Time to reflect on the previous five chapters: Of change; Hope; Self-compassion; Goodness; Finding Happiness.
However, it wouldn’t be surprising if my opening sentence didn’t raise the odd question or two. Such as why a chapter that wants to round off the messages of change in thoughts and deeds is entitled The Brahma Viharas? What are the Brahma Viharas?
Let me offer my answers.
Long before I started into this book, I drew up a document that I called a Statement of Purpose (SoP). Writing such a document was prompted by an experienced author who made a link with me when I wrote the draft first half of this book, Part One: Man and Dog, under the umbrella of NaNoWriMo 2013. Or to give the organisation its full name: The National Novel Writing Month. I should explain for those unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo that each November, NaNoWriMo offers budding authors a compelling reason to sit down and write 50,000 words in one month. I should hasten to add that the word Novel is flexible and that non-fiction attempts are equally encouraged. Guess that’s pretty self-evident!
Back to my SoP. The purpose behind such a document is to provide a framework of what it is that you wish to say before plunging headlong in to the writing. My SoP included an Introduction, my intended Reading Audience, the themes of the five Sections and intended chapter headings.
Once I had that documented, I showed it to some close friends seeking reactions and recommendations. I included Jon Lavin. It was Jon who suggested that I include the Brahma Viharas.
As I researched the topic, I was moved by how relevant it was to what I was trying to say. This is what I discovered.
Firstly, from the website of the Brahma Viharas organisation I read this explanation:
The four brahma-viharas represent the most beautiful and hopeful aspects of our human nature. They are mindfulness practices that protect the mind from falling into habitual patterns of reactivity which belie our best intentions.
Also referred to as mind liberating practices, they awaken powerful healing energies which brighten and lift the mind to increasing levels of clarity. As a result, the boundless states of loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity manifest as forces of purification transforming the turbulent heart into a refuge of calm, focused awareness.
Those two short paragraphs are laden with wonderful ideas, all of which resonated with the theme of Part Four of this book. However, I still was looking for something that spelt out just exactly what are the four brahma-viharas. A further web search brought me to a site described as The Dhamma Encyclopedia and thence to Page Four from where I read: “The four Brahma Viharas are considered by Buddhism to be the four highest emotions. The word brahma literally means ‘highest’ or ‘superior.’“
A few sentences later, reading:
The Brahma Viharas are also known as the Four Divine Emotions or The Four Divine Abodes. They are the meditative states, thoughts, and actions to be cultivated in Buddhist meditation. They are the positive emotions and states that are productive and helpful to anyone of any religion or even to the one with no religion. The result will be a very nice and good person, free from hate and ill-will. Those who cultivate the brahma viharas are guaranteed to happiness. Those who further cultivate equanimity, may reach insightful states and wisdom of enlightenment experiences.
The Four Divine Emotions
1. Metta (Loving-kindness)
2. Karuna (Compassion)
3. Mudita (Joy with others)
4. Upekkha (Equanimity)
(from Anguttara Nikaya 3.65)
Loving-kindness, Compassion, Joy with others and Equanimity. A pathway to freedom from hate and ill-will. Who wouldn’t want to journey along such a pathway!
Yet it still didn’t envelope me in the way that I was expecting, so I continued with the research, and came across an essay by a Derek Beres under the title of The Trauma of Everyday Life. The essay had been published on The Big Think website and the opening lines tickled my interest; very much so. But first to find out a little more about the author: Derek Beres.
Derek Beres, a Los Angeles-based journalist and yoga instructor, looks at a range of issues affecting the world’s various spiritual communities in an attempt to sift through hyperbole and find truly universal solutions to prevalent issues facing humanity in the 21st century.
The opening lines of the essay answered an immediate question that was in my mind: “Like all major religions, there exists numerous ideas of what Buddhism is and how to practice it. Perhaps the hardest part about explaining Buddhism is that it’s nowhere near being a religion in the first place.”
Then me immediately warming to: “Rather it is a way of engaging and grappling with yourself and the world you live in, sans metaphysics and dogma.”
The essay then described much of the Buddha’s early days and his quest for a deep, inner meaning to life.
In Derek Beres’ words: “And so the Buddha set off, studying yoga and practicing extreme forms of asceticism, including nearly starving himself in hopes of transcending his body.” This eventually leading him to recognise, “ … trauma as a means of enlightenment, not a hindrance on the spiritual path. Awakening does not mean an end to difficulty; it means a change in the way those difficulties are met.”
“ … a change in the way those difficulties are met.” What better way than that to round off this theme of change in thoughts and deeds. Me wanting to say straightaway that these chapters have been a wonderful pathway of exploration for me and, so too, I hope they have been for you. There can be no doubt in my mind, and I know this is shared by countless others, that the future for mankind, if we continue on the same ways of recent times, is clear and obvious: massive levels of extinction of man and many other higher species.
This is the time for change. Not tomorrow; not some day; but now.
1016 words Copyright 2014: Paul Handover