Interplay of the Divine Abodes
from a talk by Gloria Green
Loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity are called divine as they teach us how to lessen suffering, and they are called abodes because they are our true home. We can practice for them to become our inseparable companions, mindful of them in our regular activities.
Equanimity and calm are our natural states of mind. Equanimity — an unshakeable balance of mind which is a manifestation of the highest strength — underlies loving kindness, joy, and compassion. Equanimity allows us to hold both joy and sorrow. It is the antidote to the hindrances: really noticing what is happening right now replaces delusion; not trying to change what is happening right now replaces aversion and greed.
Until equanimity has reached perfection, loving kindness and compassion guard it from falling into indifference. Sympathetic joy gives equanimity a mildness that softens a potentially stern appearance. As in the divine smile on the face of an Enlightened One, a smile that persists despite a deep understanding of the world’s suffering, a smile that gives solace and hope.
Compassion, a variation of loving kindness, cannot stay relaxed and friendly when it encounters a painful situation. We humans startle at distress: “uh-oh. Something is wrong and I might need to do something.” As we engage with those who may threaten, disturb, or cause us harm, compassion is a way of engaging with our unpredictable world.
Thay says, “It is very important to develop compassion for oneself; it is the precondition for being able to do so for others. If someone doesn’t meet us lovingly, it will be easier to give compassion than love. Because we know that this person …is angry…and most definitely unhappy…Knowing about another’s unhappiness makes it easier for us to call upon compassion, especially when we have already done so with respect to our own unhappiness.”
Compassion reminds love and joy from forgetting that happiness coexists with misery, thus helping love and joy to grow into truly boundless states. Equanimity furnishes compassion with evenness and courage, thus enabling compassion to face the misery and despair which it may have to confront. Equanimity is a calm and firm hand, indispensable to those who want to practice the difficult art of helping others. Sympathetic joy keeps compassion from being overwhelmed by the world’s suffering. It relieves the tension in the mind of the compassionate heart.
Loving Kindness is another practice that, Thay says, must begin with ourselves. We must learn to love ourselves unconditionally in order to love others in a way that is not contingent on their being lovable. We practice so we can see all beings as worthy of love, even those we don’t like.
Loving Kindness thus embraces all beings, whether they are noble-minded or low- minded, good or evil. The noble and the good are embraced because love flows to them spontaneously. The low-minded and evil-minded are included because they are most in need of love. For many, the seed of goodness may have died merely because the warmth was lacking for its growth due to loveless circumstances.
Sympathetic Joy is joy in the basic goodness of all beings and in the fundamental well-being of ourselves and all beings. Sympathetic joy is essentially unconditional. Conditional joy, or excitement, contains restlessness and an urge for more. It can also be hard to feel happy when something good happens to another. Yet learning to feel joy for others can help transform our own suffering and self-centeredness into joy. One doorway to sympathetic joy is compassion as it reminds us just how fragile life is and how vulnerable we all are in the face of constant change. May all beings be happy and at peace.
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