Below are some of the resources we used when studying The Four Brahma Viharas:

An extract from Jill Shepherds notes on Sympathetic Joy (mudita)

Last time I was at Auckland Insight, I read a description of all four brahma vihara qualities written by two English dharma teachers, Caroline Jones and Paul Burrows.  Perhaps because it is such a clear description of the relationship between these four practices, and how they each keep the others in balance, some people asked for it to be posted on the website, so here it is:

The Four Sublime Abidings

Metta, [kindness] the love that connects, is an antidote to all forms of aversion.

It is not attachment.

If it slides into sentimentality, karuna [compassion] brings the heart back into balance.

Karuna, the love that responds, is an antidote to cruelty. 

It is not pity.

If it slides into sorrow, mudita [appreciative joy] brings the heart back into balance.

Mudita, the love that celebrates, is an antidote to envy.

It is not competitive.

If it slides into agitated excitement, upekkha [equanimity] brings the heart back into balance.

Upekkha, the love that allows, is the antidote to partiality.

It is not indifference.

If it slides into disconnection, metta brings the heart back into balance.

Mudita as the antidote to sorrow

This description highlights the theme of balance that’s woven throughout these four qualities, particularly the relationship between compassion and mudita.

Compassion or karuna is “the love that responds,” and it’s an antidote to cruelty.  The near enemy of compassion, though, is sorrow or grief, because when we start to turn towards what’s difficult, it’s very common to slide into a sense of overwhelm.  We start to touch in to the pain in our own hearts; the pain in our families; our communities; the world out there; and we just feel swamped by the enormity of all that suffering.

This is where mudita is such a gift.  Mudita is the capacity to experience appreciative joy, and it’s a powerful antidote to sorrow.  So at those times when we might be feeling overwhelmed, we can train ourselves to consciously turn to what else is going on in our lives - or other’s lives - to appreciate more of the full spectrum of life: “the ten thousand joys, and the ten thousand sorrows,” as they say in the Daoist tradition.  Because even in the most difficult circumstances, if we really look, we can find unexpected things to be grateful for, to appreciate, perhaps even to enjoy.

We might not feel a full-blown sense of joy, but we can at least start to perforate the cloud of misery with some moments of lightness.


George Saunders Advice to Graduates

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Guided Metta Meditation by Sharon Salzberg

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