It can often be very difficult for us to navigate our way through our day-to-day interactions with other people. We were never given a user’s manual for our minds, and the need to protect our sense of self when interacting with other people can be the cause of much strain and suffering for ourselves and for others.
There exists a very skilful method which we can use to interact with people on a day-to-day basis, and it is based on the Buddhist Brahmaviharas (sublime attitudes) that I briefly wrote about in my post on equanimity. These Brahmaviharas are states that are said to allow a person to enter the divine abode. Or, looking at it from a different perspective, when we express these sublime attitudes in our interactions, we become like Brahma (divine/God).
These four Brahmaviharas (sublime attitudes) are as follows:
- Metta (Loving Kindness) – This is affection and care for all beings that does not include attachment or any form of controlling emotions.
- Karuna (Compassion) – This is an open, caring heart that is empathetic to the suffering of others, seeing the position they are in and caring about them and for them.
- Mudita (Appreciative Joy) – This is being happy when others are happy, allowing the joy of others to become our joy.
- Upekkha (Equanimity) – This is the ability to be balanced, not clinging and not pushing away.
It is said that the God Brahma has four faces and looks down on humanity with one of these faces as required, depending on the situation. We can emulate this by doing the same. We can love all beings without attaching to them or controlling them. We can accept the suffering of others and be empathetic to what they are going through. We can be happy for the successes of others without feeling envious or jealous. We can take the middle path and not judge based on what we like and what we don’t like.
The mind can often be very deceptive, making us believe we are experiencing one of these sublime attitudes when in fact we are not. Buddhists realised this and identified the state that is closest to the Brahmavihara but still rooted in ego as the “near enemy” and identified the complete opposite state of the Brahmavihara as the “far enemy.”
The “near enemy” of loving kindness is selfish affection and the “far enemy” of loving kindness is painful ill-will. We may feel we are in a state of loving kindness when in fact we are feeling selfish affection, which is rooted in attachment and a need to control.
The “near enemy” of compassion is pity and the “far enemy” of compassion is cruelty. We may feel that we are being compassionate when in fact we are feeling pity, which is rooted in our belief that the position another is in is below our own.
The “near enemy” of appreciative joy is exuberance and the “far enemy” of appreciative joy is resentment. We may feel that we are joyful with the happiness of others, but what we are feeling is an over-excited, unbalanced state of joy, which is exuberance.
The “near enemy” of equanimity is indifference and the “far enemy” of equanimity is craving and attaching. We may feel that we are being equanimous, but in fact are expressing the cold, careless attitude of indifference, which is rooted in fear.
If we are able to cultivate these states and apply them to our dealings with others and ourselves, how are we any different from Brahma himself?
"All we experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind, made by mind. Speak or act with a corrupted mind
And suffering follows
As the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox.
All we experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind, made by mind.
Speak or act with a peaceful mind
And happiness follows like a shadow that never leaves."
 Dhammapada 1-2
Shkar Sharif is the head instructor at Tiger Crane Kung Fu in London. Any other questions, ask!