The Buddha advised us to choose our companions well because they affect us greatly, for better or ill. If we want a peaceful life, then we must surround ourselves with people and conditions that are conducive to peace. No omniscient, holy being, looking down on all the world, would want two beings to suffer together when one could go the way alone and heal. That leaves us with a choice about an unhealthy relationship: heal the relationship or remove ourselves from it. This is advice for every type of relationship, from a romantic partner or relative to a friend or colleague.
The method outlined in this episode to heal a relationship is the practice of the “Four Immeasurables”:
- Appreciative Joy
Why are they called “The Four Immeasurables”?
The Four Immeasurables are qualities or attitudes we develop toward others. First, they are called the “Immeasurables” because, ultimately, we want to direct these attitudes toward all living beings--who are immeasurable in number. Second, we want our feelings of love, compassion and so forth to become immeasurable or unconditional, Thirdly, they are called immeasurable because the good karma we create by practicing them is immeasurable. By cultivating the attitudes of loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity, we can gradually remove ill will, cruelty, jealousy, and bias from our mind and discover an unwavering peace.
This episode introduces the Four Immeasurables with the intention that we begin to develop them toward everyone we meet or think about. In the meditation and daily practice of the week ahead, we apply the Four Immeasurables to a relationship we want to begin to heal.
Practicing the Four Immeasurables:
Immeasurable love is the wish that all sentient beings, without any exception, be happy. In our daily life, we can try to extend love to those we only slightly know or do not know at all. This means we care about their happiness. Out of that wish, we might let the stranger go before us, give to a charity or offer a smile, We can try to extend our love to all sentient beings in all the realms of existence, animals, insects etc.
When trying to heal a relationship with someone, we have to ask ourselves:
What makes this person happy?
What can I do that would make them happy?
If you spend a lot of time with a person, you have to act out of love A LOT. If, for example, you are trying to heal a romantic relationship, you must try to act out of love every day, multiple times a day. You can know what will make them happy if you look deeply and listen deeply. You probably already know. Perhaps they have even complained and voiced their pain. They might need demonstrations of love like holding their hand, taking out the trash, complimenting them or telling them you love them. These actions reveal the intention of love. When we don’t act out of love, but instead act out of selfish intention, it damages the relationship. Conversely, every time we act out of love it builds or restores the health of a relationship. A truly healthy relationship is possible, but it does require both people cherish each other with acts of love every day. Start with yourself, and, most likely, they will be eventually be motivated to cherish you too. If they are unable to cherish you, perhaps this is when it becomes evident that this relationship cannot be healed.
What causes them pain?
What do I do that causes them suffering or pain?
What can I do (or stop doing) that will lessen the pain that they often feel?
Compassion is what deeply heals a relationship. We have to plant the seeds of love and uproot the weeds of pain for the garden of the heart to truly blossom between two people. An important aspect of the practice of compassion is to realize what we are doing that causes another pain. If the relationship is unhealthy, we can almost be sure that there are things we can start doing to lessen the pain we cause them. When people are in pain, they react with anger, cruelty, coldness. This is their mistaken way of trying to stop the pain, only it makes it worse. Like a garden choked by weeds, a relationship can not endure too much pain, too many arguments, ill will or resentment.
Equanimity is the attitude of regarding all beings as equals, regardless of their relationship to us. If we are serious about generating equanimity, we become determined to remove the bias from our mind, in which we feel aversion to some and clinging to others. Thich Nhat Hanh once said, “You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.” Equanimity is the mind that a mother feels when she regards all her children as equally precious. Equanimity is the mind the mother generates when her child leaves home to live on their own. It is warm and open-hearted but does not cling. It treats everyone as important.
“If, while on your way,
You meet no one your equal or better,
Steadily continue on your way alone.
There is no fellowship with fools.”
--Buddha, The Dhammapada, verse 60
The Dhammapada, by Buddha. Translated by Gil Fronsdale. Shambala, Boston and London, 2011, pp. 16
Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, by Je Tsongkhapa, Volume 1. Pagesare 167, 184. Translated by the Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee. Joshua Cutler, Editor-in-Chief, and Guy Newlan, Editor
Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, by Je Tsongkhapa, Volume 3. Page 1263. Translated by the Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee. Joshua Cutler, Editor-in-Chief, and Guy Newlan, Editor