Metta has received plenty of attention and focus of practice. Even a search of Buddhism SE shows over 170 posts with the word "metta" in it.

Comparatively, the other three Brahmaviharas are not so often discussed or focused in similar depth.

How do we practise them?

What are the benefits that can be gained out of the practice?

Canonical quotes appreciated. Theravada preferable, but answers from the perspective of other traditions are also welcomed.


The practice of the Brahmaviharas is comprehensively dealt in Chapter IX of the Visuddhimagga. Online resource :- Visuddhimagga.

Daniel Ingram says that the Brahmaviharas are:

  1. Loving-Kindness (Metta): the natural well-wishing for one's self and all beings.
  2. Compassion (Karuna): the natural wishing that the suffering of one's self and all beings will cease.
  3. Sympathetic Joy (Mudita): the natural appreciation of the successes, good fortunes and joys of ourselves and all beings.
  4. Equanimity (Upekkha): the feeling of peace that comes from realizing that all beings are the true heirs of their karma and that their well-being depends on their actions, and not on our wishes for them.

He makes an important point that all the Brahmavihara practices share common ground - they are rooted in conscious intent. In this way they produce positive effects. The structure of the meditations are similar and it is merely the intent that changes, encapsulated by the meaning of the phrase that is used. As in Loving-Kindness meditation, so in the others we (substituting the appropriate pronoun in the blank spaces) we silently intend:

  1. For Loving-Kindness: May _____ be happy. May ____ be peaceful. May _____ be safe. May _____ live with ease.
  2. For Compassion: May _____ be free from suffering. May their suffering finally cease.
  3. For Sympathetic Joy: May the happiness and good fortune of _____ always increase.
  4. For Equanimity: ____ is/are the true heirs of their karma. ____'s happiness depends upon their actions and not upon my wishes for them.

Quoted from integrateddaniel.info


I was reading a bit about them yesterday, in the references included with this answer and this answer.

  • What the Buddha did not teach by Christopher Titmuss is I suppose Theravada, and/or perhaps his own interpretation based on the suttas.

    In that article, section 4 describes "Belief in God", and "Brahma"; and then section 25 says,

    1. Oneness is the ultimate realty. The Buddha did not refute the importance of Oneness. He refers to it in the experience of Brahma Viharas (Divine Abode or Abode of God ). He does not refer to this Abode as ultimate reality since it posits the notion of a self that unites with other. The Buddha refutes All is One and equally refutes All is Many and points to dependent arising. In MLD 117, the Buddha said: Unification of mind equipped with the other seven links of the Eighfold Path is called noble right rconcentation [sic] with its supports and requisites.

    What the Buddha did not teach also has a couple of sections (19 and 20) about Metta.

  • This description of Atammayata (see also Samadhi's answer which explains it) describes it as, I think, a necessary antidote to equanimity.

    Why does Tan Ajarn Buddhadasa consider atammayata so important? In the Salayatanavibhanga Sutta of the Majjhima-nikaya (#137) the Buddha describes a spiritual progression carried out by "relying on this, to give up that." Relying on the pleasure, pain, and equanimity associated with renunciation, one gives up the pleasure and pain associated with worldliness. Relying on singular or one-pointed equanimity (ekaggata-upekkha), one gives up many-sided or multifaceted equanimity (nanatta-upekkha). Relying on atammayata, one gives up ekaggata-upekkha.

    In this sutta, nanatta-upekkha is explained as "equanimity toward forms, sounds, odors, tastes, touches, and mind-objects," which implies the four meditative states known as the "rupa-jhana." Ekaggata-upekkha is explained as "equanimity dependent upon the four immaterial absorptions (arupa-jhana)." To more easily understand what this means, we may compare it with the common Buddhist hierarchy of the sensual (kama-), pure material (rupa-), and non-material (arupa-) realms. The ordinary worldling or "Thickster" (putthujhana) clings to sensual experiences due to craving for sensual pleasures. One gets free of sensuality by relying on pure materiality, that is, steady concentration upon material objects (rupa-jhana). Pure materiality is abandoned by relying on the arupa-jhana. Finally, these exalted states of consciousness are abandoned through atammayata.

Something like the Brahmavihara Sutta says,

"This awareness-release through equanimity (and/or through good-will) should be developed whether one is a woman or a man. Neither a woman nor a man can go taking this body along. Death, monks, is but a gap of a thought away. One [who practices this awareness-release] discerns, 'Whatever evil action has been done by this body born of action, that will all be experienced here [in this life]. It will not come to be hereafter.' Thus developed, the awareness-release through equanimity leads to non-returning for the monk who has gained gnosis here and has penetrated to no higher release."

There's an article on accesstoinsight titled The Four Sublime States – Contemplations on Love, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity by Nyanaponika Thera (a German-born Sri-Lanka-ordained Theravada monk).

It includes (without referencing suttas) a dozen short paragraphs on each of the four states; and another dozen at the end describing inter-relations between states.

It says, near the beginning,

These four attitudes are said to be excellent or sublime because they are the right or ideal way of conduct towards living beings (sattesu samma patipatti). They provide, in fact, the answer to all situations arising from social contact.

When I read the question Why does insight lead to to compassion? I wondered whether there's ever "increasing levels of insight" without any "social contact": and decided it's unlikely, and that human existence (physical human livelihood) tends to depend on some social contact.

The non-Theravada probably have a lot more to say; for example the Dalai Lama says that people "always feel happy" from helping others, etc.

  • I'm undecided about the '... does insight lead to compassion?'. At this stage, I'm more of the opinion that Brahma Viharas are vectors of development, kind of like Ken Wilber's Lines of Development. Deep insight does not necessarily lead to being a 'better' person. This is evidenced by many teachers with obvious deep levels of realization still behaving in very questionable ways. – Devindra Jun 11 '15 at 9:54

Oh i wished i could stick my answer on my previous post so that i don't have to rewrite everything.

In order to The practice of the other 3 Brahmaviharas Karuna Mudita and Uppekha, you need to be able to stay with metta as your object.

Then through practice, your metta will change into karuna then change into mudita then change into uppekha.

Once you understand them, you'll be able to radiate each object freely.

That's how it goes.

  • For equanimity, when reflecting "all beings are owners of their actions", how is metta involved here? Thanks – Dhammadhatu May 8 '17 at 2:13
  • There's equinimity in every Jhanas but the strongest equinimity is when you reached the 4th jhana friend. "All beings are the owners of their actions" when your equinimity gets stronger, you won't get angry, happy, pity with one's condition. Metta and uppekha are two different feelings. – LomX May 8 '17 at 7:06
  • Your comment is unrelated to the question asked of you in order to clarify your post. If metta & uppekha are two different feelings, how is metta the basis of upeka as you originally posted? I think if the mind has upeka, it won't write things that confuse others. – Dhammadhatu May 8 '17 at 9:06
  • Just like Anapanasati as the object, metta as the object is just a trigger to get the equanimity or Uppekha. When you use breathing as the object, after a long practices you will get uppekha. but then again you have to keep on focusing on breathing. As in Metta, you will realized that the feeling changed when you get the Uppekha. Well, if you want to try to do it, i'll let you experience them Step by Step. Too much theory and critical thinking won't get you nowhere. Trust me, i used to be one of them. – LomX May 8 '17 at 10:32
  • You post like you believe you are a teacher & everyone else is beneath you. It is best to stop this because it is delusion (conceit) and shows a lack of equanimity. Best wishes – Dhammadhatu May 8 '17 at 20:16

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