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The Four Divine Abodes - Brahmaviharas

The COVID - 19 lockdown has drastically changed our lives, brought forth a need to maintain physical distance, confined most of us in our homes with a whirlpool of overwhelming emotions, a sense of detachment and has shown us just how important people around us really are. It has severely disrupted every aspect of society and has upended normal life which prompts us to renew our connections with ourselves for nearly every aspect of health and well-being.

During such challenging times, Buddhist psychology along with the dance movement therapy offers a large repertoire of healing and movement rituals that go well beyond meditation. Bringing the central aspects of manifold philosophical, psychological and spiritual traditions of Buddhist thought and practice to the mainstream dance movement therapy, Tripura Kashyap (Co-founder, CMTAI) and Anubha Doshi (Founder-Director, Soulsphere) had recently facilitated a session “Buddhist Psychology intersects with Dance Movement Therapy” in the CMTAI conference 2020 where they introduced the four divine abidings within the movement experience and explained how it can bring dharma to life, besides offering intuitive answers to all the questions associated with integrating the practice (vipassana/insight) into daily life.

The term “Buddhist Psychology” (BP) was coined by Caroline Rhys David in her 1900 Buddhist Manual of Psychological Ethics and is embedded within the greater Buddhist ethical and philosophical system. It is believed that the Buddha continued to cultivate the Brahmaviharas (“four immeasurables” or the “four limitless ones”) throughout his years of learning. Brahmaviharas, or “sublime attitudes,” are the Buddha’s primary heart teachings—the ones that connect most directly with our desire for true happiness. The term “brahma-vihara” literally means “dwelling place of brahmas.” The following virtues are considered to be the antidote to the three roots of evil – greed, hatred, and delusion.

Loving kindness (Metta) – Deliberately cultivating and developing the same quality of universal and selfless love towards all beings.

Compassion (Karuna) – Intentionally developing an attitude of compassion that meets the experience of suffering with the wish for all beings to be safe, secure, and healed of their afflictions. Compassion is a particular state of mind that can be singled out and cultivated by concentration and absorption.

Sympathetic Joy (Mudita) – The quality of mind which responds to the good fortune of others with happiness and goodwill rather than with jealousy or envy, is called sympathetic joy.

Equanimity (Upekkha) – It is not a detachment due to distancing form phenomenon, nor a desensitized neutrality of feeling, but is rather an advanced state, of being able to embrace both the pleasant and unpleasant experience.

“COVID times call for such practices because when you cannot change the situation around you, you need to change it within you, and that’s what this is all about. The practices give us a sense of belonging, they strengthen us and keep us going” said Kanika Harlalka, who found a connection with all the Brahmaviharas (enjoyed Metta and Upekkha in particular), in the longer 2-day workshop hosted by Soulsphere, Pune. Another participant who had a very insightful and comforting experience, found that movement and art practices deepened the Brahmavihara practices and sitting practices aided the movement experiences.

A. Mangai, who resonated with the two Brahmaviharas - Compassion (Karuna) and Sympathetic joy (Mudita), felt that she gained foregrounding sensory perception and expression as ‘knowing’ that is authentic, core and true from the session and felt at ease both physically and mentally. Few others observed that the integration of the four Brahma Viharas with movement helped them navigate their personal movement language with an awareness of physical bodily sensations during the meditative practices.

The four sublime states are interrelated and in the wise words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “Love, compassion, joy and equanimity are the very nature of an enlightened person. They are the four aspects of true love within ourselves and within everyone and everything.”

However, it is relatively easier for man to feel compassion or friendliness in situations which demand them, than to cherish a spontaneous feeling of shared joy, outside a narrow circle of one's family and friends but it is often found that people do like to feel happy (with — or without — good reason). The Dalai Lama beautifully quotes, “If you can be happy about the happiness of others, you can find lasting happiness, because there is always someone somewhere happy”. Happiness is infectious and unselfish joy grows out of it. Moreover, according to a research by Dr. Richard J. Davidson there are four areas that contribute to well-being: awareness, connection, insight and purpose. They are considered to be the sweet spot between modern science & contemplative traditions.

In the wise words of Rabindranath Tagore, “Brahmaviharas enable the transition from egolessness to a universalization of consciousness, from ‘limited’ to ‘unlimited love’”. The Buddha describing the state of Brahmavihara as unlimited love, says: “To live in such a consciousness while standing or walking, sitting or lying down till you are asleep, is Brahmavihara, or, having your joy in the spirit of Brahmaloka.”

The article has been written by Karishma Arora who is interning with Soulsphere, with inputs from Anubha Doshi.

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