Posts Tagged ‘brahmaviharas’

The divine abodes

Monday, August 15th, 2011

I’m wondering whether Patanjali came before or after Buddha. It strikes me from time to time that there is a strong connection between Buddhism and The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

Section 1.33 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is an interesting case in point.

By generating and cultivating the intent and deep feelings (bhavanatas) of friendliness and loving kindness (maitri), love and compassion (karuna), happiness (mudita), equanimity (upeksanam) and sympathetic joyfulness (sukha) in [all] conditions and events (visayanam) whether it be potentially joyful (sukha) or painful (dukha), auspicious (punya-apunya) or not, a sweet grace arises that establishes a clarity of the heartmind (citta-prasadanam).

In one blissful swoop, Patanjali establishes the four brahmaviharas (divine abodes). How they got their name is interesting. The story goes that Buddha was asked about how to be reborn in the heavenly (brahma) realms. His response, in short, was to cultivate loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity.

Now, I’m not a Sanskrit scholar of any kind of merit, but I find it interesting that Patanjali has chosen the work upeksanam, when I would have expected samatA, but what do I know. Upeksa is Pali for equanimity, but my understanding of Upeksana in Sanskrit is that it has a sense of neglect. What I think this indicates, and it runs contrary to some of the teachings I’ve had over the years in terms of when Patanjali existed, is that Patanjali was refering to Buddha’s teaching, otherwise he’d have chosen a more neutral Sanskrit work.

What’s also interesting is this reference to four cultivations. Mostly we’re used to mettabhavana (the cultivation of loving kindness). And I do like the Dalia Lama’s view that his religion is loving kindess. But there are three more cultivations:- karuna, mudita and upeksa.

In a separate discussion Buddha did offer a practice, known as mettabhavana, which as far as I can tell has its origins in the Karaniya Metta Sutta.

This is to be done by one skilled in aims
who wants to break through to the state of peace:
Be capable, upright, & straightforward,
easy to instruct, gentle, & not conceited,
content & easy to support,
with few duties, living lightly,
with peaceful faculties, masterful,
modest, & no greed for supporters.

Do not do the slightest thing
that the wise would later censure.

Think: Happy, at rest,
may all beings be happy at heart.
Whatever beings there may be,
weak or strong, without exception,
long, large,
middling, short,
subtle, blatant,
seen & unseen,
near & far,
born & seeking birth:
May all beings be happy at heart.

Let no one deceive another
or despise anyone anywhere,
or through anger or irritation
wish for another to suffer.

As a mother would risk her life
to protect her child, her only child,
even so should one cultivate a limitless heart
with regard to all beings.
With good will for the entire cosmos,
cultivate a limitless heart:
Above, below, & all around,
unobstructed, without enmity or hate.
Whether standing, walking,
sitting, or lying down,
as long as one is alert,
one should be resolved on this mindfulness.
This is called a sublime abiding
here & now.

Not taken with views,
but virtuous & consummate in vision,
having subdued desire for sensual pleasures,
one never again
will lie in the womb.

What if we were to take the same approach for the other three bhavanas? And that’s what I’ve done with my metta bhavana practice, borrowing from Tara Brach. May I experience the joy of being alive, may I be filled with loving kindness, may I express compassion towards all beings. Or something like this. And of course the usual metta bhavana practice extends this from onesself through to all beings. And there’s the equanimity part.

However you look at it, the four brahmaviharas lead to a divine abode in this life. After all Samsara is Nirvana and Nirvana is Samsara.

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