About this talk

This talk is about one of the most basic aspects of human life, and in  fact it is probably the most important of all the vast range of topics to  which Buddhism addresses itself.  This topic, this question, this issue, is  the issue of relationships.  By relationship I mean the relationship which  exists between ourself, as subject, and the rest of the universe, both  individually and collectively.  That is, our relationship to all the objects  that exist in the environment around us, and to all the individual people that  exist in that environment, ranging from those we actually know personally, to  those we have only heard about, and in the end ranging all the way out to all  those people, all those billions of people, that we only know about in theory,  existing in the rest of the world.  And we can't really exclude the animals  and other creatures that our world includes, for we also have a relationship  to them.  We have a relationship to everything we encounter, to all these  living beings - and we do so even if we have never met them physically, for  even if they exist only as abstractions, as data, as population statistics, we  at least know about them, and it is in that form that we encounter them.  Even  if we have never been to India, and even though our conception of the millions  of beings in India might only be a somewhat abstract one, yet we still  experience a certain kind of   relationship   to them.  We may hear about the  goings-on in the Middle East, and even though there may be no concrete  connection with the people there, yet we will still be responding, in some way  or other, to their situation.  So in   that   way we really do have a relationship  with all these people - it's a distant one, but nevertheless it exists, and it  is obviously one we are affected by.  
   
But of course, most of our relationships are rather more immediate than  that. 

   
However, before we go any further into our more immediate relationships I  would like to stay with the broad perspective for a little longer.  My talk is  entitled 'Meditation and other people',  and the title has been chosen partly  because I know that many people do not have the impression that Buddhism is  about other people at all.  Surely, one tends to think,  Buddhism is all about  developing   yourself   - Buddhism is about you developing the Noble Eightfold  Path to Enlightenment, Buddhism is about you becoming a monk or nun, and  living a monastic lifestyle.  Or at least Buddhism is about you doing  something about yourself, about your states of mind.  It's about you becoming  a better person - and this of course is fine, it's a very good thing.   Buddhism is recognised as a good thing in our society, on the whole.   Generally speaking, Buddhism seems to have a good 'image' in our society, a  good reputation - but nonetheless we don't, I think, usually see it as being,  particularly, about   other   people. 

   
In this connection we sometimes hear of Buddhism being contrasted with  other religions which very much emphasise work in the world - work to help  others, work to relieve the poor, to relieve the sufferings of others.  In  this sort of comparison, the Buddhists are sometimes seen as rather  introverted individuals, who probably prefer to contemplate their inner mental  workings rather than simply getting on with an honest day's work.  They are  perhaps seen as people, well-meaning enough, who tend to get rather obsessed  with their own psychology: in short, seen as emotional hypochondriacs, seen as  somewhat inadequate personalities  who are concerned more than anything else  with 'sorting themselves out' - and doing so in a spirit of avoidance of the  more objective realities of the modern world. 

   
Now this, of course, is a dreadful distortion of the facts, certainly with  no correspondence, that I've seen at least, with the Order members, mitras and  Friends here in Wellington.  They all seem extremely hard-working, positive,  friendly and concerned for everyone involved in the activities here at the  Centre.  And just to set the record straight, Buddhists do, in fact, engage in  social work.  In the FWBO, just to give one example, we are engaged in a great  deal of social work amongst the ex-Untouchables in India.  But that having been said, when we have refuted the more extreme distortions, there seems to  be a grain of truth remaining in the assertion that we Buddhists tend to be a  shade narcissistic. 

   
Someone once said that each religion has its besetting sin, its darker side.  The besetting sin of Islam was said to be fanaticism, of Christianity intolerance, of Hinduism inhumanity - and in the case of Buddhism, I'm afraid,  it's laziness.    Now perhaps the kind of laziness that is Buddhism's 
bête noire is somehow connected with that tendency I mentioned just now, the tendency to  over-identify with one's personal psychology.  In a way this is a quite  understandable sort of laziness.  On the surface, it might seem that Buddhists  have rather a daunting task on their hands in their quest for Enlightenment.   Because Buddhism stresses, far more than any other religion, that the  responsibility for our personal development lies with no-one else other than  ourselves.  As Buddhists, we can't really accept the notion of a personal god  that we can pray to for our salvation.  It's up to us, it's our individual  effort to grow and develop that counts. 
   
In support of this, we can describe Buddhism in a rather tight little  nutshell by saying that it consists of what are known as the four Right  Efforts.  Firstly, there is the effort to   eradicate   any negative mental states  which already exist in our mind; then secondly there is the effort to   prevent    any new negative mental states from arising.  Then there is the effort to maintain the positive mental states that already exist in our mind - three -  and finally to   develop   any positive mental states that do not yet exist -  four. 

So - eradicating and preventing the negative, maintaining and  developing the positive: that's Buddhism.  'Cease to do evil; learn to do  good; purify the heart: this is the teaching of all the Buddhas', was the  answer given to the Emperor of China, when he asked a famous Buddhist teacher  for the deepest, most esoteric teachings of Buddhism.  He was rather surprised  - he was expecting something much more erudite, at least somewhat unusual, and  possibly rather bizarre.  But - "why, any small child can understand something  as simple as that!", he complained, with a sniff.  "Yes", came the answer, "it  is so simple that a small child can understand it, that's perfectly true.  But  though it is simple, it is also so difficult that even an experienced adult  like yourself cannot put it into actual practice".   Which brought the Emperor  down to earth with rather a bump.


And Buddhism can have the same effect upon us.  It isn't so easy,  practising the Dharma on our own, even though for many people it is the  emphasis upon the individual that is its main attraction.  New practitioners  of Buddhism will tend to lay great stress upon their own practice,  their own  states of mind.  They haven't yet learned that they  can't really practice  Buddhism, can't   effectively   practice it that is, without reference to other  people.  That is the real key to Buddhism.  Even though we make the effort  individually, personally, nevertheless the   context   for that effort has to be  the great universe of living beings.  


This theme is stated again and again in Buddhist literature and teaching  throughout all the many traditions of Buddhism.   The Mahayana Sutras, for  example, are always mentioning the infinite numbers of beings that exist  throughout limitless space - for of course they think not only in terms of  this planet, but of countless inhabited world-systems.   There is that poetic  reference to the Bodhisattva, the being who is said to postpone his own  Enlightenment, or her own Enlightenment, so that he can lead all other beings  to it first.  We can't quite take that literally, because anyone who actually  has that kind of motivation is going to be more than half-way to Enlightenment  already - you can't   really   postpone your own Enlightenment - but it isn't  meant to be taken literally.  The point is that the Bodhisattva lives the  spiritual life for the sake of the development of others - not just his  personal development alone.  And this sentiment is not limited to the Mahayana  form of Buddhism - that is, the form of Buddhism that encourages everyone to  develop the Bodhisattva way of life.  It is also implicit in the Pali  scriptures; and it is implicitly stated in the Buddha's own life. 


In fact the life of the Buddha is a good illustration of how one can make  an enormous personal effort, on one's own,  yet  make that effort in the context  of other living beings.  This is really what Buddhist practice is about.  Now  the Buddha left his home at the age of 29, even left his royal palace and  inheritance, and practiced meditation in the wilderness for six years.  He  eventually gained enlightenment, and later taught the methods he had  discovered for the remainder of his life - which lasted a further forty-five  years. 


All this was done with other people in mind.  It may be that the picture  we have of the Buddha is of a lone individual, a pioneer, very much on his  own.  But the teaching phase of the Buddha's life was in fact very much in the  context of other people; for he not only taught whoever came to him, but put a  great deal of energy into establishing an Order - which inevitably meant  dealing with all the problems that arise when large numbers of individual men  or women live together.  And there were thousands of members of the original  Buddhist Order, all of them trying, together, to evolve a way of life that  would be most conducive to practising the Buddha's teachings.  Just imagine -  it's hard enough bringing up a family, or teaching in a school, or managing a  department.  People can sometimes be just a little difficult, let's say.  So  for the Buddha, to establish an Order was a very great undertaking indeed, and  certainly it showed a tremendous commitment to other people.  I think that  one could say that the Buddha lived, he existed, for the sake of other people.  But then, what about his leaving home? wasn't that a sort of 'escape' from  other people?  Yes, indeed it was, in a way.  But the basic motivation for his  escaping was for the sake of others, not just to get a kind of holiday.  The  Buddha just decided to place himself amongst conditions which were a little  more conducive to contemplation and meditation than were his three palaces,  his scores of attractive dancing girls and musicians, his attendants, his  worrying parents, his amusing friends, and his sycophantic admirers.  And he  did this, not because he wanted to get away from people in a selfish sort of  way - though no doubt it   was   rather a relief - but because he really wanted to  find out how it is that human beings suffer in the many ways that they do, and  whether there is any alternative to it.  His luxurious palace life, and his  over-protective parents, were preventing him from experiencing the real world.   And he had formed a desire to find what would be for the happiness and well- being of the whole world.  His motivation was not simply to find his own,  personal, nirvana.  It was to discover freedom from limitation, from self-made  frustration and suffering, for all beings, for all time.    That   was his  nirvana.  So even though he had to  look  for that state of freedom on his own,  the search was undertaken very much in the context of other people, and  both  the motivation and the outcome of his search was other people. 

   
So, as we can now see, Buddhism is about other people, it's   for   other  people.  But still we may find more objections.  We may say, "but look at the  practices of Buddhism.  Look at what these Buddhists actually do!  Look at  their meditations - they meditate on death, they meditate on impermanence, on  emptiness, on non-selfhood - indeed, look at the practice of meditation itself  - isn't all this rather life-denying, isn't it rather in-turned?  So what has  all this really got to do with other people? 

   
In answering this objection, first of all it is important to remind  ourselves what meditation practice is actually for.  It aims at liberation.   The point of meditation isn't simply to have a pleasant experience, even  though the basic form of meditation, samatha meditation, the kind of  meditation we teach here at the Centre, aims to develop a state of calm  collectedness and inspiration that can be very deeply enjoyable indeed.  But  in the long term the goal is liberation - liberation from the state of bondage  which we call   samsara  , the cyclic, addictive round of habitual response  patterns within which we are all caught in our own highly personal and complex  ways.  It is possible to be completely, unconditionally free from our  limitations, but we don't usually think about getting this kind of freedom.   Consequently we don't think very much along the sort of lines that would work  against these habitual response patterns.  We are all afraid of death, for  example, (unless we are very, very unimaginative), but the real reason why  that fear arises is because we don't understand the nature of impermanence.   We don't understand the nature of life, we don't understand our own existence.   In fact, we never think about death and impermanence anyway - even to mention  the subject makes us feel a little gloomy.  So meditation upon these 'insight'  topics that I've mentioned, such as meditation on death, meditation on  impermanence, on emptiness, and on non-selfhood - they do perhaps   sound   rather      life-denying, until we realise that the whole point of them is liberation from  fear and delusion.  They are not so much about death and impermanence as about  liberation from the   fear   of death and impermanence. They point to a far  richer, far more effective and inspired kind of life than the one we are  living at present.  So insight meditation might sound strange to us, but  that's simply because we never want to think about what we are afraid of.   Which is an understandable reaction, but basically an ignorant one.  So from  this point of view Buddhism only   appears   to be life-denying.  Really it is  more about life, more about people, than anything else we know. Hakuin, the  Japanese Buddhist master, said, "without water, no ice; without living beings,  no Buddhas".  Just as you don't get ice without water, you don't get  Enlightenment in the abstract, you don't get it outside real living human  beings.  Enlightened beings gain their Enlightenment through these frightful  Buddhist meditation practices, and other practices too, but it doesn't change  their humanity.  In fact, they become much more human.  I think that it's  usually fairly obvious when you meet Buddhists that their humanness, their  human sentiment, is their great characteristic.  Buddhists - people who  meditate and try to put the ethical princples of Buddhism into practice - usually have a pretty good sense of humour - and a good sense of empathy,  compassion,  and friendliness.  Life is such a bittersweet business, we could  say, that we have to have a sense of humour if we are to work with it  creatively.  

   
Anyway, this little reflection on the human qualities of friendliness,  empathy, and compassion, brings me on to the main theme of my talk tonight.  Just now we were looking at some of the insight meditations in the Buddhist  tradition, in answer to the idea that 'Buddhism is life denying', or 'Buddhism  doesn't have  anything to do with other people'.  The Buddha taught all these  practices, 2500 years ago.  And he also taught a number of meditation  practices which are very specifically to do with other people.  For example,  there is the recollection of the Sangha, the spiritual community.  This  meditation practice involves reflecting, in a state of deep concentration,  upon the benefits and qualities of the spiritual community, especially those  who have developed to a stage where there is no possibility of regression into  lower modes of being.  Then, there is the recollection of the Buddha himself -  after all, for  his disciples, the Buddha is another person.   Then, there is  the recollection of generosity, and the recollection of ethical behaviour.    One can hardly reflect upon any of these things without some reference to  other human beings.   But in this context perhaps the most important of all  the meditation practices which the Buddha taught are a set of four known as  the Brahmaviharas.  These are the meditation upon loving kindness, the  meditation upon compassion, the meditation upon sympathetic gladness, and the  meditation upon equanimity. 

 
Here we return to the theme with which we opened this talk, that original  issue of our relationship with other people.  For these four meditation  practices help us to explore the way we respond to every person we ever meet,  or even just hear about.  They give us a way, first of all of discovering what  our real emotions are with regard to other people, and then of transforming  our negative emotions into more positive ones. 

   
The key word here is emotion.  Within the issue of our relations with  other people is the key issue of emotion.  Emotions are what our relations  with others actually, concretely, consist of.  Buddhism has this great insight  into living beings that sees that we are all, primarily, emotional.  We are  driven by emotion.  However rational and objective a person we may appear to  be to others, or that we may think we are, it is always our emotions which  govern our state of mind.  Indeed, we essentially   consist   of emotion, a great  complex of habitual emotional responses - that's what we basically are, no  more, no less.  Much of this emotional energy is unconscious and habitual,  it's under the surface - it comes up, it is triggered, in particular  circumstances.  And it is these triggers, these responses, which govern our  relationships with others - with our friends, our relations, our workmates,  our partners, with all those people that we see in the street just once and  never see again. All of these different people trigger different emotions,  different reactions, different responses.  They trigger different responses  when we are in different moods, different responses depending on what is  happening to us at the time.

   
Well, we are starting to delve into the nature of emotion now, so let's  stop and do it properly.  At this point, let's ask: what   is   emotion?  There  are many different kinds of emotion, and often we experience several different  kinds at once,  but there are two main types.  There are negative emotions  like greed, craving, anger, resentment, slyness, envy, arrogance, hatred; and  there are positive emotions like friendliness, patience, compassion,  commitment, interest, confidence, and sympathy.  We have many different words  for emotions.  But though we have the vocabulary, we don't usually have a very  clear understanding of what these emotions really are, how they arise, or what  their significance is for our personal development.  So we need to ask, again  - what is the nature of emotion?  Well, I've talked about our emotional  triggers being set off by different circumstances, and it is true that that is  very often just how it feels.  When we get angry, for example, we feel as  though we really can't help it - the anger just comes up.  And when we see  something we like, again, we can't help desiring it - the desire just happens  to us, automatically.  But it isn't really automatic.  Buddhism says that  though it seems like an automatic reaction, actually our emotions are more  like   habits  . In other words, we have developed a pattern, a habitual response  pattern which tends to arise in particular situations.  No doubt we have a  particular set of responses to food, to sex, to certain kinds of people,  perhaps to authority figures, perhaps to certain trends of opinion, particular  modes of dress, particular environments.  Where do we get all these from?  Well, where do we get habits from?   We   form   habits.  At some point or other,  we respond to something in a certain way.  Perhaps it was a long time ago,  when we were children or even infants.  Or perhaps it was even in some  previous life, we can't say.  Or perhaps it was relatively recently that we  started the habit.  Of course it could be a positive habit, a positive  emotional response - don't think that I'm only talking about negative ones.   But whatever it is, there is a first time that we respond in that way, and  then we respond in that way again a second time.  It seems to me that if we  repeat something even once, we're starting to create a habit.  If you want to  make a habit of something, do it twice.  And from there, the tendency just  gets stronger and stronger, until it is a part of our whole outlook, our whole  attitude, our whole personality. 

   
Say, for example, we have a painful experience - somebody treats us in a  rather unpleasant way.  We don't like it, don't like it one bit, but at the  same time perhaps we don't blame them too much, we don't bear them a grudge.   We see clearly that their insensitivity and unawareness is their problem, not  ours, and for us to get all angry and resentful is quite unnecessary.  I'd  call that a positive, healthy emotional response.  That's a habit that we've  got ourselves into, somehow - that habit has its roots, has had its evolution  over a period of time.  Perhaps we used to get resentful, years ago, whenever  people treated us in that unpleasant way.  But perhaps we have learned,  through experience, that getting resentful only leads to more and more  unpleasantness, for us and for everyone we come into contact with.  Of course  we often get treated in an unpleasant way - people can often be insensitive,  unappreciative, and rude.  And, no doubt, we've realised, they always will be.   There's always someone who will be.  So we have learned to let go our natural  reaction, to just let it go, and nowadays our habitual tendency is much more  understanding of them, understanding that the way they behave really harms  them much more than they could ever harm us.  Nowadays our habitual tendency,  this positive habitual tendency, is a part of our whole outlook, our whole  attitude, our whole personality. 

   
So that's an example of the habitual nature of our emotional responses,  but it also shows something much more important than that.  It demonstrates  the fact that   we can change our emotional responses  .  The fact that emotion  is, at root, something that we create ourselves, means that - if we want to -  we can change our responses.  We have a sort of choice.  We can change our  tendency towards anger, or greed, or resentment.  We don't have to be a slave  to our conditioning. 

   
This fact is really revolutionary.  It is the most important fact in the  universe.  It's the apple in the Garden, it's the thunderbolt in the hand of  the Bodhisattva.  The fact that we can change our responses means that human  beings have the power to change themselves.  And that is the most important  thing there is.  Of course, we can't usually make a dramatic change.  It isn't  as though we have complete freedom of choice, isn't as though in every  situation we are presented with a sort of check-list, a sort of menu of  choices of emotional responses.  Transforming emotion doesn't work like that  at all.  When we are really angry, we aren't in a state of mind that allows  much free play.  In that situation, there's a very small menu indeed.  But  there   is   one.  If we are aware, we can see that this state of mind is not what  we want, and we can do something to calm down, perhaps we can stop short of  hurting someone, perhaps we can get out of the situation and go for a walk.   And perhaps next time the anger arises we will notice it happening earlier.   Perhaps next time we will notice the danger that a certain situation could end  up making us lose our temper.  

   
So from all this we learn that when it comes down to it, we are our  emotions - at a much deeper level, a much more fundamental level, than the  level of our thoughts and ideas.  We are motivated in all that we do -  certainly in our thoughts - by our emotion.  And we also learn that these  emotions, while seeming to be automatic and beyond our control, are in fact  habitual responses which we have created and therefore which we can change,  over a period of time, if we wish to, and if we bring our awareness to bear  upon them and make an appropriate kind of effort. 

   
But how are we to do this?  How are we to bring our awareness to our  habitual responses?  How are we to make that effort?  There are two ways that  we can do it - we can become more aware in our daily life by practising  awareness, particularly awareness of the five precepts - in other words,  awareness of whether our actions, and the attitudes behind our actions, are  helping other people to become happier or whether they are not helping them.   That's one way - trying to be more aware of what we actually do in our  dealings with others, using the five precepts as a  guide.   The other way is  through meditation.

   
Those four meditation practices that we have yet to explore, the four  Brahmaviharas, are all about bringing more awareness to our habitual responses  to other people.  So let's look at these now.  First of all the word,  Brahmavihara.  The first component, 'Brahma' usually refers to the highest of  the Indian gods, or the state of consciousness of the highest gods.  So we  could say that it means the highest or the best, the most excellent, the most  pure. Then 'vihara' means a dwelling place or an abode.  In this context it  really denotes a mode of spiritual life,  or a religious attitude.  It's an  attititude that you dwell in; you're at home in it, that's the idea.  So Brahmavihara really indicates a way of life, that is the best way of life, the  best attitude.  The best attitude, that is, towards others - because in each  of these practices, we are trying to become more aware of the way that we  normally respond as regards other people.  The four practices look at our  emotional responses in respect of four typical situations. 

The first meditation, the
metta-bhavana, or the development of friendliness,  engages with our response with relation to other people generally.  Then the karuna-bhavana  or meditation on compassion engages with our response with relation to people who are suffering.  The mudita-bhavana, or meditation on sympathetic gladness,  engages with our response with  in relation to people who have good fortune; and  the upekkha-bhavana, or meditation on equanimity, engages with our response with relation to the conditioned nature of all beings.  Our response to the  conditioned nature of other people may perhaps not be all that clear as yet,  but in the case of the first three Brahmaviharas, we are ourselves very  conditioned, usually at least, let's say, as to our response.  In particular,  our response to people who are suffering, and our response to people who  experience happiness and good fortune, is often very much a habitual one.   
 
I have been making quite a feature of the Brahmaviharas during my stay here  - the recent women's retreat, and the forthcoming men's retreat, in Auckland,  have both been based around them.  So I'm not going to say a great deal about  the Brahmaviharas tonight, since here in Wellington we've recently had a  weekend workshop on them, and also I'm told that there are soon to be four evenings here also devoted to the Brahmaviharas.  

   
But it is worth just going over the basic ground.  What, then,   is   our  relation, our personal relation,  to other people who are suffering?  And how  do we, personally,  relate to very fortunate, happy people?  And what about  people generally?  Well, I think that on the whole we are not as positive as  we could be, not as friendly as we could be.  We don't always wish others     happiness - or perhaps we do, but it's often rather superficial.  We tend to  be selfish, with a primary interest in ourselves and our own needs.  When we  meet somebody we are, perhaps, prepared to pass the time of day with them, and  even smile at them.  But anything more is another matter.  New Zealand, like  other so-called 'western' countries, is a lonely country, full of lonely  people.   I'm generalising, of course, so this won't apply to everyone, but it  applies generally.   We are good at saying 'Hi', good at welcoming people, we  are good at trying to make sure people have their needs met - but that is  usually as far as it goes.  That's our duty done.  After that, the wall goes  up between us and the rest.  We did our duty, we  said 'hi',  we made sure  they were ok,  and that was it.  I am saying that we don't actually   befriend    people very often.  Very often we don't make the time for that.  We tend to be  very, very concerned with our own lives, tend to be very, very concerned with  getting away from people, with getting 'space to ourselves'.   This is our  relation to people generally.  But of course, we don't have to be like that.   We can transform ourselves, with the aid of meditation, and by practising  spiritual friendship. 

   
Then, what about our relation to people who suffer?  By suffering I mean a  person's experience of anything from a major disaster to a minor  dissatisfaction.  We all suffer, of course.  We are all dissatisfied.  We all  appreciate that we suffer - that   we   suffer.  We don't always appreciate that  others suffer.  But with a little thought, we know that they do.  I think that  if we used our imagination a little more in that sort of way we would start to  change our appreciation and our basic friendliness towards others - all  others.  We would be more inclined to befriend them.   Compassion is  friendliness towards those who suffer.   In the karuna-bhavana practice we  don't try to develop compassion;  we simply develop metta, friendliness.  The  difference is in the object of meditation - a suffering person.  But before we  are able to do that, we need to get over our habitual reactions to others'  suffering.  We need to get over the feeling that we are helpless in the face  of others suffering, that despondent, useless feeling.  That kind of response  to suffering very often causes us to avoid the person completely, and even be  cruel to them.  Now, that isn't being friendly.  That tendency to avoid or  ignore suffering can also lead to a kind of sentimental pity, in which we even  feel a little bit superior.  But it simply begins with our desire to avoid  actually getting involved with someone.  But we don't have to avoid people,  even if their suffering makes us feel uncomfortable, even if their suffering  embarrasses us, even if we want things to go better for   them   in order to save  us   the embarrassment of knowing them.  We can break through all that.  We can  befriend those who suffer, we can develop compassion.

   
OK, what about our relation to very happy, very fortunate people?  When we  see someone we know whose life is going very well indeed, who often seems  quite happy.  Or someone, perhaps a friend or acquaintance, who is on a good  run of happiness?  Perhaps we are overjoyed, delighted at their good fortune.   It gives us a boost just to see them around, a buzz just to remember them from  time to time.  I'd say that was the ideal response.  That's what we call  sympathetic gladness, when we are filled with joy at the joy of others.   Unfortunately, our response isn't usually quite so positive.  Sometimes we  even feel resentful.  Their happiness and good fortune just makes us feel  inadequate.  What right have they to be so bright and smiling?  We might even  say to ourselves that their happiness is only superficial, that soon they'll  be smiling on the other side of their face.  I think that this is sometimes a  bit of a Buddhist vice, this - or a psuedo-spiritual one - we see that someone  is happy because their job is going well, or something like that - they have a  new boyfriend or girlfriend, let's say - and we smile wisely to ourselves and  say 'its just superficial.  It won't last.  So why should I be pleased?'  But  this is a very ungenerous attitude, and is itself rather superficial.  Certainly there are higher, more worthy forms of happiness, even kinds of  happiness that aren't subject to decay, that do last - such as the joy of  nirvana for example - but we are ourselves some way away from nirvana at the  moment and it would do us more good, and those others too, if we could be more  generous, more friendly towards them in their good fortune - as well as in  their bad fortune.  This is the emotion that the mudita-bhavana practice  develops, and it does so in the way that I've outlined - we develop  friendliness and appreciation of the happiness and good fortune of others.  As  in the metta-bhavana, we think of our good friend, neutral person, enemy and  so on, but in this meditation we particularly call to mind their good fortune.   We then notice our response to that - our actual response that is, not what we  would like to feel, or what we feel we ought to feel - and within that  response we look for an increased appreciation, increased kindness and  friendliness.  If we are honest in the practice we will find some of the  negative attitudes that I've been talking about.  But we have an opportunity  to work with them, to transform them. 

   
Then, finally, there's upekkha.  That's a Pali word meaning equanimity.   Equanimity is a very special emotion, a very powerful emotion indeed.  It is  the most positive of all the positive emotions.  Equanimity is a response to  the whole person, not just to their happiness, not just to their suffering,  but to both - and much more besides.  For it is a response to their  conditioning as human beings.  With the upekkha-bhavana we recollect that  people have a history, they have a whole life-story to tell.  It is their  actions in this life, and perhaps previous lives too, that have brought them  to the position that they are in.  Their suffering, and their happiness, have  causes and conditions, just as have our own suffering and happiness.  When we  reflect in this way, we feel as though we are addressing the whole person, as  they really are.  Like the meditation on impermanence that I mentioned a while  ago,  this is a kind of insight meditation.  But unlike other kinds of insight  meditation which require a strong basis of positive emotion before we can even  start - otherwise we might become despondent or depressed - this meditation is  a positive emotion in itself.  But what kind of an insight is it?  This  practice gives us something of a clue to the nature of insight.  It is a  response to the conditioned nature of all beings, at least insofar as we  understand that.   It is an emotional response of friendliness to their  conditioned nature.  It is a response that is not moved by aversion or disgust  when faced by their suffering, nor by attraction or need in the face of their  happiness and good fortune.  It is a response of complete equanimity - a  friendly, helpful response that does not have needs, that has no strings  attached, to the other person, either to their joy or suffering.  It is a  total response - a response to the totality of that person.  We see them as  they really are.  This is the nature of insight - insight is, in the end,  a  response to reality as it is, to things as they really are. 

   
So these, very briefly, are the four Brahmaviharas. Or something about  them at least.  I'm sorry that there's no time to say more about these  practices.  But in any case it is clear now that Buddhism, and Buddhist  meditation, is very much about other people, that its ultimate goal, even, is  about other people.   But just to conclude, let's make one final connection  with our relationships to other people. 

   
I said a little back there about the loneliness that exists in our  society.  That essentially we tend to be isolated, to want to keep ourselves  aloof, to maintain a space between ourselves and others.   Perhaps that  doesn't apply to us so much here.  After all we have the ideal of Sangha -  which, after all, is considered to be one of the three most precious things in  life. In other words, it's one of the Three Jewels, the three most precious  things in Buddhism.  So we know all about friendship, spiritual friendship.   We know how vital it is.  The trouble is that we don't really practice it,  hardly at all.  I'm not trying to get at anyone here - I think that it is a  general problem in western Buddhism.  We just don't see, it doesn't occur to  us, the extent to which we are stunted, held back, by our lack of spiritual  friendships.  But the question that I want to ask is, do we really understand  why Sangha is so vital?  Why friendship is so vital?  I think it requires some  reflection on your  part to answer, for each answer will, partly at least, be  an individual one.  But one important reason that I can give for its  importanance is that unless we share, we don't fully experience.  We need to  be able to disclose ourselves. Unless we can share our experience, especially  of the spiritual life, we don't fully experience it ourselves.  That might  sound ridiculous, logically, until we recall the difference, in experience,   between meditating and sharing the experience of meditation with someone else  who also meditates.  Or of being in a particular mood and talking to someone,  in the Sangha, about it.  Doing that opens up our experience, adds new  dimensions that we cannot know about subjectively.  This is why the Buddha  gave that famous reply to his disciple Ananda, who said that he thought that  spiritual community is a good half of spiritual life.  'It's more than that,  Ananda', he said - 'it's the whole of it'.  Spiritual community, Sangha, is  the whole of the spiritual life.  Spiritual life is a lilfe based around the  spiritual community, around everything that spiritual community embodies -  that is,  around truthful communication,  around kindly and useful  communication, around people who are trying to be direct and at the same time  harmonious in one another's company.   How many people do you know who value  spiritual development? 

   
So we need to create that.  Don't be fooled by the centre here, by the  organisation, by the Order members, by the long history of the FWBO.  Even  here, Sangha hardly exists yet, and it hardly exists because only a few  individual Buddhists have taken the trouble to make friends with other  individual Buddhists.  This means you.  If you are interested in Buddhism, you  can't get very far without forming relationships with other Buddhists - not  just relationships but friendships.  And, perhaps I should make a particular  point of this -  not just friendships with Order members.  The Sangha here in  Wellington isn't going to get very far if everyone thinks in terms of 'getting  the goods' from the Order members and ignoring their peers.  There aren't any  'goods' outside what we create between one another.   We all need to learn how  to make friendships, to gain skills in making friendships.  Skills like  patience, like not giving up, and not having unrealistic expectations; skills  such as the ability to take the initiative with our friends, working our way  through the shyness, the boredom.  All this without mentioning resisting the  pull towards all those attractive people we know but who don't have an  interest in personal growth, and so don't really have the same kind of  interest in us;  and working through those aspects of our friend that we don't  know and don't like - their strange habits, their odd phobias.  In the end  attraction has litle to do with friendship, because what we are attracted to  is often superficial.  The most important thing is giving lots of time to  developing the art.

   
That's all I have to say.  Buddhism is all about other people.  The Buddha  taught for the sake of liberating people.  Liberation is about liberation from  human suffering and limitation, which essentially means emotional suffering  and limitation.  The Buddha's most important discovery was that we can change  our emotional responses.  The four Brahmaviharas provide a training ground for  transforming our emotional responses.  And they are expressed in our actual  dealings with others, through our friendships with brothers and sisters in the  Dharma.