We may often ask how we can relate to others in socially-harmonious ways to avoid aggravation and hostility, and if so, we will find it useful to develop four wholesome states of mind: benevolence, compassion, joy at others’ rightly-earned success, and equanimity.
Each of these is valuable in itself; but together they gain in power as each contributes something special to our overall attitude.
We can consider the relationship between these four states like this:
Firstly, knowing that others are like us we can wish them to be happy, as we would wish for ourselves.
We then recognise that ordinarily people are not happy for much of the time, so we develop compassion and wish them to be free from suffering.
Thirdly, we see that this is not the whole story: people do experience some happiness – why begrudge this rare occurrence?
And fourthly we acknowledge that in many ways we are all in the same boat: our attitude to others is to meet them on the same level, as equals in wishing to be happy and avoid suffering.
If we can generate these states regularly they will become our natural dwelling-place: we will be happier and our relationships smoother.
The Buddha called these ‘Heavenly Abodes’, and encouraged his followers to extend them to encompass all beings, and then they can be called ‘Immeasurable’.
Guided by these states our actions are likely to be kinder, and we will see when we can help others and when to leave them be.