The Four Immeasurables: Wishing Bodhicitta

Compassion, equanimity, love, and joy—these are the four qualities of wishing bodhicitta, the aspiration to benefit all beings by attaining enlightenment.

These qualities act as catalysts of spiritual development, dissolving self-centeredness and creating a sense of connectedness with all sentient beings.

Through meditation we may experience them non-dually as the qualities of absolute bodhicitta, arising unobstructed within the realization of emptiness, immeasurable.

To cultivate these four qualities, we move through stages of reflection, prayer, and commitment, allowing the mind to rest in nonconceptual meditation after each stage.

We begin with compassion, the wish that others not suffer. We think of our own parents first, and of the suffering cyclic existence will inevitably bring them. We find their pain and sorrow distressing—as if we were on the shore of a turbulent ocean, watching them haplessly drift and struggle until they drowned. Certainly we would not ignore them, nor would we abandon the countless others who have been our kind parents in past lifetimes. From the depths of our hearts we long for their deliverance.

As the suffering of others becomes unbearable to us, we extend our compassion to one being after another until all are completely permeated with it. Compassion becomes nonreferential, the spontaneous reflex of our being. We are continuously motivated by the wish to alleviate sentient beings’ pain in the moment and ultimately to lead them to a state beyond sorrow.

We reflect in this way, then drop all thoughts and rest the mind in nonconceptual meditation.

When thoughts stir, we pray to the enlightened ones that they direct their power and wisdom so that we, too, will attain the enlightened capacity to alleviate the suffering of all beings, to liberate them from the pit of samsara. Then we rest.

Finally, we make the commitment to live according to the most compassionate expression of our buddha nature. Again, we rest.

Next, we cultivate equanimity, first by thinking of our countless rebirths and our connection with every being.

At times each one— including those who are now strangers, unpleasant acquaintances, or outright enemies—has been our parent and has shown us great kindness.

The wheel of samsara revolves endlessly: enemies become allies and allies become antagonists; close relatives are reborn in distant realms and from distant realms come our children.

The nature of our relationship with any individual constantly shifts.

Because nothing remains fixed or guaranteed, holding some close and keeping others at a distance feels troubling, narrow, distorted, and unbalanced.

Then we think about the fundamental sameness of sentient beings—at the most basic level, their buddha nature and, beyond that, their universal wish for happiness. In these respects, all are equal to one another and to us.

Knowing this causes false distinctions to dissolve and a deep-seated peace and impartiality toward all beings to emerge.

Our understanding that all have shown us the kindness of our own mother exalts them in equality.

Having reached this point in our cultivation of equanimity, we relax into uncontrived meditation.

When thoughts flood into this moment, we pray to overcome the long-established habit of judging, of placing some high, some low, of helping some and harming others. We pray to develop the calm open-mindedness and impartiality of equanimity. Then we rest.

Finally, we mentally state our commitment to overcome habitual judgment, habitual clinging to some and indifference to others, and to act with equal regard, love, and compassion for all beings. Once more, we rest.

To cultivate love, we think of the person we most treasure and allow a strong, genuine wish for this person’s happiness to surge forth. The selfless desire that another find happiness—both the temporary happiness of favorable conditions within samsara and the ultimate happiness of enlightenment—is the Buddhist definition of love.

Since happiness stems from virtue, love consists of a wish for virtue and the positive circumstances it creates. Like the devotion a great-hearted mother has for her only child, our love should be both unconditional and coupled with the desire that beings have a wholesome character to ensure happiness.

After we have established our loving wish for the happiness of our dearest ones, we extend it undiluted to one being after another, until we have touched every being throughout the reaches of space. Even our heartbeat resounds with the aspiration “May we all find happiness, may you, and you …” Having expanded our love mentally, we relax the mind, resting until thoughts stir.

Then we pray to the victorious ones that we will gain the capacity to enhance the happiness of all beings, to bring forth in them the unchangeable happiness of realization. Again, the mind relaxes.

Finally, we commit ourselves to a path of loving kindness that excludes no one, has no limitations, and we conclude with relaxation into meditation beyond concept.

We accomplish the fourth immeasurable quality, that of joy, by rejoicing in the happiness of others, by looking for sparks of happiness and kindling them with our prayers and good intention. If we see someone enjoying a moment of affection, the warmth of a sunny day, some delicious food—any happy event, however small—we make the wish that they will never lose this measure of joy and that by their virtue it will only increase.

For those whose lives are filled with pleasures, we rejoice without envy or reservation, recognizing that this represents the fruit of their past virtue.

A joyous outlook brings a total lack of envy and a natural calmness. We cultivate joy in this way, then relax the mind in non-conceptual meditation until thoughts arouse us to prayer: “May the virtue and happiness of each being increase continuously until at last all find the unchanging happiness of enlightenment.”

This aspiration carries us into the next phase of uncontrived rest, which is followed by the commitment to rejoice in and enhance whatever well-being we encounter.

We conclude by resting in natural, uncontrived ease.

When we consciously cultivate these four qualities through contemplation, one after another, then allow the mind to rest in its own natural state, they expand beyond any limitation, beyond any reference to self and other, to this individual or that.

The immature aspects of these qualities—the melancholy weariness that contaminates compassion, the dull neutrality that substitutes for equanimity, the attachment that can taint love, the giddiness that can animate joy—are refined away. Compassion, equanimity, love, and joy fully ripen into the authentic, spontaneous, unobstructed qualities of buddha nature.

The Six Perfections: Engaging Bodhicitta

Bodhisattvas go beyond merely wishing for enlightenment; they engage in the path to enlightenment by practicing the six perfections (Skt. paramitas) of (1) generosity, (2) moral discipline, (3) patience, (4) joyful perseverance, (5) concentration, and (6) transcendent knowledge.

For great bodhisattvas, perfect enactment of the path brings spontaneous, moment-to-moment opportunities to benefit beings combined with ongoing recognition of mind’s absolute nature.

For less mature practitioners, these six trainings refine away the self-centered perspective that obscures recognition of mind’s nature and impedes fulfillment of the compassionate wish to lift others out of the pit of samsara.

Source: Tromge, Jane. Ngondro Commentary: Instructions for the Concise Preliminary Practices of the New Treasure of Dudjom. Compiled from the teachings of H.E. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche by Jane Tromge. Junction City, CA: Padma Publishing, 1995.