Why does almost everyone teach the brahmaviharas wrong?

This is just one example of how almost everyone these days teaches metta/karuna etc as beginning with oneself. “May I be happy”

The obvious fact is the Buddha didn’t teach this in the suttas. In fact, he taught a reciprocal practice which has different aspects regarding the protection of oneself vs others. For reference, see Sedaka sutta.

‘How does one protect oneself by protecting others?’ ‘By doing the brahmaviharas’

‘How does one protect others by protecting oneself?’ ‘By [the establishments of mindfulness or ‘the practice’] <— my point being here that how one protects oneself is different from how one protects others. ‘May I be happy’ is opposite to the self-sacrificing spirit evident in the karaniya metta sutta:

‘As a mother would give her life to protect her only son, so too let one develop a boundless heart with regard to all beings’

There’s no excuse for the propagation of false teachings and the world would do better to go back to the original

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I think going to Authentic Buddhist Teachers and Scriptures can Awaken the importance of the Brahmaviharas in someone because they are conducive to a Spiritual Awakening that can lead up to Enlightenment. Even Anatta fits into this, in a Love beyond words for all sentient beings. :pray:

Thank you for the OP.

"“And how do you watch after yourself when watching after others? Through endurance (equanimity), through harmlessness, through a mind of goodwill, & through sympathy. This is how you watch after yourself when watching after others.”—SN 47.19

This shows how the brahma-viharas are social attitudes. They cover every possibility of interaction. The sutta also shows how insight refers to oneself, and the brahma-viharas protect the insight practitioner from applying their raw knowledge in public interactions. For example renunciation goes against the flow, but the brahma-viharas prevent ill will from arising.

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Hi @Sovatthika, thanks for sharing my video.

Firstly it’s important to remember that the Brahma Viharas pre-date the Buddha’s time, so there may be many methods of developing these beautiful minds from countless other teachers that have been lost in time - who knows! And remember, too, that the practices of love and compassion are not just Buddhist things, but shared by all peoples across all cultures and all times. So, there is likely more than one way to practice, right?

Secondly, don’t get too stuck on the idea that there is only one true correct meditation technique, or that there is ever only one way to do things. After all, even with a simple and quite natural thing like breath mediation there is a huge debate and wide variety of opinions, with everyone insisting that their teaching is “the only one true correct method” of how the practice should be done. :thinking:

Meditation is a process and the way we begin to develop it can actually be pretty flexible. Guided meditation is just the basic inspiration that will propel the mind deeper into the subject. How we get there can actually be quite varied as see in the suttas with something like the samadhi sequence, where different wholesome objects (such as generosity / sila / the Buddha’s qualities / friendship) lead to joy > rapture > bodily tranquillity > bliss > samadhi etc.

Another thing that happens (as any long term practitioner will tell you) is that our meditation tools can sometimes become a bit blunt from time to time, and so we need to approach things a bit differently otherwise we can become stuck in habits and a bit dull. So, maybe you can ask yourself why reputable teachers take different approaches with various mediations and whether it’s really true that they are being “false” or heretical or if they are still practicing love but merely developing these states in different ways? Also, please be a bit careful about thinking that there is only one way to do something and that you are the only person who knows what it is! :wink:

The Buddha’s meditation instructions tend to be quite brief and not very detailed but the Buddha himself taught a huge variety of practices and different methods, and seemed quite flexible at times in how he presented them for different people. Teachers from the past and present have always developed methods to help people touch into the subject of meditation. This doesn’t mean that the teacher is being fraudulent or heretical it’s just a way of helping people understand the practice in different ways that might work for them. I actually teach metta practice in a variety of ways but I have my favourite approaches that have been handed down from various teachers I’ve learnt from and seen for myself that they work, which is why I teach them. (I see that you’ve been going through my YouTube channel and commenting here and there - I actually deleted some of your comments because it seemed like you were trolling but if youre genuine, please keep looking and you’ll see that I’ve got some videos introducing metta and other guided meditations where I approach it in different ways.) But yes, many teachers start with the idea of happiness and they do that because it is skillful and has been proven to work and be of benefit to developing metta.

What’s important in developing a mind of love/friendliness/ kindness is that it is not an intellectual or dry theoretical thing, nor a rigid technique with strict rules, but rather it is all about the emotion and the instructions or method are only there so that people feel the actual emotion of love and get familiar with it. Then they can know when it is absent and when it is present and how to develop it. Love needs to be firstly felt in oneself before it can be shared with others. A big problem for many people is that due to depression, low self esteem, anger, emotional numbness etc, they can’t get in touch with this feeling and they find metta practice to be frustrating or challenging, or dry and boring. So teachers develop skillful means to help people uncover love within themselves and allow it to bubble to the surface.

At the root of this is the Buddha’s realisation that all beings wish for happiness, and that we love ourselves. So, it is in our best interests to be happy and free from suffering, and this will help us have love for others too. This is of course the sentiment in the Mallika sutta where the Buddha acknowledges the link between self love and not harming others:

“Having explored every quarter with the mind,
one finds no-one dearer than oneself.
Likewise for others, each holds themselves dear;
so one who loves themselves would harm no other.”

I’d like to respond to your characterisation of what metta is here:

This is a bit of a simplification of what love is in Buddhist thought. Remember that the background to the Metta Sutta is that the monks were in the forest and scared, so the Buddha taught this sutta both as a meditation subject but also as a personal protection. This form of love isn’t the same as the Christian type of martyred self sacrifice.

In my own practice, I practice the simple 4 directions method of metta, which is found in the suttas. But note that there is no sense of love being about self-sacrifice here:

They meditate spreading a heart full of love to one direction, and to the second, and to the third, and to the fourth. In the same way above, below, across, everywhere, all around, they spread a heart full of love to the whole world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will.

I often teach this approach too. But I also find useful the techniques of the commentaries, such as the four types of people, as this has so many wonderful practical applications and also shows a skillful way of developing metta that starts with developing a solid base, in order to have the strength to deal with enemies after being safely generated for loved ones (including oneself). This might not be in the suttas but it is certainly effective and has been practiced and valued by countless people.

I also like other commentarial divisions, such as classes of beings, (size, number of legs etc), or planes (creatures that live in water, underground, on earth and in the sky) as these can help give a visual focus to the development of metta in the mind.

We see the basis for this approach in something like the Khandha Parittam where the types of beings to whom metta is being developed are divided into categories:

I love the footless creatures,
the two-footed I love,
I love the four-footed,
the many-footed I love.

Similarly, just like the background to the Metta Sutta, in the sutta I just quoted above we see that metta is being encouraged as a self protection, rather than just sacrificing oneself up to the animals. Self-interest is at play:

May the footless not harm me!
May I not be harmed by the two-footed!
May the four-footed not harm me!
May I not be harmed by the many-footed!..

I’ve made this safeguard, I’ve made this protection:
go away, creatures!

So, you can still have love for creatures but not want to be eaten by them. :laughing:

This type of vested self interest is also shown in the Benefits of Metta Sutta which is often used as a motivation for developing the practice.

You sleep at ease. You wake happily. You don’t have bad dreams. Humans love you. Non-humans love you. Deities protect you. You can’t be harmed by fire, poison, or blade. Your mind quickly enters immersion. Your face is clear and bright. You don’t feel lost when you die. If you don’t penetrate any higher, you’ll be reborn in a Brahmā realm.


There are so many methods teaching love. Some teachers, like Ajahn Brahm, even use teddy bears to encourage people to open up to a mind of love, something that really horrified me seeing it at first :laughing: but then people reported how much easier it was for them to develop metta in this way, so if it works for them; great! I also encourage people to watch youtube videos of people doing acts of kindness to others, or videos of animals of different species being friends (such as cats who are friends with birds, or lions that are friends with lambs etc ) because these show how even animals that would normally be adversaries can actually be friends - if only humans could overcome the artificial divisions that block our love!


So, whilst I appreciate that you are concerned about textual authenticity, these are just words on a page. What brings them to life is the experience of love, and what makes it wisdom is when people realise it for themselves in ways that make sense to them. So, maybe you can try to separate meditation method from subject, and to be a bit more flexible in your thinking about how people should practice, as certain things will work for others in different ways.

Lastly, I would very much encourage you to share with us your own video of you teaching metta in the way you think it should be done. That would be a wonderful addition to the practice of love in the world and I look forward to practicing your method.

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Hi @Sovatthika,

I would echo Bhante @Akaliko’s observation that the Buddha taught different people in different ways. It is important for any teacher of anything to take into account that different people learn best in different ways, and this often varies with time and circumstance.

Several years ago my local monastery had a visit by Bhikkhu Aggacitta, from Malaysia, and he took the approach of doing guided meditations with a variety of approaches and then asking the entire audience to comment by passing the microphone around. So in the case of metta he worked through the naming of particular people, radiating in different directions, taking in every increasing circles, and so on. It was clear that different people had quite different reactions to the different approaches. Some found one approach helpful, others another.

Of course all good teachers know this. But I thought it was excellent that Bhikkhu Aggacitta demonstrated this so clearly and explicitly to his audience. There was no need for him to comment about it, it was so clear.

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What a great reply! I love that the links where to @sujato 's translations so I could see the Pali!! GIven your knowledge of these passages I wanted to ask, are there any similes like the mother/baby simile given for Karuna and Mudita? I have often struggled with these as ideas, love/kindness I get, even Karuna I have sort of come round to thinking of as a love-of-what-is-not-lovable i.e moving from a wishing of joy to all beings to a sympathy/pity/compassion for the fact that beings will lose their joy and suffer and die, but Mudita is a real head-scratcher, any thoughts?

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Mettā is the base: wishing for happiness. In the case of the others, there are 2 possibilities.

Either the others are suffering or they are happy. In the case that others are suffering, mettā transforms into karuṇā. In the case of others are happy, mettā transforms into mudita.

Mudita is where the wish of metta comes true already, yay, wish come true, then be happy. It counteracts the underlying thought that gives rise to jealousy. The underlying thought is: there’s limited amount of happiness, if the others have it, I don’t have it. I want happiness, I don’t want others to have it. Aversion+ greed gives rise to jealousy.

Mudita counteracts that by realizing that happiness is not limited, being happy that others are happy, one becomes happy. Also, it reduces the separation between self and others, we are all team humans, or team living beings! Go team. Be happy!

For completion, in the case of others are suffering, and one cannot help after doing karuṇā, then upekkha is the correct response.

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There is a lovely simile given in Bhante Analayo’s book 'Compassion and Emptiness’ pp155 which I have also heard elsewhere (but haven’t been able to trace back to an early source), where he likens the 4BV to the sun. I have found this useful to see how each brahmavihara is similar yet has a slightly different quality.

Mettā

“Just as the sun shines on what is high and low, clean and dirty, so mettā shines on all without making distinctions. The sun keeps shining independently of how its rays are received. It does not shine more if people move out into the open to be warmed by its rays, nor does it shine less “because people move back indoors. Similarly, mettā does not depend on reciprocation. Its rays of kindness shine on others out of an inner strength that pervades all bodily activities, words, and thoughts, without expecting a return. From the centre of one’s heart mettā shines its rays on anyone encountered, just as the sun shines in all directions from its position in the midst of the sky.”

Karuṇa

“Compassion in turn would be like the sun just before sunset. Darkness is close, almost palpably close, yet the sun keeps shining. In fact it shines all the more brilliantly, beautifully colouring the sky at sunset. Similarly, when being face to face with suffering and affliction, the mental attitude of compassion shines even more brilliantly, undeterred by all the darkness found in the world. At sunset the sun appears as if it were moving downwards. So, too, compassion is willing to reach out to those in a less fortunate position.”

Mudita

“Continuing with the sun imagery, sympathetic joy would be comparable to sunrise in the early morning. The birds are singing merrily, the air is fresh, and the surroundings are illuminated by the rising sun and appear as if pervaded by joyful delight. At times the rays of the sun touch a dewdrop on a flower or tree and break into a myriad of colours. In the same way, the joy of others can become the source of a myriad of joyful rejoicings within oneself. At sunrise the sun appears as if it were moving on an upward trajectory. This mirrors the disposition of sympathetic joy to direct positive feelings towards those who are in a better position than oneself.”

Upekkha

“The fourth of the divine abodes, equanimity, is then like the full moon on a cloudless night. Just as the sun and moon are both up in the vast sky, in the same way the four brahmavihāras share with each other the boundless nature of a mind that has become vast like the sky. The moon is not itself a source of sunlight, unlike the sun. So, too, equanimity is not actively involved with others in the way the other three brahmavihāras are. At the same time, however, the moon does reflect the light of the sun, just as equanimity reflects within itself the positive disposition of the other divine abodes.”

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Regarding different approaches, it is interesting that in Tibetan Mahayana tradition, the 4 Brahmavihara (4 Immeasurables) are taught in different order.

Example: Four immeasurables - Rigpa Wiki

One is taught to develop equanimity first.
The idea is that, before you can develop universal love, you need to develop impartiality first. Not too attached to the loved ones. Not too obsessed with enemies. And not uncaring to strangers.

Fixing the bias and partiality towards everyone, and after that one can develop the other three qualities.

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This is the order in the Visuddhimagga. Its popularity is probably responsible for the ‘standard order’.

Do you have textual evidence for this? I don’t think we find it in pre-Buddhist texts.

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I don’t know about pre Buddhist text, but it was mentioned in sutta
SN 46.54

https://suttacentral.net/sn46.54/en/sujato

That the other wandering ascetic "also teach love this way, so what is the difference between other sect and Buddha’s teaching? "

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Perhaps one can read this into suttas such as MN97, where Sāriputta taught the path to the company of Brahmā:
https://suttacentral.net/mn97/en/sujato?layout=sidebyside&reference=none&notes=asterisk&highlight=false&script=latin

There are no pre-Buddhist (i.e. Brahmin) texts with the brahmaviharas. But it’s possible that this is a reference to ‘others’ teaching metta etc. Just as likely it’s a literary device to make the Buddha eludicate. The same formula occurs a few suttas before in SN 46.52 regarding

“We too teach our disciples: Reverends, please give up the five hindrances… and truly develop the seven awakening factors. What, then, is the difference between the ascetic Gotama’s teaching and instruction and ours?”

That’s an interesting reading, but would mean that the Brahmins themselves didn’t know this Brahmin practice. And the sutta would be dedicated to Sariputta teaching Brahmins a non-Buddhist practice. The point of the sutta would then actually be the Buddha’s rebuke at the end.

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Do you think we can draw many or any conclusions from a lack of pre-Buddhist texts on a subject? It seems possible and likely in some instances that quite a few spiritual teachings from around the Buddha’s time and before have been lost.

When a Buddhist text presents some spiritual quality as having been taught or practiced by contemporary and former samanas, what criteria would you use to establish reasonable doubt in the text’s assertion aside from lack of corroborating outside sources?

According to Analayo in his paper “Immeasurable Meditations and Mindfulness”:

The idea of directing mettā to oneself might be related to a particular term used in the standard Pāli description of the meditative radiation. Different editions of the Pāli discourses vary in the spelling of this term, which can occur either as sabbatthatāya or as sabbattatāya. The difference involves a single letter, which is either an aspirated th or else an unaspirated t (after sabbat- and before -atāya). An aspirated and an unaspirated consonant can easily be confused with each other. The meaning of the two terms, however, is quite different. The first mentioned reading sabbatthatāya conveys the sense “in every way.” The other reading sabbattatāya, which is the version accepted by the Visuddhimagga (Vism 308), can convey the sense “to all as to oneself ."

In the standard description of the radiation, the term in question occurs between sabbadhi, “everywhere,” and sabbāvantaṃ lokaṃ, “the entire world.” The repetition of near synonyms occurs with high frequency in oral Pāli texts, making it fairly probable that the term under discussion expresses a meaning closely similar to what precedes and what follows it. This supports the sense “in every way” as the more likely reading. In fact, the alternative idea “to all as to oneself” does not seem to be attested anywhere else in the Pāli discourses (Maithrimurthi 1999). A comparative study of parallels to Pāli descriptions of the boundless radiation confirms the impression that the original idea would have been “in every way” (Anālayo 2015). Given that the Visuddhimagga opts for the other reading, the variant “to all as to oneself” might have triggered, or else at least supported, the arising of the idea that the practice should be directed toward oneself.

From the viewpoint of the meditative radiation, the idea of directing mettā and compassion to oneself does not seem to be required, as a practitioner cultivating the radiation will anyway be fully immersed in the respective immeasurable or boundless state. It would not be possible to pervade all directions with a mind imbued with mettā or compassion without being affected by such pervasion oneself. This makes it fairly probable that the perceived need to include oneself would have arisen only once the meditation practice came to rely on the employment of other individuals as the object. In such a situation, it would be more natural for the idea to arise that oneself must be explicitly included among the recipients.

Whatever may be the final word on the exact stages in the development under discussion here, there can be little doubt that the meditative approach to mettā and compassion by way of taking four individuals as one’s objects, proceeding from oneself to a friend, a neutral person, and then a hostile person, is a later element. This does not mean that there is anything wrong with it. The wide-spread appeal of this form of practice testifies to its practical value. However, it does mean that this mode of practice need not be considered the only possible way to go about the meditative cultivation of mettā and compassion.

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Taken as a given that corraboration from non-Buddhist texts would be best, there are few things we can look out for within the suttas:

  • consistency: a teaching is across several suttas attributed to ‘others’, e.g. the no-kamma teaching
  • congruency: a teaching is always described as non-Buddhist, and never as Buddhist. A violation of this is for example the teaching of tapas. While mostly it is treated as an objectionable practice of others, sometimes (and in seemingly old suttas) it is praised by the Buddha
  • inconspicuous: the suttas are not polemic regarding the practice. For example the alleged Brahmin animal sacrifices in SN 3.9, AN 7.47, and DN 5 are grossly exaggerated, and the rituals improperly described. This is a clear sign of later additions for polemic purposes. On the other hand we have suttas like AN 4.40 where the Buddha is mildly supportive of the ancestor yañña - which fits well with the practice known from non-Buddhist sources and also fits in tone a Buddha who is non-divisive.
  • mythological context: non-Buddhist practices we only know from suttas that project them into a distant past or to a previous life of the Buddha should be treated carefully and checked with other criteria before assuming to describe a proper pre- or non-Buddhist practice.

These are at least the ones I can think of spontaneously. Others will have other criteria of course.

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Hi @Gabriel, thanks for your question about textual sources - I rather fear this was something I have absorbed from various teachers rather than having sources to back it up! However, there are some secondary sources that make this claim, but you’re probably better positioned to judge the veracity of those as this seems be a topic you have been interested in for some time.

The wikipedia page on the brahma viharas lists 3 sources as saying that they predate the Buddha.

I cant see all the source material referenced in the books above, as they are not freely available but the third source I found a free PDF as below:

Wiltshire points to a Bhramanical scheme that parallels the BV and also the suttas themselves, which report the BV predate the Buddha. He also mentions past Buddhas, including as King Makhadeva , who practised these, and Pacceka Buddhas (hmmm actually this makes sense actually doesnt it?). He points to the Dhammika Sutta where other historical ascetics are individually named as teaching non-harm and compassion and being reborn in Brahma realms,(see below) and he also lists other historical characters from later jataka stories. He suggests these older doctrines were retained in the Buddha’s teaching but that the were put in their place as a lower order with an inability to lead to full enlightenment as opposed to the Buddha’s own discoveries, which thus superceded the older doctrines and asserts the Buddha’s salvific primacy over even the heavenly realms.

The Dhammika sutta is interesting:

“Once upon a time, there was a Teacher called Sunetta. He was a religious founder and was free of sensual desire. He had many hundreds of disciples. He taught them the path to rebirth in the company of Brahmā. Those lacking confidence in Sunetta were—when their body broke up, after death—reborn in a place of loss, a bad place, the underworld, hell. Those full of confidence in Sunetta were—when their body broke up, after death—reborn in a good place, a heavenly realm.

Once upon a time there was a teacher called Mūgapakkha … Kuddālaka … Hatthipāla … Jotipāla. He was a religious founder and was free of sensual desire. He had many hundreds of disciples. He taught them the way to rebirth in the company of Brahmā

Later we see the link between a path taught by those teachers that leads to the Brahma realms and developing a mind of non harm and compassion:

These six famous teachers,
harmless ones (ahiṁsakā ) of the past,
were free of carrion-stench, compassionate (karuṇedhimuttā),
gone beyond the fetter of sensuality.
Detached from sensual desire,
they were reborn in the Brahmā realm.

Probably this is how it may have been, rather than looking for a label of Brahma Viharas (a term which may have been a later way of putting the practice down, as not leading to enlightenment, slightly pejorative perhaps!), we should be looking for tendencies like non-harm as practices that predate the Buddha, rather than expecting to see the Brahma Viharas in the exact same form in the redacted Buddhist texts. It is also interesting that they are also referred to as the Four Immeasurable (Appamannas) in many suttas, not as the Brahma Viharas.

Then there are the contemporaneous accounts of other ascetics practicing love in the suttas, as already mentioned in SN46.54 above:

We too teach our disciples in just the same way.
What, then, is the difference between the ascetic Gotama’s teaching and instruction and ours?”

I dont agree with your view that such things are merely “a literary device”.

I also remember reading somewhere about ancient sages practicing a compassion jhana but I cant find a reference.

In any case, given that so many spiritual traditions across different places and times taught friendliness/ love, compassion, or joy in various forms, it seems quite likely to me that the contemplative traditions existing before and at at the time of the Buddha would also have developed some knowledge of these and worked out ways to practice them. But who knows!!

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I think only a wise teacher with a true heart of Metta could have written the response that Bhante did. It’s one thing to study the Suttas, or to do a Metta practice, but it’s quite another thing to live these teachings. Bhante’s response is, to me, part of what Metta is about…a boundless kindness even when responding to what appears to be a bit of a harsh and/or misguided OP.

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I feel there is always a kind of dilemma: selfhishness versus pure heartedness. Calculating acting versus spontaneous acting.

For example, one can have a nature with strong tendencies to agression, anger, hate and suffer because of that. One can apply metta to counteract that. In a sense one applies this method in a selfish way, to relief suffering. The Buddha does not teach this kind of selfishness is morally wrong. It is not morally wrong to seek a solution for ones own suffering. I think this is wise, otherwise one will always be a judgemental person. Only concerned with morals. Judging people in good and bad. .

If developing Brahma Vihara’s is business (seeking ones profit) this also does not lead out of the domain of suffering (samsara). It becomes a bond. A bond of merit. Because it is still connected with selfishness, ego-conceit, ego-concern. It is connected with kamma and defilements.

But a pure hearted act of loving kindness is not. It never becomes a bond. Because it does not arise togeter with defilements and it is not light kamma . It is beyond dark and light. (I belief, also non-arhants can do pure deeds). The expression of the pure heart is not karmic but beyond merit and demerit, beyond moral and immoral tendencies.

That’s why i belief your own and others pure-heartedness is important to see, to acknowledge, to recognize. To see our nature beyond good and bad, beyond dark and light.

Er…. if one is not happy, lovingkindness, compassion, joy and equanimous on your own self daily (24 hours), how can other beings around you or other realms feel or know that you are happy, lovingkindness, compassion, joy and equanimous to them?

Obviously to radiate brahma vihara, one needs to be free from all sensual thoughts (aka in jhana), speeches and conducts in daily life. Otherwise it is just an illusion of feeling good, still good for your own but no effect to other beings around.

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