Brahma Viharas for Activists

A couple of years ago I wrote about the Brahma Viharas (aka the Four Divine Abodes, aka the Four Immeasurables) and their Near Enemies. If you’ve never heard of these concepts, I highly recommend that post as a more thorough introduction and overview of what they’re all about.

If you’re already somewhat familiar with them, here’s a quick table outlining the Brahma Viharas and their Near Enemies, the latter representing what can happen when we get a bit self-centered vs focusing on others, even if we start out coming from a good place. This table also shows the Antidotes, or the Brahma Vihara we might want to bring into our practice if one of the Near Enemies starts to take over.

Brahma ViharaNear EnemyAntidote
Metta / LovingkindnessAttachment to a person or a particular outcomeKaruna
Karuna / CompassionGrief, overwhelm, or despairMudita
Mudita / Sympathetic JoyIntoxication with someone else’s good fortune, choices, or life pathUpekkha
Upekkha / EquanimityIndifference or apathyMetta

And here’s diagram I created to show the same thing, highlighting in a more visual fashion the interplay between each of the Brahma Viharas… noting also the dynamic between interdependence / care / connectedness (toward the outside edge of the diagram) and self-centeredness / ego-clinging (toward the inside of the diagram):

I created another, more personal version of the same diagram after realizing how regularly I cycle through this exact pattern when it comes to social justice issues:

In my better moments, I find myself at the top right in the land of Metta: filled with a sense of kindness that emanates outward to all beings, omitting none.

But often, particularly when I’m faced with news of the latest injustice — someone has been attacked because of the color of their skin or their sexual orientation, for instance, or I perceive some community I’m a part of as not being as inclusive as they could be, for instance — my sense of lovingkindness starts to decay into Metta’s Near Enemy. I can become quite attached to views about how people SHOULD behave, how they SHOULD treat each other, how justice SHOULD be enacted, etc.

According to this system, that’s when I need to bring in the next Brahma Vihara: Karuna, or Compassion. Not only for the beings that I perceive as being oppressed and marginalized, as I mention in this diagram, but also for their oppressors, or the people who are behaving in less-than-inclusive ways, whether due to hatred or just plain old ignorance.

Continue reading “Brahma Viharas for Activists”

Care about the Climate Crisis?#BlackLivesMatter is tied up with your cause, too

On my mind these days:

Intersectionality. Privilege. Divisive binary thinking. What each of us can control and what we can’t.

Emotional labor… which is what it takes for people of color to educate others about the sources of racism, tools for anti-racism, and how to be a good ally (spoiler: there are many ways!).

That often-invisible spectrum that ranges from being comfortable to feeling uncomfortable to being unsafe to being physically harmed to being killed.

How I can effectively support people in making connections between the things they care about and the things they don’t usually choose to look at, especially when there is agency involved… without becoming jaded, judgmental, or unsafe myself.

 

 

Compassion for all beings is compassion in action: Viveka on The Buddha as Social Revolutionary

Lately I’ve been wondering if my belief that I’m acting on behalf of other beings is actually a form of delusional spiritual bypassing.

How can we balance the energy needed to do our own work to address our own delusions, and the energy and work to support the liberation of all beings?

I posed the question above to Viveka during a talk she gave on The Buddha as Social Revolutionary; a month later, I feel even more strongly that we Buddhists could muster a bit more socially-engaged energy while we also use the tools for our own comfort and self care.

Check out her fantastic answer at 45:25 (thank you Viveka ❤ ) or for even more inspiration, watch the entire talk! It starts at 10:07 in this recording and continues for an hour: