As long as we don’t recognise our real nature, we suffer. When we recognise our nature, we become free from suffering.

— Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

An Extensive Commentary on the Four Immeasurables
by Buddhagupta

Loving-kindness, compassion,
Sympathetic joy, and equanimity —
How to cultivate with diligence
These great immeasurables, I shall now explain.

Focusing on immeasurable sentient beings brings about immeasurable accumulations, immeasurable qualities, and immeasurable primordial wisdom.


We cannot calculate the total number of sentient beings, saying, “This is how many there are in the three realms.” And sentient beings are thus said to be immeasurable. As the Bhagavān said in the Noble Sūtra Teaching the Great Compassion of the Tathāgatas:

Son of a noble family, the sentient beings living in a space the size of a chariot wheel, visible to a Tathāgata, are extremely numerous. But the gods and humans throughout the world systems of the vast billionfold universe are not like that: the realms of these imperceptible sentient beings are immeasurable.

Therefore, as the immeasurable realms of sentient beings are beyond comprehension, sentient beings are said to be immeasurable.

You might wonder: when cultivating the immeasurables, how should we focus on immeasurable sentient beings and meditate?

All sentient beings of the three realms have been circling throughout the higher and lower abodes throughout beginningless time based on the power of their individual karma. As there is not a single one who, in the course of this wandering, has not been close to us many hundreds or thousands of times, think: “These are my loved ones!” And abide in equanimity, extending the four immeasurables to all sentient beings. This is what is known as focusing on immeasurable sentient beings.


The immeasurable accumulations are those of merit and wisdom. All four immeasurables are, in this sense, the cause, since they are the cause or essence of generating boundless gatherings of both merit and wisdom. Thus, in the sūtras, the Bhagavān also says:

Son of a noble family, to make offerings to someone who is meditating on the samādhi of loving-kindness, and who has not yet risen from his or her seat, creates immeasurable merit.

If so much merit can be gained simply by offering gifts to one who is training in immeasurable loving kindness and the rest, what need is there to mention actually practising these immeasurables and meditating on them for oneself? The amount of merit generated thereby will be far, far greater.

This is how immeasurable stores of merit and wisdom are produced. These then serve to generate a boundless collection of qualities, which, in turn, yields limitless wisdom.


Immeasurable qualities are the great attributes of enlightenment, such as the powers, the fearlessnesses and the rest. They are the result of the accumulation of merit and wisdom gained through abiding in the four immeasurables. As this is what brings about the great qualities of enlightenment, we must earnestly apply ourselves to these four immeasurables.


These four dharmas — the four immeasurables — are the focal object of the Tathāgatas’ immeasurable primordial wisdom. Alternatively, it can be explained that primordial wisdom itself abides in the state of, or as the essence of, the four dharmas of loving kindness and the rest. This is what is meant when we speak of a sphere of experience, or essence, in which the object of cognition is inseparable from cognitive awareness itself.


At the stage of ‘devoted conduct’, a bodhisattva experiences the “four factors of ascertainment”: attainment of appearance, enhancement of appearance, partial engagement in the meaning of suchness, and the unobstructed samādhi. For those bodhisattvas who experience these four factors of ascertainment, the gods, humans, pretas and the like, as well as the realms of hell-beings, are all directly perceptible to their heightened faculties. When they see these gods, humans and others, as well as the beings in the lower realms whose very nature is suffering, these bodhisattvas feel particularly strong compassion for them. At the same time, they realise that these beings have been circling in saṃsāra throughout beginningless time, and, therefore, have all, without exception, been their close relations. As a consequence, they feel great loving kindness towards them all, caring for them as if they were their very own children. They make aspirations that all sentient beings may be liberated from suffering and experience only happiness, and they act to benefit all beings. This is known as loving-kindness focused on sentient beings.

Bodhisattvas on the first to the seventh bhūmis generate loving kindness towards sentient beings by directly realising the nature of things. Although all phenomena lack any true nature, sentient beings fail to realise this, and, by tightly clinging to things as real, they circulate throughout the three realms. These bodhisattvas, therefore, feel loving kindness towards the beings who suffer in this way. They make aspirations that they might realise the true nature, and they act to benefit all beings through the Dharma. This is known as loving-kindness focused on phenomena.

From the eighth bodhisattva bhūmi onwards, up and including the attainment of enlightenment, corresponds to the level of “spontaneous accomplishment, free of focus”. From the eighth bhūmi, bodhisattvas generate loving kindness towards sentient beings while acting for their benefit spontaneously and without thought. They act for beings as in the examples of a precious, wish-fulfilling jewel or a wish-granting tree. Although these bodhisattvas are without ordinary thoughts, great loving-kindness still arises spontaneously through the power of their past aspirations, and they act to bring benefit to beings. This is known as loving-kindness free of focus.

How, then, do ordinary beings, who are just beginning, train in loving kindness that is focused on sentient beings? An ordinary beginner should meditate on loving-kindness focused on sentient beings according to the following stages.

There are three types of sentient beings: 1) those one cherishes, 2) those one is indifferent towards, and 3) those one dislikes. Cherished sentient beings can then be further subdivided into three: greater, middling, and lesser. Likewise, those one is indifferent towards and those one dislikes can also be subdivided into the three categories of greater, middling, and lesser. So, in all, there are nine divisions.

At first, visualise someone you cherish in a middling way and practice feeling towards them just as you do towards those you cherish greatly, such as your own parents. Once you are familiar with this, visualise all those to whom you are indifferent, and practice feeling towards them just as you do towards those you cherish most. Then visualise those you mildly dislike and practice feeling towards them just as you do towards those you cherish most. Once you are used to this, visualise someone you dislike in a middling way and practice feeling towards them as you do towards those you cherish most. Then finally consider those you really dislike and train in feeling towards them the kind of love you feel for your own parents.

Through this, we can train in focusing on all sentient beings, who, throughout the course of beginningless time, have been dear to us and have even been our own parents. And, as we train in this way, even though we begin by focusing on just the members of our own family, we gradually extend the practice until it is infinite.


Compassion focused on sentient beings who are suffering is the compassionate wish to dispel the sufferings of all beings, who are plagued by the three sufferings (of suffering upon suffering, and the rest) or the eight sufferings (of birth, and so on).

Compassion focused on sentient beings who do wrong is the compassionate wish to eliminate all the harmful actions of beings whose conduct is unvirtuous, as they are the root or cause of the sufferings just mentioned.

Compassion focused on sentient beings who are not completely liberated as they lack the necessary conditions is directed towards those who cannot hear the Dharma as they lack a spiritual teacher. As it says in a tantra, “Those who don’t follow a teacher, who don’t hear the Dharma, and who aren’t liberated, are freed through compassion.”


Sympathetic joy is a delight in the various kinds of wealth that sentient beings possess: material riches, the Dharma, and happiness.

Sympathetic joy focused on perfectly gathering the accumulations is the joy that we feel towards our own great gatherings of virtue.

Sympathetic joy focused on the taste of sacred Dharma is the joy we feel when we (and others) experience the taste of hearing the Dharma, or the taste of contemplation and meditation.


Those who act for the welfare of sentient beings should have equanimity towards the fortunate and the unfortunate alike. Rather than discriminating, by acting only for the benefit of the fortunate and never for the unfortunate, we should act for the benefit of both in equal measure.

The expression “eight worldly concerns, including gain and loss” also refers to happiness and suffering, praise and criticism, renown and obscurity. Being neither delighted nor upset by these situations, we should remain in equanimity. These eight worldly concerns are so-called because they are well known to, and found among, the mundane.

How do we maintain equanimity with regard to these eight concerns?

Suppose you acquire great wealth or possessions: do not allow yourself to become too elated or attached to them. Conversely, if your wealth or possessions decline or you fail to acquire any, do not feel despondent or sad. This is known as equanimity that is free from happiness and sorrow in the face of gain and loss.

Even if someone you are attracted to were to anoint your body with perfume, sandalwood and the like, to caress you, and to treat you with honour and respect, you must not become overjoyed or attached to such pleasures. And even if an enemy were to abuse you physically, by beating and striking you, you must not become angry. Instead, joyfully accept the pain of being struck and beaten, rather than concentrating on the suffering. This is known as equanimity that is free from happiness and sorrow in the face of joy and suffering.

If a friend were to praise you with sweet words, describing you in glowing terms, you shouldn’t feel delighted or think of yourself as superior. Whereas, if an enemy were to discover your faults and proclaim them, you shouldn’t become sad or depressed. This is known as equanimity that is free from happiness and sorrow in the face of praise and criticism.

Even if many people come to hear and know of your talents, don’t take delight in this acknowledgement of your attributes, thinking, “Now that so many people know of my good qualities, I will surely become famous and never be forgotten!” Alternatively, if few people ever hear of or acknowledge your qualities, don’t feel sad, thinking, “My qualities are overlooked. What a pity!” This is known as equanimity that is free from happiness and sorrow in the face of recognition and non-recognition of one’s qualities.

“Accumulations” refers to the accumulations of merit and wisdom already explained above. Equanimity in regard to gathering the accumulations on special and ordinary occasions means that we shouldn’t differentiate, thinking, “I shall practise virtuous accumulations on this occasion, but not at other times.” Instead, we must practise virtue at all times.

In reference to all the meditative training
In the four immeasurables, the ‘Brahmic’ states,
I have composed and set this down for beings’ sake:
May all be unobscured, swiftly to awaken!

As a flower that is lovely, beautiful, and scent-laden, even so, fruitful is the well-spoken word of one who practises it.

— The Buddha


















Happiness mainly comes from our own attitude, rather than from external factors.

— His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Mythic Symbols of Fortune and Character
by Venerable Dao Ran

Since the parasol tree was believed to be appealing to the phoenix, the Chinese people venerated it as an auspicious symbol. There are records dating as early as the Book of Odes. Zheng Xuanjian of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 – 220 CE) stated: “the phoenix stops on no trees other than the parasol tree”. Yao Jiheng said in the Introduction of the Book of Odes: “The parasol tree grew in the high mountain facing the sun. The phoenix stopped on the parasol tree and sang. Today, we use the phoenix to mean the high mountain and the parasol tree to mean the sun”. Therefore, the phoenix follows the parasol tree as the mountain’s apex follows the sun.

Zhuang Zhou of the Warring States Period wrote in Zhuang Zi: “The phoenix flew from the south sea to the North Sea, stopping on no trees other than the parasol tree, eating no food other than bamboo and drinking no water but that of the sweet spring”, which reflected the difference between the phoenix and other ordinary birds.

In the Former Qin Dynasty (351 – 394 CE), Fu Jian planted thousands of parasol trees and bamboo to attract the phoenix. There is a saying: “plant the parasol tree and attract the golden phoenix”. In Suzhou, the private garden, “Canli Garden”, was famous for the parasol tree planted there. The name came from a poem by Du Fu, an acclaimed Tang poet: “the parrot pecked the abandoned rice and the phoenix stopped on the old parasol tree”. As the ancient people usually related the parasol tree with the phoenix, people today still say that planting the parasol tree will entice the phoenix. This became an auspicious and aesthetic pastime for rich households with courtyards.

With its big, straight trunk, the parasol tree was highly praised by writers in ancient China, who considered it a symbol of upright character. The lone parasol embodied a pure disposition in a corrupt world. This image was circulated by the Wei, Jin and the Southern and Northern Dynasties (220 – 589 CE), and the poems of Song Baozhao, Xie Tiao and Li Qiao all had references to the lone parasol tree. Wang Changling, Bai Juyi, Wang Anshi and Pan Zhen’s poems also described the inner character of the parasol tree and endowed it with the characteristics of “haughty and upright”. The image of the phoenix tree also inspired government officials. Officials praised the monk Seng Yu, who introduced the parasol tree to the imperial piazzas. And the common citizenry even linked the appearance of the stars to the planting and growth of these auspicious saplings.

The deer was treated as an auspicious animal in traditional Chinese culture, symbolizing good fortune, happiness and longevity. People still gift their friends and family with boards, scrolls, and hall paintings written or carved with phrases like “longevity like the deer or turtle” or the heads of deer, which invite “auspice, fortune and longevity”. Mythical figures were always graced with young deer beside them. It was said that the god of longevity rode on a deer. In the Tang Dynasty, the city or county governments played the “Deer Bleats” and held deer feasts for successful candidates of the imperial examinations.

The deer was a fairy tale animal with noble characteristics. Its image of health and vitality can be seen in the traditional Chinese paper-cutting and New Year pictures. It was also beautified and apotheosised by writers and artists into a holy animal, the qilin. Legends of divine deer that can see through human nature have a long history. Masterpieces like the painting of Knights Shooting the Deer from the Han Dynasty, the deer carving lying at the feet of the Buddha, and the deer in the stone paintings of the Shang Dynasty discovered in Bai Cha He of Inner Mongolia are diverse and distinctive. In the Jin Dynasty, nobles used the pattern of deer as decoration. The description of the nine-coloured Deer in the Dunhuang wall painting was adapted into myths and, many centuries later, films.

In the eyes of the Chinese people, the deer is a gentle and friendly animal embodying innocence and great beauty, living harmoniously with human beings (especially the spotted deer with its white spots and red-brown fur). In ancient times, only aristocrats and royals had the right to feed and appreciate deer. King Zhou of the Shang Dynasty built a Deer Platform which was “three miles long and thousands of feet high” (4).In the Book of Odes, there was the record of “the king was in the Ling You Hunting Garden, and the deer lay in there” and “stayed together”. The deer were fed for the nobles’ appreciation and kept for hunting, sacrifices and food. Deer bones were used for divination in the Shang Dynasty. Their horns, carved with words, were discovered in the Yin Dynasty Ruins. In the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, it was popular to craft bird or animal monster statues wearing real deer horns for tombs. Deer horns were considered to have magical properties, which would protect the dead in the afterlife. As a symbol of traditional Chinese culture, the golden deer heralded the auspicious confirmation of an eminent monk called Tan Hong.




— 堪钦慈诚罗珠仁波切














All the violence, fear and suffering that exists in this world come from grasping at the self. What is the use of this great monster for you? If you do not let the self go, there will be no end to suffering. Just as, if you do not release a flame from your hand, you can’t stop it from burning your hand.

— Shantideva

The Five Mental Hindrances
by Prof. David Dale Holmes

Venerable Nyanaponika in The Five Mental Hindrances and Their Conquest, begins:

“Unshakeable deliverance of the mind is the highest goal in the Buddha’s doctrine. Here, deliverance means the freeing of the mind from all limitations, fetters, and bonds that tie it to the wheel of suffering, to the circle of rebirth. It means the cleansing of the mind of all defilements that mar its purity; the removal of all obstacles that bar its progress from the mundane (Pali: lokiya) to the supramundane consciousness (lokuttara citta), that is to arahatship.”

“Many are the obstacles which block the road to spiritual progress, but there are five in particular which, under the name of hindrances (nivarana), are often mentioned in Buddhist scriptures.”

The Five Mental Hindrances are:

1. Sensual desire
2. Ill will
3. Sloth and torpor
4. Restlessness and remorse
5. Skeptical doubt

“They are called ‘hindrances’ because they hinder and cloud . . . the development of the mind (bhavana). They can hinder right concentration so the mind remains bound within the mundane state — blocked from attaining access to supramundane states. The mind which demands nourishment based on fetters to mundane states will be tied to attachments from which it cannot be delivered.” (Nyanaponika 4, 1993)

Concerning nourishment, Venerable Nyanaponika quotes the Pali texts:

Just as monks, this body lives on nourishment, lives dependent on nourishment, does not live without nourishment — in the same way, monks, the five hindrances live on nourishment, depend on nourishment, do not live without nourishment. (Samyutta Nikaya 46:2)

Nourishment of sensual desire:

There are beautiful objects; frequently giving unwise attention to them — this is nourishment for the arising of sensual desire that has not yet arisen and the nourishment for the increasing and strengthening of sensual desire that has already arisen. (SN 46:51)

Nourishment of ill will:

There are objects causing aversion; frequently giving attention to them — is the nourishment for the arising of ill will that has not yet arisen, and for the increase and strengthening of ill will that has already arisen. (SN 46:55)

Nourishment of sloth and torpor:

There arises listlessness, lassitude, stretching of the body, drowsiness after meals, mental sluggishness; frequently giving unwise attention to it — this is the nourishment for the arising of sloth and torpor that have not yet arisen and for the increase and strengthening of sloth and torpor that have already arisen. (SN 46:51)

Nourishing restlessness and remorse:

There is the unrest of the mind; frequently giving unwise attention to it — that is the nourishment for the arising of restlessness and remorse that have not yet arisen and strengthening of restlessness and remorse that have already arisen. (SN 46:51)
Nourishment of doubt:

There are things causing doubt; frequently giving attention to them — that is the nourishment for the arising of doubt that has not yet arisen and strengthening of doubt that has already arisen. (SN 46:51)

We have all experienced sensuous desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and sceptical doubt. They are like bad companions that like to hang around, but there is a way to get rid of them: the conquest of the Five Mental Hindrances can be achieved by starving them — giving them nothing to feed on — through “de-nourishment.”


Suppose the object of perception is a beautiful young woman or man. Despite our eyes being attracted by outward beauty, we may also realise that her/his body is full of blood, pus, guts and faeces — and not quite as attractive as it first seems.

When we note an object of sensual desire entering the perceptive field, we may observe and analyse it as a source of impurities. Knowing that an attractive form is also ruled by feelings, perceptions, arising mental associations, and resultant consciousness, we realise that the desired object is a bundle of urges and energy aggregates that are certain to spell trouble.

And so it is with all Five Mental Hindrances — what first attracts the senses or consciousness may start a fire within the mind instead of providing soothing satisfaction. When the eye and the other six senses are not trained, they will want to get up to mischief, and, therefore, they have to be carefully contained.


When the senses want pleasant perceptions, but instead get undesirable ones — ugly, noisy, smelly, distasteful, or repulsive to touch — then suffering ensues.

Suppose a neighbour’s music is too noisy, or his garbage is too smelly. It is easy to get involved and react to the unpleasant perception, developing a sense of consciousness and thinking, “This is not right! I’m going to tell him!” No sooner have you reacted than the neighbour is reacting back, and you are both feeling ill will. The moment you get involved and react, you lose whatever sense of equanimity you had and you may begin growling like an untamed animal.

The antidote to ill will is a good grounding in loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. When these four factors are there, you will not make your neighbour your enemy — no matter how badly he behaves. Under no circumstances should we lose composure. Loss of equanimity affords an opportunity for the ill will to nourish itself and run rampant — and this is exactly what ill will wants to do with you.


We fall into sloth (lack of motivation and laziness) and torpor (lethargy and listlessness) when we sink into a state of inertia and cannot arouse enough energy to do anything — but we can combat inertia by arousing energy through an act of the will.

If our mind becomes dull, we can arouse energy through reflecting on birth, decay, disease, death, and impermanence. We can avoid over-eating or change body postures in order to keep alert or contemplate the perception of light, remain in the open air, or do walking meditation in places where there are sharp-sided stones, or, alternatively, converse with suitable Dhamma friends, to arouse sympathetic joy.


We have all felt restless, uneasy, nervous, or full of worry and remorse. The antidote for de-nourishment of restlessness is the application of wise attention to direct the mind into calmer mental states of quietude and tranquillity, or, alternatively, through practising the monk’s rules more thoroughly, thereby developing calmness.

The more restlessness there is in the mind, the more opportunities the defilements will have to stir up nervous energy, to create a spark in the mind that eats up nervous energy as fuel for negative nourishment.


There may be doubt within the mind or uncertainty, which enters via outside influences. Once a spark of uncertainty has arisen to ignite doubt, it is hard to establish and maintain confidence.

Uncertainty, which lurks and hides in the dark corners of the mind, can be a dangerous enemy because it attacks from inside where we are defenceless, owing to a lack of focus and concentration. It is good that we have the Five Precepts, which counterbalance the Five Hindrances, giving us the confidence to follow the Buddha’s doctrine of unshakeable deliverance of the mind.