How to Meditate: the Four Immeasurables

The Four Immeasurables are four virtues that are cultivated in meditation practice. They’re also called the Brahmavihara, which means the ‘abodes of Brahma,’ and they can be found in various Buddhist texts as well as the Yoga sutras of Patanjali.

The four immeasurables are unconditional and so are boundless. They consist of:

  • Loving-kindness, or metta – active benevolence, friendliness, and goodwill towards others
  • Compassion – feeling the suffering and pain of others, which comes from the practice of metta
  • Empathetic joy – feeling the happiness of others even if you didn’t cause it and wanting others to be happy
  • Equanimity – serenity and impartiality, which means not being attached to any particular view

This meditation is used to dedicate your practice to the enlightenment of all sentient beings. It puts your meditation into a deeper context and helps to remind you why you’re practising in the first place – that you’re not just practising for yourself, but for others too. It also contributes to the process of dissolving attachment to your ego and helps you to let go of negative states of mind.

You can do this practice for yourself as well as for others. It helps to focus your intention to awaken and open your heart with gratitude and compassion. You can include it in your daily meditation practice or repeat the phrases as a mantra whenever you feel the need of it during the day. This is a simple but effective way to share your light and kindness with others.

Benefits:

  • Promotes love and compassion
  • Includes yourself in your intentions
  • Encourages spiritual growth

Before you begin, you’ll need to memorise the lines which make up the Four Immeasurables. In their simplest form they read:

  • May all beings have happiness
  • May all beings be free from suffering
  • May all beings find joy that is free from suffering
  • May all beings be free from attachment and hatred

The full text begins by focusing on yourself before including everyone else. Memorise the full text if you can:

  • May I have happiness and the causes of happiness
  • May I be free from suffering and the causes of suffering
  • May I never be separated from joy that is without suffering
  • May I abide in equanimity, free from attachment and hatred
  • May all sentient beings have happiness and the causes of happiness
  • May all sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering
  • May all sentient beings never be separated from joy without suffering
  • May all sentient beings be in equanimity, free from attachment and hatred

The Four Immeasurables

You can include this practice at the end of your normal mediation session, or do it as a separate practice, however you see fit.

  1. Sit in meditation on a cushion or a chair. Meditate on your breath for five minutes. Relax.
  2. Recite the first line and feel the intention that all beings have unconditional love, and include yourself. Accept yourself and others as they are.
  3. Recite the second line and feel the intention that all beings be free from suffering. Imagine specifics if it helps, such as a friend becoming free from an illness, or yourself.
  4. Recite the third line and feel the intention that all beings attain enlightenment. Really feel the darkness lifting from yourself and others, and imagine all beings in a blissful state.
  5. Recite the last line and feel the intention that all beings, including you, be free from prejudice and hatred, and see all as equals worthy of compassion and love.
  6. At the end of the session, sit quietly and focus on your breath until you’re ready to stand and continue with your day.

This is similar to the metta bhavana prayer which is practiced in order to cultivate benevolence. In the metta prayer, you begin with yourself and then practice for loved ones, then for somebody neutral, then for enemies, and finally for all sentient beings. Here’s the essence of it:

  • May I be happy and free from suffering
  • May my loved ones be happy and free from suffering
  • May those around me be happy and free from suffering
  • May my enemies be happy and free from suffering
  • May all beings be happy and free from suffering

If you want to really challenge yourself, you can choose specific individuals to direct your loving-kindness and compassion towards. This is easy for loved ones and neutral people, but harder when it comes to people you have difficulties with.

You can also simplify the prayer right down to its essence so you can practice it anywhere and in any circumstance – under your breath or by repeating it in your mind as you go about your day:

  • May I be well
  • May I be happy
  • May I be free from suffering
  • May you be well
  • May you be happy
  • May you be free from suffering

By developing these qualities and seeking to spread them to others through your spiritual practice, you can gain freedom from suffering and help others to do the same. Practising the Four Immeasurables and the metta prayer will lead to greater peace and tranquillity for everyone.

Explore more Meditation Practices here
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