Brahmavihar

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[edit] The Abode of the Supreme

Ashok Vohra, Brahmavihara, Abode Of The Supreme, October 11, 2019: The Times of India


The term ‘brahmavihara’ comprises two terms: brahmn and vihara. ‘Brahmn’ means the highest, the supreme. ‘Vihara’ means dwelling, abode. So, ‘brahmavihara’ means living in the abode of Brahmn. It is loving meditation on the four divine states of the mind.

Brahmavihara is a Buddhist technique in which one meditates on four divine states of mind: maitri, universal friendship; karuna, universal pity; mudita, happiness in the prosperity and well-being of all, and upeksha, indifference to any kind of preferential treatment for oneself, one’s family and friend, one’s enemy or a third party.

In Digha Nikaya Sutta the Buddha explains metta as benevolence towards all beings, without discrimination or selfish attachment. By practising metta, a Buddhist overcomes anger, ill will, hatred, and aversion. In the Metta Sutta, Buddha commands that his followers should cultivate for all beings, the same love as a mother would feel for her child. It is a love in which the distinction between ‘I’ and ‘you’ vanishes, and where there is no possessor and there is nothing to possess.

The Buddha explains karuna as active sympathy, extended to all sentient beings. Ideally, karuna is combined with prajna, wisdom, which in Mahayana Buddhism means the realisation that all sentient beings exist in each other and take identity from each other. It is compassion that removes the heavy bar, opens the door to freedom, and expands the heart. Compassion takes away from the heart the inert weight, the paralysing heaviness.

Mudita is taking sympathetic, altruistic joy in the happiness of others. The cultivation of mudita is an antidote to envy and jealousy. Upeksha or upekkha is ‘indifference to the prospects and state of one’s own Self, as well as of any other, whether friend or foe’.

The objective of brahmavihara, a Buddhist technique for finally attaining nirvana, emancipation, is to fix the practitioner in meditation on the four virtues to such an extent ‘that the practitioner should not find any difference between the happiness or safety of himself and that of others’. The ‘other’ so to say is extinguished.

Duality vanishes. The effect of brahmavihara, therefore, is to purge all egoism.

According to Rabindranath Tagore, brahmavihara enables the transition from egolessness to a universalisation of consciousness, from ‘limited’ to ‘unlimited love’. A peculiarity of brahmavihara technique of meditation, according to Tagore, is that it is not devoid of emotion, but is permeated with selfless love. He says that ‘going back to Brahmn, to infinite love, is brahmavihara,the joy of living in Brahmn.’ The Buddha describing the state of brahmavihara as unlimited love, says: ‘To live in such a consciousness while standing or walking, sitting or lying down till you are asleep, is brahmavihara, or, having your joy in the spirit of Brahmn.’ In Vedanta tradition Gaud apada also advocates renunciation of egoism, but his conception of brahamavihara differs from the Buddha’s. For him, renunciation follows realisation and it is wholly negative. In contrast, Buddha’s brahmavihara is positive, permeated with loving kindness, universal compassion, and joy in the achievements of others. For the Buddha, renunciation of egoism is a preparation for Self-realisation and is filled with universal love.

Tagore says, ‘The path Buddha pointed out was not merely the practice of selfabnegation, but the widening of love. And therein lies the true meaning of the Buddha’s preaching.’ (The author is retired professor of philosophy, Delhi University).

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