How can we practise with the antidote to the ‘near enemies’ of the Four Apramanas? Correcting distortions of Love, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy & Equanimity

A Student asks:

Is there a practice related to antidote aspect of the Four Apramanas (also known as Brahma Viharas) in relation to ‘near enemies’?

Lama Shenpen replies:

Love is regarded as the antidote to hatred

Compassion to cruelty (is that different from hatred?)

Sympathetic joy to jealousy and competitiveness

Equanimity to every form of disturbing emotion

Hatred, cruelty, jealousy and disturbing emotions in general are regarded as the opposite to the Four Apramanas and compared to them they are demonic.

However once you start practising the Apramanas and moving more in the direction of love, compassion, mudita (rejoicing in the good qualities of ourselves and others) and equanimity a kind of distorted form of each of them might arise. These are known as the near enemies of the Apramanas:

The near enemy of Love is desire and attachment

Of Compassion: overwhelm and depression

Of Mudita: laziness (just basking in the goodness of others) or excitement (looking for highs all the time)

Of Equanimity: indifference, boredom and dullness (it is all equally the same and not interesting)

The question is whether there is a practice for working with these four near enemies, I don’t know of a formal practice but one could reflect on them in a meditative way:

If love is wishing others well and feeling connected in a trusting and open way, then when we notice we have an agenda such as ‘I would love you if you were not so….’ – we can acknowledge that judgemental quality as our own desire and attachment and work with how to become more gentle, open and generous.

If compassion is wishing others free from suffering then when we notice we are repulsed by all the suffering, we see we can acknowledge that feeling of disgust, horror, sadness or overwhelm and work with how to turn towards that and feel the pain behind it – while at the same time rejoicing in the power of the Dharma to overcome all suffering.

If mudita is rejoicing in the good qualities of oneself and others then, when we notice we are not making any effort to follow the path – when we have decided to just to go along with whatever is happening without really making any effort ourselves, then we can work with our motivation and reflect on the sufferings of samsara and what is required to escape from it.

If equanimity is equal love for all beings and not being disturbed by negative emotions, then whenever we feel disturbed or like rejecting any being as unimportant, we can work with our preconceived and judgemental ideas that get in the way of seeing what beings truly are – their Buddha Nature.

So these are a few ideas you might like to play with – and perhaps you will find once you get started that you come up with some even better ones for yourself!

Lama Shenpen Hookham


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