4 Limitless Qualities
Four of the most important virtues within Buddhism are the “Limitless Qualities” because they represent love and goodwill toward all sentient beings, without limit. These are also called the “4 Divine Abodes”. These 4 qualities unlock unlimited potential for contentment, connectedness within us and connectedness with other sentient beings around us.
These 4 prized emotions or mind states give us a framework to cultivate positive behaviors and minimize harmful ones. They are called the “Divine abodes” because they are the mind states in which all the enlightened ones reside. They are also known as the “Four Immeasurables” or “Four Limitless Ones”
The Four Limitless Qualities are:
- Sympathetic joy
Pema Chodron; Tibetan Buddhist nun; has written extensively on this subject. I will briefly describe each one of these qualities briefly and will then recommend a surprisingly easy way to cultivate them spontaneously.
Of these four emotions, Loving-Kindness is the most fundamental. It is a quality of the heart that simply wishes well to all beings without seeking anything back in return. We innately possess this quality of the heart. For most of us, it gets obscured by layers and layers of conditioning by way of our past experiences. Loving-Kindness meditation is the cultivation of a steady, unconditional sense of connection that touches all beings without exception, including ourselves.
Compassion is what Loving-Kindness feels when it encounters suffering: it wants the suffering to stop. It is a quivering of the heart in response to suffering in the world. When we encounter pain or suffering, the reaction is often to avert. Compassion is an antidote to aversion. We set the intention to care for the suffering of ourselves and others, rather than pushing it away.
Sympathetic Joy is what Loving-Kindness feels when it encounters happiness, it wants the happiness to continue. It is simply the practice of appreciating joy and happiness as well as sharing it with others. When we experience joy; jealousy or judgement may arise. Sympathetic Joy is an antidote to jealousy and envy, allowing us to simply rejoice that other people are experiencing it as well.
Equanimity Equanimity is the foundation and the fertile ground upon which the other three Limitless Qualities arise. Equanimity is the capacity of the mind to hold a clear view of whatever is happening, both externally and internally, as well as the ability of the mind to accommodate passion without losing its balance. This quality creates guard rails around us and protects us from fatigue as it is very easy to get Loving-Kindness fatigue or Compassion/Empathy fatigue.
Cultivating the 4 Limitless Qualities
It is possible to cultivate these qualities in a conscious manner. There are series of phrases that are used for this purpose. For example, “May I Be Happy”, “May I Be Peaceful”, etc. are very commonly used to practice and cultivate the Quality of Loving Kindness. Similar set of phrases are used to cultivate the other 3 Qualities.
There is a consistent method in which these qualities are cultivated. We use these phrases first for ourselves. We then expand the circle of people and use the phrases for our loved ones and benefactors. We then expand the circle even more by using the phrases for neutral persons. We then include “difficult” people. Finally, we use these phrases for all beings. At this stage, the practice becomes very powerful and we often get tangible feelings of our hearts and minds opening up to the world.
A couple of days ago, I got strong glimpses of these qualities as they arose spontaneously while I was watching a YouTube Original film called “Life In a Day 2020”.
Life in a Day
“Life in a Day” originally came out in 2011. It was a crowdsourced documentary film that comprised of an arranged series of video clips selected from 80,000 clips submitted to YouTube. The clips showed respective occurrences from around the world on a single day, 24 July 2010. The original film was an hour and a half long. It included scenes selected from 4,500 hours of footage in 80,000 submissions from 192 countries.
On July 25th, 2020; people all over the world filmed their lives and shared their stories to be part of a sequel to this documentary film. The filmmakers had received over 325,000 videos from 192 countries in 65 languages. This was right in the middle of the pandemic. As a result, “Life in a Day 2020” includes scenes from around the world of regular people and is a stirring film about love, death, happiness, joy, heartbreak, and hope that looks beyond geography and circumstance to explore what connects us as humans. We can easily relate to the people from around the world that are depicted in these clips.
For example, our hearts will rejoice when we see newly married couples from different cultures emerge outside the wedding venues to be greeted by friends and families. Our hearts will be filled with compassion as we watch a mother talk about her son who was featured in the “Life In a Day – 2010” film who died of COVID related illness in 2020. Our hearts will be filled with loving kindness as we watch a middle Eastern man talk proudly and happily with his teenage son. Finally, there will be moments when it might get unbearable to watch the rising tide of emotions as we witness a parade of events that arouse a range of strong emotions. During these moments, we would do well to invite and accept these feelings and emotions. It would be helpful to remind ourselves that we need to practice these qualities and cultivate them for ourselves as often as we practice them for others. This is Equanimity.
Yet another benefit of watching “Life in a Day – 2020”
As I mentioned earlier, there is a consistent way in which these qualities are cultivated. We use sets of phrases that invoke these qualities. We use them first for ourselves, then for our loved ones and benefactors, neutral persons, “difficult” persons and then finally for all beings. At this stage, the practice becomes very powerful and we often get tangible feelings of our hearts and minds opening up to the world.
It is difficult to get a visceral sense of all beings when we use these phrases for all beings. However, watching this film with short clips featuring regular people from around the world can help bring to mind a sense of all human beings living in the world. This can serve as a very powerful image while practicing these qualities.
I hope this blog post helps you perform the practice of the 4 Limitless Qualities. You can watch the film on YouTube by clicking the link here.
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