Discovering true happiness and freedom depends entirely on developing an all-encompassing compassion.
Genuine compassion is said to encompass four qualities:
- Love (sometimes called “loving kindness”)
When these qualities are developed to their fullest, they are known as the Four Immeasurables or Four Boundless Attitudes, meaning that we extend them to all without bias.
As you cultivate these qualities and make them more immeasurable, negative emotions like anger, attachment, jealousy, and partiality will gradually diminish. In their place, you will uncover your kind heart and a more enduring sense of happiness. At the same time, your relationships with others will come to be characterized by greater warmth, friendliness, and clarity. Sounds good, don't you think?
In this new monthly series, I will be writing about one of Four Boundless Attitudes on the first Sunday of every month. Then, if you wish, you’ll have a whole month to practice it before we move to the next one.
The Intelligence of Impartiality
We’ll begin with impartiality, which is sometimes called equanimity, lack of bias, or impartial equanimity. Normally, when you speak of the Four Boundless Attitudes, they are listed as love, compassion, joy, and equanimity in that specific order. However, when you practice them, equanimity comes first.
Why is that? Without impartiality the other three qualities of love, compassion, and joy will be limited in scope, reserved only for those you hold as your dearest friends and relatives.
Impartiality means feeling the same degree of benevolence towards everyone, regardless of whether they appear to be a friend or enemy. It means letting go of aggression towards adversaries as well as giving up our obsession with family and friends.
That doesn’t mean impartiality is a bland state devoid of feeling. Quite the opposite, when you cultivate love, compassion, and joy for all.
The Fleeting Perception of "Friend" and "Enemy"
Impartiality is predicated on the idea that our perception of “friend” and “enemy” is highly changeable. Take a moment to recall for yourself instances when you’ve become estranged from a good friend or have developed a close-knit relationship with a former enemy. Divorce is often one of the best examples of love gone sour. And, it’s not unusual to feel alienated from your children or parents at one or more points in your life.
Thus, the notion of “friend” or “enemy” has no permanent basis whatsoever. It’s just a fleeting perception that is likely to change as circumstances transform.
Consider this ironic twist: In Eastern religions, it’s believed that those closest to us have been reborn into our lives due to “karmic debts” we’ve incurred as a result of negative actions in the past. Ironically, your beloved may have been your worst enemy in a past life.
Regardless of whether this is true or not, you can see the flimsiness of the concept of “friend” and “enemy” by examining your own life. Think of all the suffering and disappointment you’ve endured by attaching too strongly to the belief in the permanency of “friend” or “enemy”.
"Consider carefully what you mean by friends and enemies. When you look into it, it is obvious that there are no such things as permanent, enduring friends or enemies. Those you think of as friends have not always been so. Indeed, they may well have been your enemies in the past, or they could become your enemies in the future. There is nothing certain about it. Why should you be so compulsively attached to particular people? Are not all your relationships temporary? In the end, whatever may happen during your life, the time will come for you to die. Then you will have no choice but to part from everyone, regardless of whether you feel attachment or aversion for them. But everything you have done in your lifetime, all those actions motivated by attachment and aversion, will have created within you a force that will then propel you to the next life, in which you will experience their result." - The Heart of Compassion by Dilgo Khyentse
The long-term consequences, you see, of indulging in preferences is not a positive one. Instead, wouldn't it be wonderful to feel close to everyone?
In this week’s Big Island Weekly, a story about the Slack Key Guitar Master, George Kahumoku Jr., said he exudes “aloha” in everything he does, and he instantly treats everyone he meets like “ohana”.
“Ohana” means family. There are many deep meanings to the word “aloha” - beyond hello and goodbye - but simply said it means treating everyone with love, respect, and compassion based on recognition of our interconnectedness. This is impartiality in action with the flavor of aloha.
Just imagine what the world would be like if, like George Kahumoku Jr., we aspired to treat everyone as family or as our closest friends.
Training the Mind In Impartiality
Most of us are riddled with attachment to friends and aversion for enemies.
Just think for a moment what happens when you go to a party. Do you see everyone equally with the same affection or do you gravitate towards some and avoid others?
What happens when you see someone walking down the street? Do you immediately form concepts about the way they look that are tinged with either like or dislike?
That’s the case for almost all of us if we don’t actively train our mind in impartiality.
It takes dedicated training to see everyone as equally deserving of your love and compassion. But, when you do, you will begin to interact with everyone in a friendly and respectful way. And, don’t you notice how people tend to light up when you embrace them with a warm smile?
You can cultivate impartiality by meditating on it everyday for a stretch of time. Quiet your mind, and then recall people you consider as enemies. Question that designation. Give them the benefit of the doubt. At first, practice seeing them in a neutral way without aversion. Then, gradually see if you can raise the bar, and see them with love and compassion.
There’s no need to stop loving your family or friends. But remember, attachment only causes suffering as it’s so entangled with hope and fear, expectations and disappointments. So just practice seeing these close relationships in perspective, and try to loosen the stranglehold of attachment.
There’s no greater time to practice genuine compassion than right now when the world is so filled with turbulence, stress, and distress. Start by cultivating impartiality, the first of the Four Boundless Attitudes.
Please join me! Compassion is my word for the year. Writing about it helps me stay on track with softening my heart. I’ll be practicing impartiality this month. I hope you will join me.
Do you consciously cultivate impartiality? What do you think about the idea?
Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious! Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always. With love, Sandra