The four Immeasurables 

Loving-Kindness | maitrī
Compassion | karuṇā
Appreciative Joy | muditā
Equimanity | upekṣā

Everyone wants to be happy, but happiness cannot be achieved in isolation. The happiness of one depends upon the happiness of all and the happiness of all depends upon the happiness of one. This is because all life is interdependent. In order to be happy, one needs to cultivate wholesome attitudes towards others in society and towards all sentient beings.

The best way of cultivating wholesome attitudes towards all sentient beings is through meditation. Among the many topics of meditation taught by the Buddha, there are four specifically concerned with the cultivation of loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity. These four are called the Four Immeasurables because they are directed to an immeasurable number of sentient beings, and because the wholesome karma produced through practising them is immeasurable. The four are also called the sublime states of mind because they are like the extraordinary states of mind of the gods.

By cultivating the wholesome attitudes of loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity, people can gradually remove ill will, cruelty, jealousy and desire. In this way, they can achieve happiness for themselves and others, now and in the future. The benefit in the future may come through rebirth in the fortunate realms.


Loving-kindness, the first immeasurable, is the wish that all sentient beings, without any exception, be happy. Loving-kindness counters ill will. The attitude of loving-kindness is like the feeling which a mother has for her newborn son. She wishes that he may enjoy good health, have good friends, be intelligent and successful in all that he attempts. In short, she wishes sincerely that he be happy. One may have the same attitude of loving-kindness for a particular friend or for others in one's class, community or nation. In all these cases, one wishes that the person or persons concerned enjoy happiness.

The extent of loving-kindness in the instances mentioned above is limited to those for whom one has some attachment or concern. The meditation on loving-kindness, however, requires one to extend loving-kindness not only towards those whom one feels close to, but also to others whom one may know only slightly or not know at all. Finally, one's loving-kindness is extended to all sentient beings in all the realms of existence. Then only does the ordinary wholesome attitude of loving-kindness found in daily life reach the state of the sublime or the immeasurable.


Compassion, the second of the immeasurables, is the wish for all sentient beings to be free from suffering. It counters cruelty. People can observe the natural attitude of compassion in the world around them. When a mother, for example, sees her son seriously ill, she will naturally be moved by compassion and earnestly wishes that he may be free from the suffering of his sickness. In the same way, most people have experienced the feeling of compassion upon seeing the suffering of a relative, a schoolmate or even a pet. All these are examples of the ordinary feeling of compassion. To become a sublime state of mind, compassion has to reach beyond the limited group of individuals or beings whom one loves or cares for. Compassion has to be extended to all sentient beings in all the realms of existence before it becomes an immeasurable.

Appreciative Joy

The third immeasurable is appreciative joy. It is the wholesome attitude of rejoicing in the happiness and virtues of all sentient beings. It counters jealousy and makes people less self-centred.

People in their daily lives may experience appreciative joy. It is like a mother's joy at her son's success and happiness in life. In the same way, almost everyone will have at one time or another experienced the feeling of joy at the good fortune of a friend. These are the commonly experienced forms of appreciative joy. When one meditates on appreciative joy and extends it to all sentient beings and not just to loved ones only, one then experiences appreciative joy as a sublime state of mind and as an immeasurable.


Equanimity, the last of the four immeasurables, is the attitude of regarding all sentient beings as equals, irrespective of their present relationship to oneself. The wholesome attitude of equanimity counters clinging and aversion.

Equanimity can be experienced in common forms in daily life. When a grown-up son settles down with his own family, he begins to lead an independent life with responsibilities of his own. Although his mother still has her feelings of loving-kindness, compassion and appreciative joy towards him, they are now combined with a new feeling of equanimity. She recognises his new independent and responsible position in life and does not cling to him.

To become a sublime state of mind, however, the attitude of equanimity has to be extended to all sentient beings. In order to do this, one needs to remember that one's particular relationships with one's relatives, friends and even enemies, are the result of previous karma. Thus one should not cling to relatives and friends while regarding others with indifference or hatred. Moreover, one's relatives and friends in this life may have been one's enemies in a past life and may again become enemies in the future, while one's enemies in this life may well have been one's relatives and friends in the past, and may again become one's relatives and friends in the future.

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