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From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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The Brahmavihāras (sublime attitudes, lit. "abodes of Brahma") are a series of four Buddhist virtues and the Meditation practices made to cultivate them.

They are also known as the Four Immeasurables (Sanskrit: Apramāṇa, Pāli: appamaññā).

According to the Metta Sutta, Shākyamuni Buddha held that cultivation of the Four Immeasurables has the Power to cause the practitioner to be reborn into a Brahma realm (Pāli: Brahmaloka). The meditator is instructed to radiate out to all beings in all directions the Mental states of:

The Four Immeasurables are also found in Patañjali's Yoga Sutras (1.33), a text composed long after the beginning of Buddhism and substantially influenced by Buddhism.

These virtues are also highly regarded by Buddhists as powerful antidotes to negative Mental states (non-virtues) such as avarice, Anger and pride.

Etymology & translations

Brahmavihāra means “Brahma abidings”, or "sublime attitudes."

It may be parsed as "Brahma" and "Vihāra"; which is often rendered into English as "sublime" or "divine abodes".

Apramāṇa, usually translated as "the immeasurables," means boundlessness, infinitude, a state that is illimitable.

When developed to a high degree in Meditation, these attitudes are said to make the Mind "immeasurable" and like the Mind of the loving brahmā (gods).

Other translations:



The Four Immeasurables are:

  1. Loving-kindness (Pāli: mettā, Sanskrit: maitri) towards all: the hope that a person will be well; "the wish that all Sentient beings, without any exception, be happy."
  1. Compassion (Pāli and Sanskrit: karuṇā): the hope that a person's sufferings will diminish; "the wish for all Sentient beings to be free from Suffering."
  1. Empathetic joy (Pāli and Sanskrit: Mudita): Joy in the accomplishments of a person—oneself or another; sympathetic Joy; "the wholesome attitude of rejoicing in the Happiness and virtues of all Sentient beings."
  1. Equanimity (Pāli: upekkhā, Sanskrit: upekṣā): learning to accept loss and gain, praise and blame, and success and failure, all with detachment, equally, for oneself and for others.

Equanimity is "not to distinguish between friend, enemy or stranger, but regard every sentient being as equal.

It is a clear-minded tranquil state of Mind—not being overpowered by delusions, Mental dullness or agitation."

Loving-kindness and Compassion are both hopes for the future (leading, where possible, to action aimed at realizing those hopes).

Joy and Equanimity are attitudes to what has already happened, but also with regard to consequences for future action.

While these four might be delineated as attitudes to the future or past, they contain the seed of the "present" within their core (as a living embodied practice).

This is the essence of the Spiritual laws of Karma, self-responsibility, and right thoughts (samma sankkalpa, literally 'right commitments').

A dedicated intention that all beings are in the "here and now", tranquil, happy, in touch with their gifts and accomplishments, and Feeling interconnected by that synergy to eschew Suffering by abdication.

Brahmavihāra practice in the Visuddhimagga

The Four Immeasurables are explained in The Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga), written in the fifth century CE by the scholar and commentator Buddhaghoṣa.

They are often practiced by taking each of the immeasurables in turn and applying it to oneself, wishing oneself well (omitted while training oneself in Mudita), and then to others nearby, and so on to everybody in the World, and to everybody in all universes.


Although this Form of these ideas has a Buddhist origin, the ideas themselves are in no way sectarian.

The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement uses them in public Meditation events in Sri Lanka bringing together Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. Rudyard Kipling's inspirational poem If refers to the idea of upekkhā in calling Triumph and Disaster impostors.

The Four Immeasurables in early Buddhism

In the Tevijja Sutta: The Threefold Knowledge of the Majjhima Nikaya set of scriptures, Buddha Shākyamuni is asked the way to fellowship/companionship/communion with Brahma.

He replies that he personally knows the World of Brahma and the way to it, and explains the Meditative method for reaching it by using an analogy of the resonance of the Conch shell of the Aṣṭamaṅgala:

A monk suffuses the World in the four directions with a Mind of benevolence, then above, and below, and all around – the whole World from all sides, completely, with a benevolent, all-embracing, great, boundless, peaceful and friendly Mind … Just as a powerful Conch-blower makes himself heard with no great effort in all four cardinal directions, so too is there no limit to the unfolding of [this] Heart-liberating benevolence.

This is a way to communion with Brahma.

The Buddha then says that the monk must follow this up with an equal suffusion of the entire World with Mental projections of Compassion, sympathetic Joy, and Equanimity (regarding all beings with an Eye of equality).

In the two Metta Suttas of the Aṅguttara Nikāya, The Buddha states that those who practice radiating the Four Immeasurables in this Life and die "without losing it" are destined for Rebirth in a heavenly realm in their next Life.

In addition, if such a person is a Buddhist Disciple (Pāli: Sāvaka) and thus realizes the three characteristics of The five aggregates, then after his heavenly Life, this Disciple will reach Nibbāna.

Even if one is not a Disciple, one will still attain the heavenly Life, after which, however depending on what his past deeds may have been, one may be reborn in a Hell realm, or as an animal or hungry Ghost.

A Cavern of Treasures (mDzod-phug)

A Cavern of Treasures (Tibetan: མཛོད་ཕུག, Wylie: mdzod phug) is a Bonpo terma uncovered by Shenchen Luga (Tibetan: གཤེན་ཆེན་ཀླུ་དགའ, Wylie: gshen-chen klu-dga') in the early eleventh century. A segment of it enshrines a Bonpo evocation of the Four Immeasurables. Martin (n.d.: p. 21) identifies the importance of this scripture for studies of the Zhang-Zhung Language.