The Four Immeasurables
THE FOUR IMMEASURABLES
Like atoms whirling in the depths of space,
Impelled by mighty forces, powerless,
Infinite beings, sparks of consciousness,
Migrating ceaselessly from place to place,
Are driven by their cravings to embrace
The pleasures they mistake for happiness,
But desire brings them only more distress;
The very pain they fear they have to face.
To think: “Their sorrows come, not from Above,
Or whim of Fate, or cruel external facts,
Or others’ malice, but from their own acts;
I wish all creatures, though unknown to me,
Freed from unskillful acts, could happy be;”
This thought is called Immeasurable Love.
A creature in his time has many lives,
And now and then in blissful heaven dwells,
But just as soon may fall into the hells
Or, demi-god, be hacked to death with knives.
Now see him as, a hungry ghost, he strives
Without success to eat the food he smells,
Or squeals among the pigs a farmer sells.
The wisdom from these sufferings he derives
Is small indeed, or so we may surmise
To see him waste his few short years on Earth
In foolish deeds that lead to fresh rebirth.
Thinking: “All creatures share this misery.
I must find out the way to set them free,”
Immeasurable Compassion will arise.
If many pass their days in lust and hate
Some make attempt in virtue to abide
But we, half of the time, blinded by pride,
Give them no praise but merely denigrate.
Others find peace that seems to be innate
While we must struggle hard against the tide
And feel ourselves to be most sorely tried.
If we begrudge their carefree, happy state
What little peace we have we will destroy.
To feel resentment at a man’s good name,
His happiness or virtue is a shame;
When envy of his virtue we disown
And greet his happiness as if our own
Then we will find Immeasurable Joy.
We say we long to leave Samsara’s game;
Why is it then that we remain attached?
Each thing we fear seems by another matched
That keeps us circling, moths about a flame.
In seeking praise, we run the risk of blame;
Our gain becomes a loss if from us snatched;
And from the want of pleasure pain is hatched,
While envy soon breeds slander out of fame.
If we think well on this we need not be
Impaled upon the horns of hopes and fears,
Aversions and desires, joys and tears;
By leaving craving and dislike behind,
And by this means alone, a man may find
This set of sonnets is a chunk of Buddhist theology which I wrote while studying Tibetan Buddhism in Northern India. Don’t begin jumping to conclusions, though. There’s more to the story. 🙂