by Andreas Kretschmar | 246,740 words

The English translation of the Bodhisattvacharyavatara (“entering the conduct of the bodhisattvas”), a Sanskrit text with Tibetan commentary. This book explains the bodhisattva concept and gives guidance to the Buddhist practitioner following the Mahāyāna path towards the attainment of enlightenment. The text was written in Sanskrit by Shantideva ...

Text Section 278 / Stanza 24

The four states of Brahma [tshangs pa’i gnas pa bzhi; skr. brahma vihāra] are four stages of meditative absorption upon the following:

  1. loving kindness [byams pa; skr. maitrī],
  2. compassion [snying rje; skr. karuṇā],
  3. sympathetic joy [dga’ ba skr. muditā],
  4. and equanimity [btang snyoms; upekṣā].

These four absorptions are within the mind of the god Brahma, who dwells on the first dhyāna [bsam gtan] within the seventeen realms of form [gzugs khams gnas ris bcu bdun]. There are countless beings within the reaches of space [nam mkha’i khams] who have reached the first dhyāna and who have taken rebirth as a Brahma god. These Brahma gods have not the slightest idea about bodhicitta.

The god Brahma believes that all celestial beings who have taken rebirth in his realm have come into existence due to his power [nus pa]; consequently, he regards them all as his children. That is his motivation for considering the beings in his realm with kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. Even the great gods like Brahma and Indra, however, lack bodhicitta, the wish to establish all sentient beings on the level of complete enlightenment. This is not so surprising since the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas also lack bodhicitta.

Buddha taught the meditation on the four immeasurables [tshad med bzhi]: immeasurable kindness [byams pa tshad med], immeasurable compassion [snying rje tshad med], immeasurable sympathetic joy [dga’ ba tshad med], and immeasurable equanimity [btang snyoms tshad med].

The Hīnayāna system teaches the meditation on the four states of Brahma, while Mahāyāna teaches the four immeasurables, which are qualities of the Buddha [sangs rgyas kyi yon tan]. The four states of Brahma are measurable [tshad yod pa], since Brahma’s compassion and love extend only to those beings reborn in his realm. The four immeasurable qualities of the Buddha are truly immeasurable [tshad med pa] since they include all sentient beings.

The god Brahma is not endowed with the four immeasurable qualities of the Buddha. The four states of Brahma are very limited compared to the four immeasurable qualities of the Buddha.

There are four particular reasons why the four states of Brahma are not called ‘immeasurable’ [skr. apramāṇa]:

  1. they are not embraced by the intention of renunciation [nges ’byung gi bsam pas ma zin pa],
  2. they are not embraced by bodhicitta [byang chub kyi sems kyis ma zin pa],
  3. they are not embraced by the view of emptiness [stong nyid kyi lta bas ma zin pa] and
  4. they are not embraced by the wisdom that has realized the absence of an ego [bdag med rtogs pa’i shes rab kyis ma zin pa].

At the time of the path, while on the way to enlightenment, the four immeasurables belong to ‘the thirty-seven factors conducive for enlightenment’ [byang chub phyogs kyi chos sum cu rtsa bdun].[1] At the time of fruition, once we have reached enlightenment, the four immeasurables are four qualities of the Buddha.[2]

The lines of the four immeasurables are:

May all beings have happiness and the causes for happiness.
May they be free from suffering and the causes for suffering.
May they never be separated from sublime happiness devoid of suffering.
May they remain in boundless equanimity, without attachment to friends or aversion to enemies.

sems can thams cad bde ba dang bde ba’i rgyu dang ldan par gyur cig
sdug bsngal dang sdug bsngal gyi rgyu dang bral bar gyur cig
sdug bsngal med pa’i bde ba dam pa dang mi’bral bar gyur cig
nye ring chags sdang gnyis dang bral ba’i btang snyoms la gnas par gyur cig

Making the wish,

“May all sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes for suffering,”

is to focus with compassion on benefiting others [snying rjes gzhan don la dmigs pa]. This is the compassion aspect of the bodhicitta motivation. Making the wish,

“May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness,”

is to focus with knowledge on perfect enlightenment [shes rab kyis rdzogs byang la dmigs pa]. This is the knowledge aspect of the bodhicitta motivation. ‘Happiness’ [bde ba] here refers to the temporary happiness of the higher realms as well as to the ultimate happiness of liberation.

The cause for the temporary happiness of the higher realms within saṃsāra is virtue that concords with worldly merit, such as the ten virtuous actions. The cause for the happiness of the arhats and pratyekabuddhas is virtue that concords with the liberation of Hīnayāna. And the cause for the ‘sublime happiness’ of the buddhas and bodhisattvas is virtue that concords with the liberation of Mahāyāna. That latter happiness refers to virtue that is embraced by bodhicitta and by the realization of profound emptiness.

Every practitioner of Buddha’s teaching should practice the four immeasurables on a daily basis. When you meditate on the four immeasurables, you should include all sentient beings, expanding your mind to all dimensions at the same time. Connect to all infinite sentient beings. Penetrate the infinity of space with your ’wisdom eye’ [ye shes kyi mig], also called the ’eye of space’ [nam mkha’i mig]. View all infinite world systems. Generate sincere love, compassion, joy and equanimity.

A person who meditates on the four immeasurables can never be harmed by a spirit or a demon, and such a person accumulates inconceivable merit. Someone who presents a gift or an offering to a practitioner who is meditating on these four immeasurables will also receive inconceivable merit. The four immeasurables are a very powerful practice, which creates the conditions for quickly attaining the realization of egolessness.

When you generate great devotion, love or compassion, dualistic mind naturally stops, and you have a perfect chance to recognize mind nature. But if a practitioner only develops the different stages of mental stillness [zhi gnas] based on these four immeasurables, without having embraced his practice by the abovementioned four particular qualities of the four immeasurables, he will take rebirth in one of the four dhyāna states. [3] For a practitioner of the Mahāyāna path it is crucial not to confuse the practice of the four immeasurables with the practice of the four states of Brahma.

Mental training [blo sbyong] in the four immeasurables brings bodhicitta about easily. Thus, the four immeasurables are a cause [rgyu] for bodhicitta. Although gods and great sages of India had higher perceptions and might have known about teachings on bodhicitta, their own ego-clinging was too strong to allow them to show any interest in bodhicitta.

Actually, fathers, mothers, sages and gods—none of them even in their dreams—have the wish to free all beings from suffering and to establish them on the level of complete buddhahood. They all lack the vastly benefiting intention of bodhicitta. Without even the goal to attain enlightenment for their own sake, how could they have the wish to establish all beings on the level of perfect buddhahood?

One of the Brahma gods, together with Bodhisattva Vajrapāṇi, assists all the one thousand buddhas of this fortunate aeon. That particular god Brahma is a bodhisattva and knows about bodhicitta. He requests each of the thousand buddhas to turn the wheel of dharma.

Footnotes and references:


The thirty-seven factors conducive for enlightenment [byang phyogs so bdun] are: the four applications of mindfulness [dran pa nyer bzhag bzhi], the four right endeavors [yang dag spong ba bzhi], the four legs of miracles [rdzu ’phrul gyi rkang pa bzhi], the five pure faculties [rnam byang dbang po lnga], the five pure powers [rnam byang gi stobs lnga], the seven factors of enlightenment [byang chub yan lag bdun], and the noble eightfold path [’phags lam yan lag brgyad]. For a detailed discussion of the thirty-seven factors conducive for enlightenment see Gateway to Knowledge Vol. III., pages 198-205.


See also Nāgārjuna’s Letter, page 64: “These four attitudes are called “immeasurable” (apramāṇa), both because their object is an immeasurable number of sentient beings and because the person who meditates upon them acquires immeasurable merit.” See further kun bzang bla ma’i zhal lung gi zin bris, page 194: “They are called ‘immeasurable’ because 1) the object of their focus is immeasurable [dmigs pa’i yul tshad med], 2) because the form they take in the mind is immeasurable [rnam pa’i blo tshad med], and 3) because their result is immeasurable [de’i ’bras bu tshad med pa].”


For detailed meditation instructions on the four immeasurables see Words of My Perfect Teacher, pages 195-217.

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