Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Four Gardeners

I am getting tired of staring down the Four Horsemen: Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death. They seem to be in the news everyday. If you believe many people, things are getting worse and the Apocalypse is around the corner.

I don't doubt that we are in serious trouble. I don't know how on target all the predictions of peak oil (see my post of 7/18/08) and climate change are, but I don't doubt that the economic situation isn't going to get much better anytime soon--or maybe ever.

If you've been reading my blog, you know that what I'm advocating is that we cultivate Simplicity, Equality, Community, and Sustainability. But how to do this in the midst of the chaos around us? I am going back to the beginnings of this blog where my third post was on 'Loving-Kindness and Social Change'. (6/24/08) Yes, I think we need love. We need Love, Compassion, Joy, and Serenity.

In Buddhism there is a set of concepts called the four Brahmaviharas. I've heard these called the Four Heavenly Abodes, the Four Limitless/Boundless Virtues, and the Four Immeasurables. In Pali they are Metta, Karuna, Mudita, and Upekkha, often translated as loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. I simply think of them as Love, Compassion, Joy, and Serenity.

Love, loving-kindness, caring, concern, or unconditional positive regard (as Carl Rogers put it) is the wish and the will to want the best for everyone. We are not talking about romantic love here, we are talking about 'agape'--selfless altruistic love, Compassionate Love.

Compassion, sympathy, empathy is the real concern for others. It is literally a suffering along with another person's suffering, sorrow at another's sorrow. The wikipedia article on Compassion claims that the Buddha said, "It would not be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is part of our practice. It would be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is all of our practice."

Sympathetic joy, altruistic joy, and (my favorite translation) appreciative joy is the joy at another's joy. It is similar in some ways to what poly people call 'Compersion'. It's the opposite of jealousy--you are really glad for another person's achievements or delights. Strangely, when cultivating these virtues, Buddhist practices begin with cultivating them toward ourselves in all cases except Mudita--and I don't understand why this is an exception. I think we should all be joyful at our own joy as well as the joy of others. That's why I simply use the word joy.

And finally, equanimity, equipoise, or, as one teacher that I like put it, balanced calm. I like the word serenity because, frankly, I can pronounce it easier than equanimity. And it reminds me of the Serenity Prayer. It also reminds me not to get too attached to things and to work toward being calm and serene no matter what. I think it was Sharon Salzberg who told the story of the teacher who always said that he was fine. Someone asked him if he didn't have bad days as well as good days. He said that he did, but on his good days he was fine and on his bad days he was fine.

It's important that we balance our love and compassion (and joy) with serenity so that we don't get too pulled off base. Love without serenity can be a rollercoaster ride; but serenity without love is basically unfeeling and uncaring. We must work on bringing all four of these virtues into our lives so that they can balance each other.

So I think that we need to replace Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death with Love, Compassion, Joy, and Serenity. These are qualities that we need to cultivate, because they will cultivate a better world. Instead of Horsemen, I see them as Gardeners, nurturing positive change. I call them the Four Gardeners of the Great Turning. (See my post on the Great Turning 11/15/09.) I think we have to focus on these Gardeners as the chaos swirls around us. They may be the only thing that can stave off the Apocalypse.

Happy Valentines Day!

Quote of the Day: "Metta or loving-kindness is... the fundamental attitude that must be cultivated to develop motivation for service, capacity to work harmoniously with others, and, above all, nonviolence. ... Compassion (karuna) the second Sublime Abode, is ... the translation of metta into action on behalf of others. ... Mudita... is the joy one reaps in beholding the effects of this service. ... the fourth abode, upekkha, equanimity in the face of praise or blame ... helps preserve... workers from 'burn-out'." - Joanna Macy (explaining how the Four Abodes are used by the Sarvodaya Movement in Sri Lanka)


ethicalsusan said...

Hoe, hoe, hoe.

MoonRaven said...

More like: hoe, hoe, hoe, hoe...