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 Vihara||Near Enemy||Antidote|
|Metta / Lovingkindness||Attachment to a person or a particular outcome||Karuna|
|Karuna / Compassion||Grief, overwhelm, or despair||Mudita|
|Mudita / Sympathetic Joy||Intoxication with someone else’s good fortune, choices, or life path||Upekkha|
|Upekkha / Equanimity||Indifference or apathy||Metta|
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”