Good Heart: Four Immeasurables
by Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche
Your spiritual practice cannot function without realisation and meditation as well as a good heart. Human beings have many good thoughts, ideas, emotions, and beliefs. But the most positive, extraordinary feeling or emotion is a good heart.
A good heart is a feeling of tenderness. We refer to it as a good heart, but it is more complex than a single emotion. There are four qualities or components of a good heart. The first is love, the second is compassion, the third is joy and the fourth is impartiality. These are sometimes called the Four Boundless Attitudes or the Four Immeasurables.
Once you really understand and recognise that all people, your friends, family, the rest of humanity, all beings are just like you, once you understand and recognise that, love is sincerely wishing happiness and the conditions of happiness for them. Love is sincerely wishing happiness and conditions that support happiness for all whom you have contact with, or are connected with, and for all others. That wish, that wanting happiness and conditions for happiness for others is truly love.
Compassion is the next of these four aspects of a good heart. It’s the complementary element to the quality of love. People often think that compassion is something that we feel only for someone who is critically injured, very sick or in a horrible condition of some kind. People think of compassion as what we feel when someone is undergoing serious difficulty and we think, “Oh I feel so sorry for that person.” That is one dimension or form of compassion, but the compassion that is meant here is something we can feel for everyone.
You can have compassion for someone who is not sick, who is healthy, who is mentally and physically well. You can have compassion for that person because, as long as they live in this world they will undergo physical, mental, and emotional discomfort at various times. They experience disappointment and sadness, anger, aggression, and a whole array of undesirable circumstances. You can wish for them to be free from all these problems and unwanted circumstances and the conditions of these, the circumstances that cause these. Nominally they may be fine, but they are still subject to all these problems and unwanted circumstances.
Once you have the understanding that everyone is just like you, then when others are doing well and they are happy, when they are successful, when they are materially and spiritually flourishing, then when you look at that person without envy or jealousy you appreciate their happiness, you acknowledge and rejoice in that, and you genuinely feel happy for them. This is the joyous aspect of a good heart. Being happy and celebrating another individual’s or country’s or group’s success is a form of good heart.
Once you have this joy, then their happiness and success makes you happy. Their success and happiness don’t make you envious, but make you happy. We already have the tendency to rejoice. The more we think clearly, the more we rejoice in others’ good fortune.
The fourth component of a good heart is impartiality, which is that your love, compassion, and joy toward others is impartial. Your good heart is not subject to any kind of restriction to a group or category or species or race or people who belong to a certain religion, but it is for all equally.
Impartiality means not taking sides, not having some kind of personal bias or prejudice regarding other beings. When your love, your compassion, and your joy are for everyone equally, that is impartiality. Impartiality influences all of the other aspects of a good heart that we’ve described. Impartiality means that our love, compassion, and joy toward everyone is equal, is impartial, without any bias.
The truth is that everybody is the same. Understanding that everybody is the same is a proper understanding of reality. Everybody is like you. Why would you want happiness but other people not want that? Why would you want to avoid suffering but other people not want that? The world doesn’t exist only for you. The world exists for all of us. That attitude is the source of a good heart. Once you understand this truth, then that slowly leads to the thought that everyone should be treated well.