile, another person took away the blanket. Swami still remained in the same peaceful state of mind. Practicing Upeksha Bhavana, gives us a state where we can witness without the feeling of ‘this is mine’ in one's heart. Because of this, practitioner's heart will be pure just like a peaceful lake even during ups and downs.
Practitioner has to attain the strength of having these bhavanas not only in the outer layers of heart but also deep inside one's heart so that even in dreams there should not be any other bhavanas. Only then, it can be said that the practitioner has attained supreme perfection in these virtues.
Man is driven by mind. It makes him either a devil or a demigod. We can find many verses supporting this idea in ‘Dammapada’. Bhagavad Gita also says the same thing. Mind is the cause of either attachment or liberation. Irrespective of external situations, if a man can control his mind, then he will not only be able to be balanced but also be able to respond in a proper manner. Only through practice, one can achieve the strength necessary to respond in a proper manner.
How we respond to external situations will lead to lasting impressions in our mind. These will become the seeds for our progress towards higher or lower levels. So, ultimately, due to our response, we are the ones that gain or lose, but not others.
If we understand this, then we will understand the importance of how to respond to external situations. By understanding this, we will clearly understand the importance of these four ‘Brahma Viharas’.
These four bhavanas are very important, but following them is not very easy. For this, we have to meditate upon these bhavanas for at least one hour daily in the morning and evening. After that, in every situation we face in our lives, we must observe our responses. This is one way to practice. For every situation, when we are able to respond only in these four bhavanas and no other bhavanas seem to enter our mind, then we can consider ourselves to be moving forward in this practice.
Lord Buddha has given very clear instructions on how to practice these bhavanas. Interested people can go through Lord Buddha's discourses about practicing these bhavanas in ‘Dirgha Nikaya’ (Collection of Long Discourses) in one of the ‘Tripitakas’ (Buddhist scriptures) named ‘Sutra Pitaka’ (second of the three divisions of the Tripitakas). In Sutra part named ‘Tevijja Sutra’, we can see Lord Buddha's elaborate discourse on these ‘Brahma Viharas’ to two Brahmins named Vasista and Bharadvaja (who are different from the Vedic rishis of the same names). Similarly, Buddhagosha's ‘Visuddhi Marga’ (The Path of Purification) also provides very detailed instructions on practicing these four ‘Brahma Viharas’.
The practitioner should gain strength to be able to expand these bhavanas from him to all corners of this universe. Only then he will achieve fullness in this practice of Brahma Viharas. Even if he does not do any other practice, this practice alone can lead a man's life to bliss. This is an important practice in Lord Buddha's basic teachings.
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