Four Immeasurables

The Four Immeasurables are interrelated qualities, first identified 2500 years ago, but then detailed and systematised by Buddhaghosa (English translation 1956) in the fifth century CE.  They form an integral part of Mindfulness Based Life Enhancement.

Loving-kindness is a genuine feeling of caring and respect for others. We wish them to be happy and to have whatever they need for a healthy, satisfying life. This is a feeling of caring and kindness. It doesn’t mean that we must have a close relationship. It means we care about that person, appreciate what they do for us and wish them happiness.

Compassion is the feeling which arises when we regard all beings (beginning with oneself and one’s own family and friends but not stopping there) with loving-kindness but then perceive the universal experience of suffering. Compassion is associated with a sense of commitment, responsibility, and respect towards all other people.  As Gilbert and Choden put it: “Compassion needs to be understood as consisting of multiple attributes and skills, and yet holding to the fact that at its core is motivation: the desire for all living things to be free of suffering and the causes of suffering” (2013:98)

With empathetic joy we wish all beings to have pure happiness. This means taking delight in others’ success, good qualities and positive actions, and rejoicing in their joy. It brings us closer to others. Empathetic joy means truly rejoicing with another person in all that is good and going well in their life. It means enjoyment at the sight of others who have attained happiness.  As Salzberg says: “It is a rare and beautiful quality to feel truly happy when others are happy. When someone rejoices in our happiness, we are flooded with respect and gratitude for their appreciation. When we take delight in the happiness of another, when we genuinely rejoice at their prosperity, success, or good fortune rather than begrudging it in any way, we are abiding in sympathetic joy.” (1995:151)

With equanimity we have equal respect and concern for every being regardless of where they stand in relation to us. Equanimity is a perfect, unshakable balance of mind, rooted in insight. Looking at the world around us, and looking into our own heart, we see clearly how difficult it is to attain and maintain balance of mind. Equanimity means a balanced state of mind, through which we are able to contemplate by focusing the mind between the two extremes of attachment and indifference.

Each of these Four Immeasurables has a Far Enemy – its opposite – and a Near Enemy – a deceptive substitute.  These are summarised in the table.  Perhaps the most important of these to note is that Pity is the Near Enemy of Compassion.  In Dictionaries the two are often equated.  Here they are seen as distinctly different.