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Home > Historical, Cultural, and Comparative Studies > Comparison of Buddhist Traditions > The Four Immeasurable Attitudes in Hinayana, Mahayana, and Bon

The Four Immeasurable Attitudes
in Hinayana, Mahayana,
and Bon

Alexander Berzin,
March 2005

Introduction

The four immeasurable attitudes (tshad-med bzhi, Skt. apramana, Pali: appamanna) are:

  • immeasurable love (byams-pa, Skt: maitri, Pali: metta),
  • immeasurable compassion (snying-rje, Skt: karuna, Pali: karuna),
  • immeasurable joy (dga'-ba, Skt: mudita, Pali: mudita),
  • immeasurable equanimity (btang-snyoms, Skt: upeksha, Pali: upekkha).

They are also called "the four Brahma abodes" (tshangs-gnas bzhi, Skt. brahmavihara, Pali: brahmavihara) and are found in the various Hinayana and Mahayana traditions of Buddhism, as well as in Bon. Different schools and texts interpret them slightly differently, and certain practices in some traditions change their order.

The Theravada Tradition of Hinayana

Within the eighteen Hinayana schools, the Theravada tradition of the four immeasurable attitudes derives from The Brahma Abodes Sutta (Pali: Brahmavihara Sutta), found in The Collection of Progressive Divisions (Pali: Anguttara Nikaya). There, Buddha specifies that each of the four is free of attachment, repulsion, and indifference, and is accompanied by mindfulness and alertness. Upatissa's first-century Path of Liberation (Pali: Vimuttimagga), Buddhaghosa's early fifth-century Path of Purification (Pali: Visuddhimagga) and Anuruddha's ninth-century All-Inclusive Text on Points from Special Topics of Knowledge (Pali: Abhidhammattha-sangaha) contain full explanations of their practice.

They are called "Brahma abodes" because the four Brahma realms of the plane of ethereal forms (form realm) correspond, in turn, to the four immeasurable attitudes and to the four levels of mental stability (bsam-gtan, Skt. dhyana, Pali: jhana). The Brahma gods in the first Brahma realm have immeasurable love; those in the second, immeasurable compassion; those in the third, immeasurable joy; and those in the fourth, immeasurable equanimity. Similarly, practitioners of the first level of mental stability have absorbed concentration on immeasurable love; practitioners of the second level have it on immeasurable compassion, and so forth. Since the word brahma means pure, excellent, or sublime, practitioners who develop these immeasurable attitudes live with pure, sublime states of mind like Brahma gods. Moreover, the Brahma abodes are called "immeasurable" attitudes because they include all limited beings (sentient beings) in all conditions and because each attitude has no limit to its intensity.

The four immeasurable attitudes are included in the Theravada list of fifty-two mental factors. In Anuruddha's explanation of the fifty-two, two of the four are specified as factors that are limitless, because their objects are infinite beings:

  • Compassion is the factor that makes the heart quiver when others suffer and is the wish for the removal of their suffering. Its direct enemy is a cruel or harmful attitude (Pali: himsa). Its indirect enemy is grief, being emotionally overwhelmed by their suffering.
  • Sympathetic joy or rejoicing is the factor of being happy at others’ prosperity. Its direct enemy is jealousy and its indirect enemy is exultation, being so excited about their prosperity that the state of mind is disturbed.

The basic forms, as opposed to the immeasurable forms, of the other two attitudes are included in the list of nineteen factors accompanying all constructive states of mind:

  • Love is the wish for others to be happy and is included in non-anger (Pali: adosa; imperturbability). Its direct enemy is ill-will or anger, and its indirect enemy is clinging, getting too close.
  • Equanimity is included in being even-minded (Pali: tatra majjhattata) and is the factor of being even-tempered toward its object. Its enemy is attachment (Pali: raga) and its indirect enemy is indifference.

Buddhaghosa's explanation of immeasurable equanimity sheds further light on this state of mind. The function of immeasurable equanimity is to see the equality of all beings. Characterized as an even-tempered attitude toward everyone, it manifests as a quieting of attachment and ill-will toward others. It fails when it manifests as indifference. Its cause is the understanding that each limited being is responsible for his or her karma.

Meditation on the four entails generating each state of mind, one at a time, first directed at oneself, and then extending it to mother, father, family, friends, strangers, enemies, everyone in one’s country, and so forth, until the feeling reaches all limited beings. After going through this sequence with the first immeasurable attitude, one generates the next and extends it in the same way. The attitudes are:

  • wishing each of these limited beings well,
  • wishing the removal of their suffering,
  • rejoicing in their well-being and in their efforts to be constructive and to work toward liberation,
  • being even-tempered toward them, in the sense of even when helping, not becoming too involved or not being indifferent, since ultimately everyone needs to reach liberation through his or her own efforts.

As a preliminary to developing immeasurable love, Upatissa explains that one first needs to think of the disadvantages of anger and resentment, which are the negative states of mind that prevent love, and meditate on the methods for overcoming them and for developing patience. Then one generates love, the wish for oneself and then others to be happy. Buddhaghosa elaborates this wish of love to include the wish for oneself and others to be free of being unhappy: may they be happy and not unhappy. Buddhaghosa also offers a more extensive version of this wish that lists three unhappy states of mind that prevent love and happiness: may they be  free of enmity (by ridding themselves of ill-will and hostility), aggression (by ridding temselves of feeling annoyed) and anxiety (by ridding themselves of fear), and live happily.

The Vaibhashika and Sautrantika Traditions of Hinayana

The Vaibhashika and Sautrantika traditions of the Sarvastivada school of Hinayana share Vasubandhu's fourth- or fifth-century Auto-Commentary on "A Treasure-House of Special Topics of Knowledge" (Chos-mngon-pa'i mdzod-kyi rang-'grel, Skt. Abhidharmakosha-bhashya) as a source for their presentation of the four immeasurable attitudes. The Tibetan Buddhist traditions also share this as one of their sources.

Vasubandhu accepts the Theravada explanation that the four attitudes are immeasurable because they are aimed at an immeasurable number of limited beings. Predating Buddhaghosa and Anuruddha, he is in agreement with their explanations that

  • love is the opponent for ill-will,
  • compassion, for a cruel or harmful attitude,
  • joy, for a lack of joy,
  • equanimity, for (1) longing desire for beings or for objects of the plane of sensory desires (desire plane) and (2) ill-will.

Lack of joy means not rejoicing in other's happiness or constructive attainments, which is also the defining characteristic of jealousy. Vasubandhu notes that he does not accept the Vaibhashika assertion that equanimity is the opponent for the longing desire for sexual intercourse, but accepts instead the Sautrantika assertion that it is the opponent for longing desire for one's father, mother, children, and close ones. Equanimity is also an opponent for ill-will, because ill-will toward some beings is brought on by longing desire for others.

Vasubandhu further explains that

  • both love and compassion have the functional nature (rang-bzhin) of non-anger (zhe-sdang med-pa, Skt: advesha; imperturbability), which Anuruddha echoes concerning love.
  • Joy has the functional nature of mental happiness (yid bde-ba), while
  • equanimity has the identity-nature (bdag-nyid) of non-attachment (ma-chags-pa; detachment).

All four levels of mental stability (bsam-gtan), as well as all four Brahma realms, are free of anger. Correspondingly, immeasurable love and compassion are free of anger. This type of symmetry is missing, however, with Vasubandhu's explanation of joy as mental happiness. Although joy, as the third immeasurable attitude, is correlated with the third level of mental stability, that level of mind is devoid of mental happiness, as is the third Brahma realm. Beings in these states have merely the quiet joy of mental peace.

Vasubandhu also explains the aspects of thought that each of the four immeasurable attitudes generates while thinking of those limited beings that experience physical happiness, pain, and mental happiness. Such limited beings are exclusively those currently reborn in the plane of sensory desires (desire realm). Those presently reborn in the planes of ethereal forms (form realm) and of formless beings (formless realm) do not experience pain; those in the second Brahma realm and above do not experience physical happiness; while those in the third Brahma realm and above do not experience mental happiness.

  • Love pays attention to these limited beings, thinking, "May limited beings have physical happiness."
  • Compassion pays attention to them, thinking, "May limited beings not have suffering (pain)."
  • Joy pays attention to them, thinking, "May limited beings have mental happiness."
  • Equanimity pays attention to them, thinking, "Limited beings are equal (mnyam-pa)."

Concerning immeasurable joy, Vasubandhu makes a significant shift here from the Theravada presentation. Rather than joy being merely the joyful state of mind that rejoices over whatever happiness others already have, it is the state of mind that, in addition, wishes for others to have mental happiness (joy).

Vasubandhu also outlines how to develop the immeasurable attitudes. For immeasurable love, one thinks that just as I myself have had brief experiences of happiness or just as the Buddhas, bodhisattvas, aryas and arhats have attained more stable happiness, may limited beings have happiness. Thinking in this way, one imagines limited beings to be happy. If one is unable to do this because of a large share of disturbing emotions and attitudes, one can do this in stages. Dividing one's friends into three stages of closeness, one first directs the wish for happiness toward those who are very close, then those who are middling close, and finally toward those who are just a little close. When the feelings of love become equal for all three groups, one directs the wish for happiness toward people with whom one has an ordinary relationship, then toward those toward whom one has a little enmity, then middling enmity, and finally great enmity. When one has the same level of intensity of love toward one's dearest friend and one's greatest enemy, one extends it in stages to the people in one's neighborhood, town, district, country, and then to the entire world.

Vasubandhu also explains that those who are able to perceive good qualities in everyone are able to develop immeasurable love quickly. They realize that the presence or absence of good qualities now in someone is due to the ripening of that being's previous positive or negative karmic aftermath.

One develops immeasurable compassion and joy through the same sequence as immeasurable love. For immeasurable compassion, one thinks, "Limited beings are sunk in the river of many types of suffering. How wonderful it would be if they were quickly free from their suffering." For immeasurable joy, one thinks, "How wonderful it would be if they became joyous as well." Vasubandhu does not specify the thought to develop for immeasurable equanimity, but points out that one begins the sequence of extending immeasurable equanimity to others with people toward whom one has an ordinary relationship. He also points out that only humans can develop the four immeasurable attitudes.

The Mahayana Tradition

Within the Mahayana tradition, the four immeasurable attitudes are mentioned in several popular sutras, such as:

  • The Sutra of the White Lotus of the Hallowed Dharma (Dam-pa'i chos pad-ma dkar-po zhes-bya-ba theg-pa chen-po'i mdo, Skt: Saddharmapundarika-nama Mahayana Sutra; The Lotus Sutra),
  • The Sutra of the Great Final Release from all Sorrows (Yongs-su mya-ngan-las 'das-pa chen-po'i mdo, Skt: Mahaparinirvana Sutra).

The Nichiren tradition of Japanese Buddhism interprets immeasurable love, compassion, and joy, merely mentioned in The Lotus Sutra, in a manner similar to that found in the Theravada presentation. Thus, immeasurable joy, for example, is the attitude of rejoicing when limited beings have happiness. Immeasurable equanimity, however, is explained as an even-minded attitude toward happiness and unhappiness, pleasure and pain, in all circumstances, such as when meeting friends and enemies. It is a state of complete tranquility. Further, immeasurable equanimity is the state of mind that is rid of the attitudes of immeasurable love, compassion, and joy. It is aware of others in such a way that it not only experiences neither happiness nor unhappiness, but is also neither attracted nor repelled by others. Thus, immeasurable equanimity parallels the fourth level of mental stability in that it is free of all feelings of unhappiness, physical and mental happiness, and the quiet joy of mental peace.

Another Mahayana sutra, The Sutra Taught by the Arya Akshayamati (Blo-gros mi-zad-pas bstan-pa'i mdo, Skt: Arya Akshayamati-nirdesha Sutra), contains an explanation of the results that come in future lives from developing the four immeasurable attitudes in meditation. They seem consistent with the above interpretation of The Lotus Sutra.

  • "By building up great love, one is reborn free of harm.
  • By building up great compassion, one is born with one’s roots being stable.
  • By building up great joy, one is born abiding with physical happiness, firm belief in what is true, and supreme mental joy.
  • By building up great equanimity, one is born not being agitated by happiness or unhappiness."

Here, the attitudes mentioned are "great" love, "great" compassion, and so forth, not "immeasurable" love, "immeasurable" compassion, and so on. It is unclear whether the "great" forms and the "immeasurable" forms are equivalent. Nevertheless, putting the above-mentioned results together with the enemy states of mind specified by Vasubandhu (albeit Vasubandhu defines immeasurable joy differently), we can perhaps understand these results as follows:

  • Love overcomes its enemy: ill-will and hatred. Thus, in the manner of results that correspond to their causes in one’s experience (myong-ba rgyu-mthun-gyi 'bras-bu), not wishing others harm results in not being harmed oneself.
  • Compassion overcomes its enemy: a cruel or harmful attitude. Hatred and anger, namely the wish for violence against someone that one dislikes, devastates the roots of one's constructive force (dge-rtsa, roots of virtue). Consequently, there is a great delay in what will ripen from them and their ripening will be much weaker. Thus, wishing others to be free from suffering, rather than for them to suffer, results in these roots on one's own mental continuum being stable.
  • Rejoicing in others' good qualities, Dharma accomplishments, and happiness overcomes its enemy: jealousy or not taking joy in other's actual good qualities, and so on. Thus, in the manner of results that correspond to their causes in one’s behavior (byed-pa rgyu-mthun-gyi 'bras-bu), acknowledging others' true qualities and rejoicing in them result in firm belief in what is true, while rejoicing in others' happiness results in experiencing physical and mental happiness oneself.
  • Equanimity overcomes its enemies: attachment or longing desire and ill-will. It has a neutral feeling toward all others. Thus, also in the manner of results that resemble their causes in one's behavior, one is not agitated by feelings of happiness or unhappiness.

The Indian Mahayana Texts of Maitreya and Asanga

The Mental Stability and Discriminating Awareness Required for the Four Attitudes to Be Immeasurable

The four immeasurable attitudes also appear in Indian Mahayana texts, such as A Filigree of Realizations (mNgon-rtogs rgyan, Skt. Abhisamayalamkara), a commentary by the future Buddha, Maitreya, on The Prajnaparamita Sutras (Pha-rol-tu phyin-pa'i mdo; Sutras on Far-Reaching Discriminating Awareness, Perfection of Wisdom Sutras). In this text, cultivating the four attitudes appears as one of the nine practices in which bodhisattvas engage ('jug-sgrub) in order to attain the omniscient awareness (rnam-mkhyen, omniscience) of a Buddha. Thus, one cultivates the four immeasurable attitudes after developing a bodhichitta aim to reach enlightenment for the benefit of all.

According to Maitreya, although these four attitudes may be attained with a mind still within the sphere of the plane of sensory desires, the attitudes developed with such a mind are not "immeasurable." The immeasurable forms of them are only those that are attained with a mind that has achieved an actual state (dngos-gzhi) of one of the four levels of mental stability.

In A Golden Rosary of Excellent Explanations (Legs-bshad gser-phreng), a commentary to A Filigree of Realizations, the early-fourteenth century Gelug founder, Tsongkhapa (Tsong-kha-pa Blo-bzang grags-pa), explains that bodhisattvas need to practice the four immeasurable attitudes in conjunction with all six far-reaching attitudes (pha-rol-tu phyin-pa, Skt. paramita, perfections), not just with a level of mental stability. In particular, bodhisattvas need to make full use of their understanding of the nature of all phenomena by applying it to the sphere of benefiting others through these four attitudes. Since clinging (mngon-zhen) to impossible ways of existing is the main obstruction to benefiting others, one especially needs to develop the four immeasurable attitudes with far-reaching discriminating awareness (the perfection of wisdom). In other words, the four need to be developed without a referent aim (dmigs-med, unaimed) at an impossible mode of existence of their action of wishing, what they wish to happen, and the meditator wishing it. “Without a referent aim” means without focusing on the three circles (‘khor-gsum) of their action of wishing – the action itself, the object, and the agent – existing in an impossible way, and being what the immeasurable attitude entails or is in reference to.

When not accompanied by the six far-reaching attitudes, the practice of the four immeasurable attitudes acts merely as a cause for rebirth as a Brahma god in one of the four realms of ethereal forms. Thus, the late eighteenth-century Gelug master, Detri (sDe-khri 'Jam-dbyangs thub-bstan nyi-ma), in his Presentation of the Generation Stage of Glorious Kalachakra (dPal-dus-kyi ‘khor-lo’i bskyed-rim-gyi rnam-bzhag ‘jam-dpal zhal-lung), explains that "tshangs-pa" (Skt. brahma) can mean either the Brahma gods or nirvana, since both are pure, excellent, and sublime; while "gnas" (Skt. vihara, abode) can also mean a cause. "Nirvana," here, means the enlightened state of a Buddha.

The Conditions for Developing the Four Immeasurable Attitudes

Quoting Maitreya's Filigree for the Mahayana Sutras (Theg-pa chen-po'i mdo-sde rgyan, Skt. Mahayanasutra-alamkara), Tsongkhapa goes on, in the same commentary, to explain the conditions for developing the four immeasurable attitudes, such as immeasurable compassion. The explanation accords with the theories of the Chittamatra tenet system followed in Maitreya's text.

  • The causal conditions (rgyu'i rkyen) are the seeds for the four attitudes, unassociated with confusion (zag-med-kyi sa-bon), that are imputable on the all-encompassing foundation consciousness (kun-gzhi rnam-shes, Skt. alayavijnana; storehouse consciousness). These seeds are aspects of the naturally abiding family-traits (rang-bzhin gnas-rigs; abiding Buddha-nature). In other words, tendencies that allow for the development of the four immeasurable attitudes are present in all limited beings as aspects of their Buddha-natures.
  • The dominating condition (bdag-po'i rkyen) for the development of the four attitudes is the inspiration and guidance of a spiritual teacher. A dominating condition is the condition that exercises the main influential role in bringing about a result, such as the eye sensors for the arising of a visual cognition.
  • The immediately preceding condition (de-ma-thag rkyen) is an understanding of the self-nature (rang-bzhin) of all phenomena. Mindfulness of such understanding needs to immediately precede the arising of the immeasurable attitudes. In other words, the factors required for the Buddha-nature seeds for the four immeasurable attitudes to grow are the positive influence of a spiritual teacher and a correct understanding of the nature of all phenomena, especially the nature of all limited beings. Further, as mentioned above, the mind that develops the four immeasurable attitudes needs to have a bodhichitta aim and an advanced level of concentration.

[See: Basic Features of the Gelug-Chittamatra System. See also: Buddha-Nature According to Gelug-Chittamatra, Svatantrika, and Prasangika.]

Asanga's Definitions of the Four Attitudes

Tsongkhapa then cites the definitions of the four immeasurable attitudes given by the third century Indian master Asanga in his Anthology of Special Topics of Knowledge (Chos mngon-pa kun-las btus-pa, Skt. Abhidharmasamuccaya):

  • Immeasurable love is the absorbed concentration (ting-nge-'dzin, Skt. samadhi) or discriminating awareness (shes-rab, Skt. prajna; wisdom) that relies on one of the levels of mental stability and which is applied to the abode (situation) of the thought, "May limited beings meet with happiness." It also includes the primary and subsidiary awarenesses (mind and mental factors) that are congruent (mtshungs-ldan) with either of the two.

[See: Congruent and Noncongruent Affecting Variables.]

The other three immeasurable attitudes have the same extensive definitions as immeasurable love, but with different thoughts:

  • Immeasurable compassion has the thought, "May limited beings be parted from suffering." Elsewhere, Asanga explains that suffering, here, includes all three forms: the problem of suffering, the problem of change, and the all-encompassing problem.

[See: The Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind to the Dharma.]

  • Immeasurable joy has the thought, "May limited beings never be parted from happiness."
  • Immeasurable equanimity has the thought, "May limited beings be benefited (phan-pa)."

The Four Features Required for the Four Immeasurable Attitudes to Be Stable

For a clearer understanding of the four, Tsongkhapa returns, in his discussion, to Maitreya's Filigree for the Mahayana Sutras. Here, Maitreya lists the four specific features that the four immeasurable attitudes need to have in order to be stable. They need to (1) get rid of their specific disharmonious factors on the mental continuum of the one who develops them, (2) bring one the attainment of the specific states that oppose those factors, (3) have specific ways of focusing with which they are aimed at their objects, and (4) perform a specific function.

  1. The disharmonious factors that the four attitudes rid the practitioner of are, in turn, ill-will, a cruel or harmful attitude, lack of joy, and both ill-will and longing desire. Here, Maitreya agrees with Vasubandhu.
  2. The specific states that one attains, which oppose the disharmonious factors, are the states of nonconceptual deep awareness (rnam-par mi-rtog-pa'i ye-shes) that are rid of them.
  3. The specific ways of focusing on their objects are as limited beings, as phenomena (chos, Skt. dharma), and as lacking a referent aim (dmigs-med, unaimed). This feature is an elaboration of the understanding of reality required as an immediately preceding condition for developing the four attitudes, mentioned above. In another passage in the same text, Maitreya states that the objects at whom the four immeasurable attitudes are directed are, in turn, limited beings who do not have happiness, those who have suffering, those who already have happiness, and those who have attraction and repulsion to others due to their dividing others into close and distant.
  4. The specific function that the four perform in common is to fully ripen limited beings. This feature accords with Maitreya's explanation of the four immeasurable attitudes in A Filigree of Realizations as practices in which bodhisattvas engage in order to attain omniscient awareness. With omniscient awareness, bodhisattvas will best be able, through their skillful teachings, to provide the conditions for the Buddha-nature seeds on the mental continuums of all others to ripen. In this manner, bodhisattvas help lead all limited beings to enlightenment.

The Three Manners in Which the Four Attitudes Focus on Their Objects

Tsongkhapa then elaborates on the third point, the specific manners in which the four attitudes focus on their objects, in accord with the Chittamatra theories of Maitreya and Asanga.

  • "When the four immeasurable attitudes focus on these objects as limited beings, they focus on them as having the essential nature of being substantial persons (gang-zag-kyi rdzas-kyi ngo-bo).
  • When they focus on them as phenomena, they focus on them as lacking substantial existence, but nevertheless as having the essential nature of mere phenomena (chos-tsam).
  • When they focus on them without a referent aim, they focus on them as not being mere phenomena, but rather as being parted from an impossible way of existing regarding the consciousness that takes them as objects and themselves as objects of that consciousness (gzung-'dzin-dang bral-ba)." In other words, the unaimed variants of the four attitudes focus on persons and the moments of consciousness that cognize them as not deriving from different natal sources (rdzas tha-dad) – both derive from the same karmic seed on the alayavijnana of the cognizer of them.

In Clarifying the Intention: A Commentary to (Chandrakirti's) Great Treatise "Engaging in the Middle Way" (bsTan-bcos chen-po dbu-ma-la 'jug-pa'i rnam-bshad dgongs-pa rab-gsal), Tsongkhapa presents the Madhyamaka explanation of the three manners in which the immeasurable attitudes focus on their objects. The Madhyamaka explanation clarifies the terse Chittamatra presentation of the first two manners of focus which Tsongkhapa gives in A Golden Rosary of Excellent Explanations. In explaining all three manners of focus in terms of different levels of discriminating awareness, Tsongkhapa expands Maitreya's point in A Filigree of Realizations that the four immeasurable attitudes need to be developed in conjunction with the six far-reaching attitudes, especially far-reaching discriminating awareness. His explanation also follows from the point that Asanga makes in Anthology of Special Topics of Knowledge that the four immeasurable attitudes are states of either absorbed concentration or discriminating awareness. In accord with Chandrakirti's verse upon which he is commenting, Tsongkhapa explains the three manners of focus here only in terms compassion.

  • Compassion focused on its objects as limited beings is accompanied with the discriminating awareness that limited beings have a deluded outlook toward the transitory networks ('jig-lta) of their aggregates. With this disturbing attitude, they grasp at the aggregate factors of their experience as "me" and "mine," despite the fact that their aggregates do not exist in this impossible way. Consequently, they repeatedly take rebirth under the influence of karma and disturbing emotions, experiencing the three types of suffering. The Chittamatra formulation of this first manner of focus is in harmony with the Madhyamaka explanation. It merely indicates another aspect of this first manner, namely that with it, bodhisattvas still cognize persons as static, monolithic, independent beings (rtag gcig rang-dbang-gi sems-can) and/or as self-sufficiently knowable beings (rang-rkya thub-pa'i rdzas-yod-kyi sems-can).

[See: A Deluded Outlook toward a Transitory Network.]

  • Compassion focused on its objects as mere phenomena no longer cognizes persons as static, monolithic, independent beings or as self-sufficiently knowable beings. Rather, it is accompanied by the discriminating awareness that they are imputed merely on the nonstatic phenomena of their aggregates as the basis for their imputation. This is the meaning of the Chittamatra formulation that this manner of focus focuses on its objects as mere phenomena. This manner of focus is exemplified by focus on limited beings as being nonstatic phenomena, but it is much deeper than that. It is not just that persons change from moment to moment, but that they are imputed on bases for imputation that change from moment to moment.
  • Compassion focused on its objects without a referent aim focuses on limited beings as being devoid of existence established by their self-natures (rang-bzhin-gyis grub-pas stong-pa, void of inherent existence). This type of voidness means that limited beings cannot be found, with their existence established on their own sides, as the referent objects (btags-don) of the names and concepts for them. Such referent objects or conceptualized objects (zhen-yul) do not exist. Because of that, this type of compassion focuses on limited beings without being aimed at any findable referent objects. This manner of focus without a referent aim is unique to Prasangika-Madhyamaka.

Tsongkhapa continues, in A Golden Rosary of Excellent Explanations, by pointing out two presentations of the level of practitioners who develop each of these levels of focus. According to The Sutra Taught by the Arya Akshayamati, the four immeasurable attitudes aimed at limited beings is the level of practice of bodhisattvas when they first develop bodhichitta; aimed at phenomena is when they have entered into bodhisattva behavior with the bodhisattva vows; and unaimed is when they have achieved the five pathway minds (five paths). According to the seventh-century Indian master Shakyabodhi, however, the four immeasurable attitudes aimed at limited beings is the level of practice of ordinary beings (so-skye) – those who have not had nonconceptual cognition of the lack of an impossible identity of persons (gang-zag-gi bdag-med). The four aimed at phenomena is the level of practice shared in common with the shravakas and pratyekabuddhas; while the unaimed four is the level of practice of Buddhas and bodhisattvas.

Two Main Variants of Immeasurable Joy and Immeasurable Equanimity

From this survey, it becomes evident that immeasurable joy has two main variants. According to Theravada and Nichiren, it is the state of mind that rejoices in others' happiness. According to the two traditions of abhidharma (mngon-par chos, topics of knowledge) and their associated texts followed by the various schools of Tibetan Buddhism, it includes, but goes beyond, merely rejoicing. Vasubandhu, representing the Vaibhashika/Sautrantika position, asserts immeasurable joy as primarily also the wish for others to have mental happiness; while Asanga, representing Chittamatra, explains it as primarily also the wish for others never to be parted from the happiness they already have. The various Tibetan Buddhist traditions adopt Vasubandhu or Asanga's formulation, differing primarily in their explanations of the happiness which immeasurable joy wishes others to have, or from which it wishes others not to be parted, and whether or not others already have that happiness.

According to Maitreya's Filigree for the Mahayana Sutras, the objects immeasurable equanimity is directed at are limited beings that have attraction and repulsion to others due to their dividing them into close and distant. In another passage of the same text, Asanga specifies the mind that has disturbing emotions as the object of immeasurable equanimity. A mind under the influence of disturbing emotions, however, may be either merely the meditator's mind or also the mind of all others.

Asanga's presentation, in Anthology of Special Topics of Knowledge, of the thought that accompanies immeasurable equanimity, "May limited beings be benefited," affirms that there are two forms of equanimity here, since the line is open to two interpretations. One is "May limited beings be benefited equally," and thus indicates equanimity in the mind of the meditator. The other is "may limited beings be benefited by their own development of equanimity."

Thus, Tsongkhapa, in A Grand Presentation of the Graded Stages of the Path (Lam-rim chen-mo), identifies two types of immeasurable equanimity. One type is free of attachment and repulsion, with an even-minded attitude directed at others. This accords with the Theravada, Nichiren, and Vaibhashika/Sautrantika presentations. The other type primarily wishes others to have equanimity, free of attachment and repulsion. Again, different texts within the various Tibetan Buddhist traditions assert one or the other type.

The Four Immeasurable Attitudes as Leading to the Development of Bodhichitta

Different texts within the various Tibetan Buddhist traditions also diverge concerning the placement of meditation on the four immeasurable attitudes on the bodhisattva path. Some follow Maitreya's presentation in A Filigree of Realizations and A Filigree for Mahayana Sutras. They place meditation on the four after developing bodhichitta, as one of the practices bodhisattvas engage in for reaching enlightenment and for ripening all beings. Others follow the presentation given by the late tenth-century Indian master, Atisha. In An Auto-Commentary to Difficult Points in "Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment" (Byang-chub lam-gyi sgron-me'i dka'-'grel, Skt. Bodhimargapradipa-panjika) and Concisely Worded Method for Accomplishing the Mahayana Path (Theg-pa chen-po'i lam-gyi sgrub-thabs yi-ger bsdus-pa, Skt. Mahayana-patha-sadhana-varna-samgraha), Atisha states that the four immeasurable attitudes are a preliminary for developing an enlightening aim of bodhichitta.

Prior to this statement in the former of these two texts, Atisha cites a long passage from The Sutra Taught by the Arya Akshayamati containing the above-cited quotation. We may perhaps surmise from this that Atisha agrees with the order of the four immeasurable attitudes found in this sutra as beginning with love. Nevertheless, many of the Tibetan texts that follow Atisha's point concerning the placement of the meditation change the order of the four and put equanimity first.

Nyingma Examples of Atisha's Placement of the Meditation before Bodhichitta and with Equanimity First

Longchenpa's "Rest and Restoration in the Nature of the Mind"

Within the Nyingma tradition, the fourteenth-century master Longchenpa (Klong-chen-pa Dri-med 'od-zer) follows Atisha's explanation. In Rest and Restoration in the Nature of the Mind (Sems-nyid ngal-gso; Kindly Bent to Ease Us), he presents an extensive explanation of the four immeasurable attitudes as a preliminary practice for developing bodhichitta. He states that although the traditional order of the four is love, compassion, joy, and equanimity, the four do not have a fixed order of practice. For beginners, it is more suitable to meditate on equanimity first; otherwise, the other three attitudes will be partial and will not extend to everyone equally. When that is the case, the four attitudes bring about only samsaric results.

As for the defining characteristics of the four:

  • immeasurable equanimity is a mind that is equal toward everyone;
  • immeasurable love is the wish for all beings to be happy;
  • immeasurable compassion is the wish for them to be free from suffering;
  • immeasurable joy is the wish that they never be parted from happiness.

Longchenpa's list of these defining characteristics brings together Asanga's treatment of immeasurable joy with Vasubandhu's treatment of immeasurable equanimity. Longchenpa's elaboration of the four attitudes, however, reveals significant differences from the two Indian presentations:

  • Immeasurable equanimity is developed in stages. First, one rids oneself of the disturbing emotions of attachment, repulsion, and indifference toward all others, as well as any notions that would regard some beings as close and some as distant. In Gelug terminology, as used in The Collected Works of the Tutor Trijang Rinpoche (Yongs-'dzin Khri-byang gsung-'bum), the former is "mere equanimity" (btang-snyoms-tsam): the equanimity shared in common between Hinayana and Mahayana. The second is the type of equanimity developed when one is actually about to help others. In Gelug terminology, this is the type of equanimity developed exclusively in Mahayana (thun-mong ma-yin-pa'i btang-snyoms). One develops both types of equanimity by thinking how everyone has been a friend, an enemy, and a stranger in various previous lives.

    On the basis of this twofold type of immeasurable equanimity, one then generates the wish that all beings likewise be free of attachment, repulsion, indifference, and notions of close and far. Thus, Longchenpa presents both types of equanimity mentioned by Tsongkhapa: an even-minded attitude toward all others and the wish that all others likewise have such an attitude. In this way, one develops an equal attitude with respect to both oneself and all others.

  • Immeasurable love wishes all others to have the provisional happiness of one of the better rebirth states, and the ultimate happiness of enlightenment. This love is greater than that of a mother for her only child. Here, Longchenpa presents immeasurable love as far more than the wish for others to have physical happiness, as Vasubandhu asserts. It is even far more than the wish for others to have mental happiness, the thought for immeasurable joy according to Vasubandhu.
  • Immeasurable compassion wishes all beings to be free from suffering, with the same inability to bear their pains as one would have for one's suffering parents. This attitude also offers to all suffering beings one’s positive force (merit) of the past, present, and future, as well as one's body and possessions, to help free them from their pains.
  • Immeasurable joy is based on the understanding that there is no need to bring others to a state of supreme happiness, because all beings already have happiness as an aspect of their Buddha-natures. Therefore, this immeasurable attitude is the wish that all beings never be parted from realizing their innate happiness. They do not realize their innate happiness when unawareness of its existence obscures it.

In accord with the dzogchen teachings, (rdzogs-chen, great completeness), Longchenpa also explains that each of the four immeasurable attitudes has two forms. One is aimed (dmigs-bcas), with a limited mind (sems), at all beings and is mixed with the fleeting stains of emotional and cognitive obscurations (nyon-sgrib and shes-sgrib). The other is with pure awareness (rig-pa), not aimed (dmigs-med) in that way. The latter differs significantly from the Chittamatra and Madhyamaka presentations of the unaimed forms as explained by Tsongkhapa. After developing each of the aimed forms of the four attitudes, one tries to develop, in turn, the unaimed form of each.

  • With unaimed equanimity, one rests in the open space aspect (klong) of pure awareness, primordially free of all fleeting stains of disturbing emotions, such as attachment and repulsion, and concepts such as close and far.
  • With unaimed love, one rests in the equality (mnyam-nyid) aspect of the open space of pure awareness, which extends with love equally everywhere.
  • With unaimed compassion, one rests in the totally absorbed (mnyam-bzhag) aspect of the open space of pure awareness, which extends as well into the subsequent realization phase (rjes-thob) with inseparable openness and compassion.
  • With unaimed joy, one rests in the blissful aspect of the open space of pure awareness.

[See: The Major Facets of Dzogchen.]

After meditating on the aimed and unaimed forms of the four immeasurable attitudes in the order that begins with equanimity, Longchenpa outlines further meditation on the four, but now starting with love. Practicing like this with the traditional order of the four attitudes helps to lessen any clinging to the aimed forms of them that might occur.

  • When, through aimed love, one develops attachment to everyone as one's friend, one meditates on unaimed compassion to overcome the suffering that arises because of one's confused karmic entanglement with others.
  • When, through aimed compassion, one becomes too fixated on others as truly existent objects, one meditates on unaimed joy in order to overcome the depression and weariness that arises from that fixation.
  • When, through aimed joy, one's mind becomes overexcited and flighty, one meditates on unaimed equanimity to become free of attachment to some as close and some as far.
  • When, through aimed equanimity, one becomes indifferent and passive, one meditates on unaimed love that extends equally to all.

When one's practice of the four has become stable, one may then meditate on the four in any order.

Longchenpa also connects meditation on the four immeasurable attitudes with the practices for dissolving the five disturbing emotions into their underlying forms of deep awareness:

  • Love acts as a circumstance for hatred and anger to dissolve into the underlying mirror-like deep awareness (me-long lta-bu'i ye-shes).
  • Compassion acts as a circumstance for longing desire and attachment to dissolve into the underlying individualizing deep awareness (so-sor rtogs-pa'i ye-shes).
  • Joy acts as a circumstance for jealousy and envy to dissolve into the underlying accomplishing deep awareness (bya-ba grub-pa'i ye-shes).
  • Equanimity acts as a circumstance for pride and arrogance to dissolve into the underlying equalizing deep awareness (mnyam-pa nyid-kyi ye-shes) and for naivety to dissolve into the underlying sphere of reality deep awareness (chos-kyi dbyings-kyi ye-shes; dharmadhatu deep awareness).

[See: Dissolving Disturbing Emotions into Underlying Deep Awareness.]

Peltrul's "Personal Instructions from My Totally Excellent Teacher"

The nineteenth-century Nyingma master Peltrul (rDza dPal-sprul O-rgyan 'jigs-med chos-kyi dbang-po), in Personal Instructions from My Totally Excellent Guru (Kun-bzang bla-ma'i zhal-lung; The Words of My Perfect Teacher), also follows Atisha's point concerning the four immeasurable attitudes as a preliminary for developing bodhichitta. Thus, he structures the method for developing an enlightening aim in accord with the four and follows Longchenpa in changing the traditional order by putting equanimity first.

Moreover, Peltrul interweaves the meditation on the four immeasurable attitudes with most of the components of the seven-part cause and effect quintessence teaching for developing bodhichitta (rgyu-'bras man-ngag bdun), which derives from the Indian master Asanga's Bodhisattva Stages of Mind (Byang-chub sems-dpa'i sa, Skt. Bodhisattvabhumi). The seven are developing equanimity, recognizing all beings as having been one's mother in a previous life, remembering motherly kindness, appreciating and wishing to repay that kindness, love, compassion, an exceptional resolve, and a bodhichitta aim.

[See: Seven-Part Cause and Effect Quintessence Teaching for Developing Bodhichitta.]

Peltrul explains:

  • Immeasurable equanimity is the state of mind that is free of attachment, repulsion, and indifference toward all limited beings and is free, as well, of regarding some beings as close and others as distant. It bases itself on recognizing that all limited beings have equally been one’s mother in some previous life, despite the changes in status that have occurred since then.
  • Love is developed by regarding all beings in the same way as parents regard their children – namely, with heart-warming love (yid-du ‘ong-ba’i byams-pa). This is the love with which one is joyous to meet someone and would be sad if anything bad happened to him or her. Also, one needs to think that everyone wants to be happy, just as oneself does. The emphasis is on being kind to others, especially one's parents as repayment of their kindness.
  • Compassion comes from seeing suffering beings as one would one’s own suffering mother, and thus it follows from seeing others as having been one’s mother.
  • Joy is the state of mind that rejoices in others' happiness and prosperity and, without jealousy, wishes them to experience more. Immeasurable joy leads to bodhichitta, the wish for all limited beings to have the happiness (bliss) of enlightenment.

Gelug Examples of Maitreya and Asanga's Placement of the Four Immeasurable Attitudes after Developing Bodhichitta and with Equanimity First

The Reason for the Placement

Several texts for recitation practice within the Gelug tradition also place equanimity first in their presentations of the four immeasurable attitudes. However, in accord with Maitreya and Asanga's explanations, they present meditation on the four after developing a bodhichitta aim. The two most widely practiced ones are:

  • An Extensive Six-Session Yoga (Thun-drug-gi rnal-‘byor rgyas-pa), by the seventeenth-century master, the First Panchen Lama (Pan-chen Blo-bzang chos-kyi rgyal-mtshan),
  • A Ritual Text of Preparatory Practices (Byang-chub lam-gyi-rim-pa’i dmar-khrid myur-lam-gyi sngon-‘gro’i ngag-‘don-gyi rim-pa khyer bde-bklag chog bskal-bzang mgrin-rgyan, sByor-chos; Jorcho: The Lam-rim Puja) by the late nineteenth-century master Dagpo Jampel-lhundrub (Dvags-po Blo-bzang 'jam-dpal lhun-grub)

First in these texts comes the general verse for putting a safe direction in life (taking refuge) and developing a bodhichitta aim: "I take safe direction, till my purified state, from the Buddhas, the Dharma, and the Highest Assembly. By the positive force of my giving and so on, may I actualize Buddhahood to help those who wander." This is followed by the verses for developing aspiring bodhichitta and then for taking the bodhisattva vows with engaged bodhichitta. After that comes the verse for developing the four immeasurable attitudes.

In Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand (rNam-grol lag-bcangs), the early twentieth-century master Pabongka (Pha-bong-kha Byams-pa bstan-'dzin 'phrin-las rgya-mtsho), when commenting on Dagpo Jampel-lhundrub's text, explains the reason for this placement. The four immeasurable attitudes are not a practice for developing a bodhichitta aim for the first time. Rather, meditation on them is for strengthening that enlightening aim once it has been developed. In practice, one first reaffirms one's bodhichitta aim and then asks oneself why one has not yet achieved enlightenment? It is because one has not developed the four immeasurable attitudes fully. This then leads to meditation on them.

Pabongka explains another reason for this placement in The Manner of Practicing the Yoga of "Hundreds of Deities of Tushita" (Zab-lam dga'-ldan lha-rgya-ma'i rnal-'byor nyams-su len-tshul snyan-brgyud zhal-shes lhug-par bkod-pa'i man-ngag rin-chen gter-gyi bang-mdzod). In this commentary, Pabongka adds as a preliminary practice to Hundreds of Deities of Tushita the formulation of the four immeasurable attitudes from Dagpo Jampel-lhundrub's text. He explains that in addition to helping the power of one's bodhichitta to increase further, it also enhances one's bodhichitta by eliminating interferences to it.

The First Panchen Lama's "Extensive Six-Session Yoga"

The First Panchen Lama's formulation of the four in The Extensive Six-Session Yoga is:

  • For immeasurable equanimity, "May all limited beings be parted from (feelings of) close and distant, attachment and repulsion."
  • For immeasurable love, "May they gain the happiness that is especially noble."
  • For immeasurable compassion, "May they be freed from the ocean of their unbearable sufferings."
  • For immeasurable joy, "May they never be parted from the happiness of pure liberation."

Unlike Longchenpa's and Peltrul's presentations, immeasurable equanimity is a state of mind that one wishes all beings to have, rather than an even-minded attitude one develops toward all others. However, because oneself is included among all limited beings, one wishes oneself also to have equanimity. Thus, both forms of equanimity mentioned by Tsongkhapa are developed here.

"The happiness that is especially noble" refers to the state of bliss of an arya, a highly realized being who has straightforward, nonconceptual cognition of voidness. Immeasurable love wishes for others to experience that level of happiness, while immeasurable joy wishes them never to be parted from the blissful state of pure liberation as a Buddha.

In Brief Notes from an Explanatory Discourse on "Six-Session Guru-Yoga" (Thun-drug bla-ma'i rnal-'byor bshad-khrid gnang-ba'i zin-tho mdor-bsdus), Pabongka points out that the generation of immeasurable equanimity fulfills the bonding practice (dam-tshig, Skt. samaya) of Ratnasambhava to give freedom from fear. When beings have nothing to fear from someone that he or she will cling to them with attachment, reject them with repulsion, ignore them with indifference, or regard others as closer to him or her than they are, that person has given them freedom from fear. All limited beings have nothing to fear from that person.

[See: Common Bonding Practices for the Buddha-Families.]

Dagpo Jampel-lhundrub's "Ritual Text of Preparatory Practices"

Dagpo Jampel-lhundrub's Ritual Text of Preparatory Practices also presents meditation on the four immeasurable attitudes as a way of enhancing one's bodhichitta aim after developing bodhichitta. It also begins the sequence with immeasurable equanimity. According to this formulation,

  • immeasurable equanimity is the wish for all limited beings to have equanimity, free from (feelings of) close and distant, attachment and repulsion.
  • Immeasurable love is the wish for them to have happiness and the causes for happiness.
  • Immeasurable compassion is the wish for them to be parted from suffering and the causes for suffering.
  • Immeasurable joy is the wish for them never to be parted from the pure happiness of superior states of rebirth (mtho-ris) and of liberation.

Noteworthy here is that immeasurable love is the wish for limited beings to have not only happiness, but also the causes for happiness. Immeasurable compassion is the wish for them to be parted not only from suffering, but also from the causes of suffering. These additions accord with the standard formulations of them within the context of the four immeasurable attitudes found in many texts of the non-Gelug Tibetan Buddhist traditions and Bon.

Concerning immeasurable joy, Dagpo Jampel-lhundrub adds to the First Panchen Lama's presentation of it – the wish for limited beings not to be parted from the happiness of pure liberation – the wish for them not to be parted from the pure happiness of superior states of rebirth. In doing so, he includes within the sphere of immeasurable joy the happiness of achieving all three progressive spiritual goals of practitioners discussed in the lam-rim tradition of graded pathways of mind. Those with an initial level of spiritual motivation aim for superior states of rebirth, particularly a precious human rebirth. Those with an intermediate level of motivation aim for the liberation of an arhat. Those of advanced level motivation aim for the full liberation of enlightenment as a Buddha.

In Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, Pabongka explains that, in accord with Dagpo Jampel-lhundrub's ritual text, each of the four immeasurable attitudes has four immeasurable attitudes. These are, for example in the case of immeasurable compassion:

  • immeasurable intention ('dun-pa tshad-med), "How wonderful if all limited beings were parted from suffering and from its causes,"
  • immeasurable aspiration (smon-pa tshad-med), "May they be parted,"
  • immeasurable exceptional resolve (lhag-bsam tshad-med), "I shall make them be parted,"
  • immeasurable request (gsol-'debs tshad-med), "To be able to do that, guru-deity, I request inspiration."

Dagpo Jampel-lhundrub is expanding here on the four aspects of love and compassion that the early sixteenth-century Sakya master Ngorchen Konchog-lhundrub (Ngor-chen dKon-mchog lhun-grub) presents in A Filigree for Beautifying the Three Appearances (sNang-gsum mdzes-par byed-pa'i rgyan, The Beautiful Ornament of the Three Visions). In Ngorchen Konchog-lhundrub's presentation, however, the exceptional resolve aspect is called the bodhichitta aspect, and it comes before the aspiration aspect. The request aspect is to both the guru and the Three Gems.

Examples of Placing the Meditation after Developing Bodhichitta and with Love First

The Bon Tradition

One of the earliest Tibetan examples of placing the meditation on the four immeasurable attitudes after developing bodhichitta and with the traditional order of starting with immeasurable love is in the Bon tradition. Moreover, this is one of the earliest Tibetan formulations of the four in which the causes for happiness and for suffering are explicitly mentioned. Asanga's specification that the discriminating awareness entailed with the three manners of focus must accompany the four immeasurable attitudes implies an understanding of the causes for happiness and for suffering. The Indian texts, however, do not seem to explicitly mention these causes in their formulations of the four attitudes.

In A Cavern of Treasures (mDzod-phug), unearthed as a Bon treasure text by Shenchen Luga (gShen-chen Klu-dga') in the early eleventh century, the four immeasurable attitudes are:

  • great love, the wish that all limited beings find happiness and the causes of happiness,
  • great compassion, the wish for them all to be free from suffering and its causes,
  • great joy, the state of mind that rejoices when they find happiness and its causes,
  • great equanimity, the attitude that extends these wishes impartially toward all, without consideration of friends, enemies, or strangers.

In formulating great joy as the state of mind that rejoices in other's happiness, Bon agrees with Theravada, Nichiren, and the Nyingma master, Peltrul. Although many Tibetan traditions and texts include mention of the causes for happiness in immeasurable love and the causes for suffering in immeasurable suffering, Bon seems to be unique in mentioning the causes for happiness in immeasurable joy.

The Bon formulation of great equanimity also seems unique. In other formulations in which immeasurable equanimity is an attitude of even-mindedness toward all beings and in which its development comes last in the sequence of the four attitudes, the emphasis seems to be on paralleling the sequence of the four levels of mental stability. In Theravada, for example, equanimity is being even-tempered toward all beings, in the sense of even when helping, not becoming too involved or not being indifferent, since ultimately everyone needs to reach liberation through his or her own efforts.

In Nichiren, the parallel with the fourth level of mental stability is much closer. There, immeasurable equanimity is a completely tranquil state of mind that is even-minded toward happiness and unhappiness, in all circumstances, such as when meeting friends and enemies. It is the state of mind that is rid of the attitudes of immeasurable love, compassion, and joy.

In Bon, on the other hand, immeasurable equanimity is not rid of the other three immeasurable attitudes, but rather extends them equally to all. In the formulations of the Nyingma masters Longchenpa and Peltrul, however, the impartial state of mind that is free of the notions of friend, enemy, and stranger is required before, not after developing immeasurable love, compassion, and joy, in order to extend the three attitudes equally to all others.

The Standard Formulation in Kagyu and Sakya

In Sakya and the various Kagyu schools of Tibetan Buddhism – Karma Kagyu, Drigung Kagyu, and Drugpa Kagyu – the most common formulation of the four immeasurable attitudes is:

  • for immeasurable love, "May all limited beings have happiness and the causes for happiness."
  • For immeasurable compassion, "May all limited beings be parted from suffering and the causes of suffering."
  • For immeasurable joy, "May all limited beings never be parted from pure happiness, which is without any suffering."
  • For immeasurable equanimity, "May all beings abide in equanimity, parted from dualistic (feelings) of close and distant, attachment and repulsion."

In the formulation of immeasurable joy, "pure happiness, which is without any suffering," refers to the blissful state of pure liberation as a Buddha, as in the First Panchen Lama's Extensive Six-Session Yoga.

An example of this formula from the Karma Kagyu tradition is A Sahaja Vajrayogini Sadhana (dPal-ldan lhan-cig-skyes-ma rdo-rje rnal-'byor sgrub-thabs dkyil-'khor-gyi-cho-ga gsang-chen mchog-gi myur-lam gsal-ba'i-'dren-pa) by the early sixteenth-century Sixth Karmapa (rGyal-ba Kar-ma-pa mThong-ba don-ldan). An example from the Sakya tradition is A Medium-Length Hevajra Sadhana (dPal kye rdo-rje'i mngon-par rtogs-pa 'bring-du bya-ba yan-lag drug-pa'i mdzes-rgyan) by Ngorchen Konchog-lhundrub.

This standard formulation also occurs in several Gelug texts. For example:

  • A Long-Life Sadhana of the Wish-Fulfilling Wheel Tara (Kun-mkhyen rGyal-ba bsKal-bzang rgya-mtsho'i lha-tshogs sgrub-skor-las rje-btsun sgrol-ma yid-bzhin 'khor-lo'i tshe-sgrub) by the eighteenth-century Seventh Dalai Lama (rGyal-ba bsKal-bzang rgya-mtsho),
  • A Vajrapani Mahachakra Sadhana (bCom-ldan-'das gsang-bdag 'khor-lo chen-po'i mngon-rtogs dngos-grub kun-gyi gter-mdzod),
  • A Chittamani Tara Sadhana, (rJe-btsun sgrol-ljang bla-med lugs nye-brgyud 'phags-ma'i zhal-lung tsitta ma-ni-las sgrub-thabs rkyang-pa'i 'don-sgrigs zur-du bkol-ba),
  • A Yoga of the Spiritual Master Inseparable from Avalokiteshvara (Bla-ma-dang spyan-ras-gzigs dbyer-med-kyi rnal-'byor dngos-grub kun-'byung) by His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama (rGyal-ba bsTan-'dzin rgya-mtsho).

In these examples, rather than equanimity being an even-minded attitude toward all others, it is the wish that all limited beings have equanimity. According to the oral explanation of Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche (mTshan-zhabs Ser-kong Rin-po-che NGag-dbang blo-bzang thub-bstan stobs-'byor), after wishing others never to be parted from the pure happiness (bliss) of enlightenment, one needs to reflect on why they have not yet reached that state. It is because they have not developed equanimity. Therefore, one wishes them to develop this attitude. This is the reason for placing equanimity last in the sequence of the four immeasurable attitudes.

Gelug Variants

The various sadhana practices, within the Gelug tradition, for actualizing oneself as a tantric Buddha-figure display a wide assortment of variant formulations of the four immeasurable attitudes.

Kalachakra

In An Extensive Kalachakra Body, Speech, Mind Mandala Sadhana (bCom-ldan-'das dpal dus-kyi 'khor-lo'i sku-gsung-thugs yongs-su rdzogs-pa'i dkyil-'khor-gyi sgrub-thabs mkhas-sgrub zhal-lung) by the Seventh Dalai Lama, repeated in A Kalachakra Guru-Yoga in Conjunction with Six-Session Practice (Thun-drug-dang ‘brel-ba’i dus-‘khor bla-ma’i rnal-’byor dpag-bsam yongs-’du’i snye-ma) by His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, versified by Ling Rinpoche (Yongs-’dzin Gling Rinpoche Thub-bstan lung-rtogs rnam-rgyal ‘phrin-las):

  • immeasureable love is the wish, "May all limited beings have happiness."
  • Immeasurable compassion, "May they be parted from suffering."
  • Immeasurable joy, "May they have the joy of abiding always in happiness (bliss)."
  • Immeasurable equanimity, "May they have the equanimity of equality (mnyam-nyid)."

The thoughts for immeasurable love and compassion here lack any mention of the causes for happiness and the causes for suffering. According to the oral explanation, they are to be included.

Concerning immeasurable joy, rather than following Asanga's formulation, "May limited beings never be parted from happiness," the Seventh Dalai Lama follows Vasubandhu's manner of expression, "May they have happiness." By adding the word always, the Seventh Dalai Lama implies that the happiness wished for with immeasurable joy is the unending blissful awareness of enlightenment.

The formulation of immeasurable equanimity here also resembles Vasubandhu's manner of expressing equanimity, "Limited beings are equal (mnyam-pa)." It also is reminiscent of Longchenpa's discussion that equanimity acts as a circumstance for pride and arrogance to dissolve into the underlying equalizing deep awareness (mnyam-pa nyid-kyi ye-shes). Equanimity, then, includes both an equal attitude toward all others, free of attachment and repulsion, as well as an understanding that everyone is equal in being devoid of true findable existence.

Chakrasamvara Body Mandala

In An Abbreviated Sadhana of the Ghantapada Lineage of the Chakrasamvara Body Mandala (Grub-chen Dril-bu-pa'i lugs-kyi 'Khor-lo bde-mchog lus-dkyil-gyi bdag-bskyed mdor-bsdus) by Trijang Rinpoche (Yongs-'dzin Khri-byang Rin-po-che Blo-bzang ye-shes):

  • immeasurable love is the wish, "May all limited beings have the happiness that is especially noble."
  • Immeasurable compassion, "May all limited beings be parted from all suffering and the causes of suffering."
  • Immeasurable joy, "May all limited beings come never to be parted from happiness (bliss) already attained."
  • Immeasurable equanimity, "May all limited beings be parted from all root and secondary disturbing emotions."

Trijang Rinpoche uses the same formulation for immeasurable love as the First Panchen Lama used in An Extensive Six-Session Yoga. The happiness that is especially noble refers to the blissful awareness of an arya. No mention is made of the causes for this happiness. Immeasurable compassion, however, repeats the most common formulation and explicitly includes wishing others also to be parted from the causes of suffering.

The formulation of immeasurable joy is reminiscent of Maitreya's specifying, in A Filigree for the Mahayana Sutras, that the object for this attitude is limited beings that already have happiness. According to the oral explanation, "the happiness already attained" refers to the blissful state of a Buddha. Thus, Trijang Rinpoche's formulation also parallels the First Panchen Lama's Extensive Six-Session Yoga, in which immeasurable joy wishes others not be parted from the happiness of pure liberation.

The formulation of immeasurable equanimity appears to be a more general manner of expressing the wish that all limited beings have the equanimity that is parted from thoughts of the disturbing emotions of attachment and aversion. It seems to derive from Maitreya's mention, in A Filigree for Mahayana Sutras, that the object of immeasurable equanimity is the mind that has disturbing emotions. It also seems to accord with Asanga's explanation of the function of equanimity given in his Anthology of Special Topics of Knowledge, "never to allow the mind to come under the influence of the root or secondary disturbing emotions and never to allow opportunities for factors associated with confusion (zag-bcas, contaminated factors) to arise."

Asanga states in this text that there are three types of equanimity: an affecting variable ('du-byed, Skt. samskara) included in the aggregate of other affecting variables, a feeling (tshor-ba, Skt. vedana), and an immeasurable attitude. The above-mentioned function is that of equanimity as an affecting variable, however, not of immeasurable equanimity. As an affecting variable, equanimity is defined by Asanga as a fit state of mind that spontaneously accomplishes it purposes, without coming under the influence of flightiness or dullness.

Vajrabhairava and Hayagriva

Another variant formulation occurs in

  • An Extensive Thirteen-Deity Vajrabhairava Sadhana (dPal rdo-rje 'jigs-byed lha bcu-gsum-ma'i sgrub-thabs rin-po-che'i za-ma-tog) by the First Changkya (lCang-skya Ngag-dbang blo-bzang chos-ldan),
  • An Extensive Ekavira Vajrabhairava Sadhana (bCom-ldan-'das dpal rdo-rje 'jigs-byed dpa'-bo gcig-pa'i sgrub-thabs bdud-las rnam-rgyal-gyi ngag-'don nag-'gros blo-dman las dang-po-pa-la khyer bde-bar bkod-pa) by Pabongka,
  • An Extensive Sadhana of the Kyergang Lineage of the Secretly Actualized Hayagriva (sKyer-sgang lugs-kyi rta-mgrin gsang-sgrub-kyi sgrub-thabs rgyas-pa rTa-mchog rol-pa'i zhal-lung).

According to this formulation,

  • immeasurable love is the wish, "May all limited beings have happiness."
  • Immeasurable compassion, "May all limited beings be parted from suffering."
  • Immeasurable joy, "May all limited beings never be parted from happiness (bliss)."
  • Immeasurable equanimity, "May all limited beings abide in equanimity, unperturbed by conceptual thoughts about the eight transitory things in life or about object-taking consciousness and the objects it takes."

Here, according to an oral explanation, much needs to be filled in: for example, the causes for happiness within the wish of immeasurable love and the causes for suffering within the wish of immeasurable compassion. Although not explicitly stated, the happiness referred to with immeasurable joy is the blissful awareness of a Buddha.

The formulation of immeasurable equanimity seems, as in the Chakrasamvara Body Mandala Sadhana, to follow from Asanga's Anthology of Special Topics of Knowledge. Conceptual thoughts about the eight transitory things in life ('jig-rten-gyi chos-brgyad, eight worldly dharmas) and about object-taking consciousness and the objects it takes fall within the sphere of the function of equanimity as not allowing factors associated with confusion to arise. The eight transitory things in life are praise and criticism, gains and losses, things going well and not well, and good news and bad news. Conceptual thoughts concerning them and associated with confusion are those of feeling excited at the first of each pair and depressed at the second. Being unperturbed by conceptual thoughts associated with confusion about object-taking consciousness and the objects it takes is reminiscent of the Chittamatra interpretation of the unaimed forms of the immeasurable attitudes. Asanga wrote his text from the Chittamatra point of view.

[See: Dispelling Discomfort at the Eight Transitory Things in Life.]

Placement of Compassion First

The Luipa Lineage of Chakrasamvara

Another variant found among the Gelug sadhanas is the placement of immeasurable compassion first. For example, in A Sadhana for the Luipa Lineage of Chakrasamvara (dPal 'khor-lo sdom-pa lu-yi-pa lugs-kyi mngon-rtogs) by the First Panchen Lama,

  • immeasurable compassion is the wish, "May all limited beings be parted from all suffering."
  • Immeasurable love, "May all limited beings have all happiness (bliss)."
  • Immeasurable joy, "May all limited beings stabilize happiness (bliss) already attained."
  • Immeasurable equanimity, "May all limited beings have their minds abide in the one taste of the accordant nature (de-bzhin-nyid)."

The placement of compassion before love also occurs in the practice of giving and taking (gtong-len, tonglen). This practice entails, with love, giving happiness to others and, with compassion, taking on their suffering. In the verse concerning giving and taking in the First Panchen Lama's Offering Ceremony to the Spiritual Master (Bla-ma mchod-pa, The Guru Puja), compassionately taking on the sufferings of others precedes lovingly giving them happiness. In Liberation in the Palm of Our Hand, Pabongka explains that without compassionately taking away others' sufferings first, others cannot experience any happiness that one might give them with love. Again, although the causes of suffering and of happiness are not explicitly mentioned, they are implicitly included.

The wish, with immeasurable joy, that others' happiness already attained remains stable is the wish for them to remain always in the blissful state of a Buddha. This is similar to the wish of immeasurable joy found in the Kalachakra and Chakrasamvara Body Mandala Sadhanas cited above.

The formulation of immeasurable equanimity as the wish for others' minds to abide in the one taste of the accordant nature is a wish for their minds to remain with the understanding that all beings are equally devoid of impossible ways of existing. This formulation also accords with that found in the Kalachakra Sadhana, in which this attitude wishes others to have the equanimity of equality.

Akshobhya

In A Vajra Akshobhya Sadhana (bCom-ldan-'das rdo-rje mi-'khrugs-pa'i sgrub-dkyil yongs-su rdzogs-pa'i cho-ga mngon-par dga'-ba'i sgo-'byed), also by the First Panchen Lama,

  • immeasurable compassion is the wish, "May all limited beings be parted from suffering."
  • Immeasurable love, "May all limited beings never be parted from happiness."
  • Immeasurable joy, "May all limited beings become happy (blissful) with the happiness (bliss) of a Buddha."
  • Immeasurable equanimity, "May all limited beings pass to nirvana with the peerless nirvana of a Buddha."

Here, immeasurable love is formulated in the way in which immeasurable joy is usually expressed. Immeasurable joy, however, is still the wish for others to have the happiness or bliss of a Buddha. Immeasurable equanimity is the wish that everyone attain the enlightenment of a Buddha, with which they help all others equally, with the understanding that everyone and everything is devoid of true findable existence.

Summary

From this survey, it is clear that there is a great deal of variation in the understanding, formulation, and practice of the four immeasurable attitudes. The diversity indicates the breadth of the practice and, rather than seeing the different traditions as contradictory, if one is aware of the wide variety of forms, it may enrich their practice.

In summary, immeasurable love may include the wish that all limited beings:

  • have happiness in general,
  • have physical happiness,
  • have the happiness of a limited being (someone who is not yet an enlightened Buddha),
  • never be parted from the happiness of a limited being,
  • have the happiness of an arya,
  • have the provisional happiness of one of the better rebirth states and the ultimate happiness of enlightenment,
  • have any of these types of happiness and the causes for that happiness.

Immeasurable compassion may include the wish that all limited beings:

  • be parted from suffering (the three kinds of suffering),
  • be parted from suffering and the causes for suffering.

Immeasurable joy may include rejoicing at limited beings':

  • well-being and efforts to be constructive and to work for liberation,
  • prosperity,
  • happiness in general,
  • finding happiness and its causes.

It may also include the wish that all beings:

  • have mental happiness,
  • have the joy of abiding always in happiness (the happiness of a Buddha),
  • never be parted from happiness,
  • never be parted from realizing their own innate happiness as part of their Buddha-natures,
  • never be parted from the pure happiness of superior states of rebirth and liberation,
  • never be parted from the pure happiness of liberation,
  • never be parted from the pure happiness of a Buddha,
  • never be parted from the pure happiness (of a Buddha) that is free of suffering,
  • never be parted from the happiness (of a Buddha) already attained,
  • remain stable with the happiness (of a Buddha) already attained.

Immeasurable equanimity is a state of mind that includes being:

  • even-tempered toward all limited beings, in the sense of even when helping, not becoming too involved or not being indifferent, since ultimately everyone needs to reach liberation through his or her own efforts,
  • completely tranquil and even-minded toward happiness and unhappiness, pleasure and pain, in all circumstances, such as when meeting friends and enemies, and is rid of the attitudes of immeasurable love, compassion, and joy,
  • extending immeasurable love, compassion, and joy equally to everyone, without consideration of friends, enemies, or strangers,
  • free of attachment, repulsion, and indifference toward others, and without feelings of some being close and others distant,
  • with the understanding that all limited beings are equal,
  • with the wish that all beings be equally benefited.

It may also include the wish that all beings:

  • be parted from feelings of close and distant, attraction and repulsion,
  • have the equanimity that is parted from feelings of close and distant, attraction and repulsion,
  • have the equanimity that is parted from dualistic feelings of close and distant, attraction and repulsion,
  • have the equanimity of equality (the equalizing deep awareness that all beings are equal in their need to be free of suffering and all are equally devoid of impossible ways of existing),
  • be parted from all root and secondary disturbing emotions,
  • abide in equanimity, unperturbed by conceptual thoughts about the eight transitory things in life or about object-taking consciousness and the objects it takes,
  • have their minds abide in the one taste of the accordant nature (voidness),
  • pass to nirvana with the supreme nirvana of a Buddha.

Further, for the four attitudes to be immeasurable, they need to be aimed at all limited beings in general or, specifically, at all beings presently reborn in one of the six rebirth states of the plane of sensory desires. According to some Mahayana explanations, for the four attitudes to be immeasurable, they also need to be accompanied with the six far-reaching attitudes (six perfections), and especially with one of the four levels of mental stability and one of the three types of discriminating awareness.

The sequence of the four immeasurable attitudes may begin with love, equanimity, or compassion. Moreover, in Mahayana practice, the four may be cultivated as a method for developing bodhichitta, or as a way to enhance that bodhichitta once it has been developed, so as to reach enlightenment more effectively.