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THE FOUR DIVINE ABIDINGS - ESSENTIAL QUALITIES FOR LISTENING TO OTHERS The Four Divine Abidings (Nārada, The Buddha and His Teachings, chapter 42) were said by the Buddha to be the only four emotions worth having, the rest being attachment, aversion and ignorance (or wrong view) in one form or another. They are the fruit of the life of practice yet they are also cultivable virtues not limited to Buddhism. They are universal, wholesome characteristics latent in all human beings and, likewise, accessible to all human beings. (For example, in his letter to the Galatians, St Paul refers to them as the fruits of the Spirit.) In saying that they are both virtues to be cultivated and the fruits of spiritual practice, the out-flowing of the true self, we are also saying that there is no way to Enlightenment, Enlightenment is itself, the way. The Four Divine Abidings or Four Measureless Minds are loving kindness (which includes good will, generosity and mercy) known as metta in Pali or maitri in Sanskrit; compassion or karuna in Pali and Sanskrit; spiritual joy or sympathetic joy, known as mudita in Pali and Sanskrit and equanimity, openness, serenity or inclusiveness, known as upekkha in Pali or upeksha in Sanskrit. Loving-kindness has as its counterfeit or ‘near enemy’, attachment. Compassion has as its counterfeit or ‘near enemy’, pity or condescension. Joy has pretence and envy as its counterfeit while equanimity has indifference as its ‘near enemy’. What follows are some suggestions about how we might apply the four measureless minds and avoid their counterfeits in our dealings with others whilst listening deeply to them. When we are really listened to by another person, we can easily sense that the other person is truly present to us and it has a healing effect because we have been loved and taken seriously. By being truly present to others, we can also offer this wonderful gift of healing. This gift of true presence and deep listening is characterised by metta, karuna, mudita and upekkha. When we listen to another we need to have a genuine sense of lovingkindness towards them manifested in the physical posture we take towards them and a warm and friendly look on our face. We need to approach them with a generous spirit, offering them as much time as they need to allow their story to unfold and we need to be merciful towards them, accepting whatever arises as the best they have been capable of and placing no judgment upon them. We need to beware of the counterfeit of lovingkindness which could be a desire to rescue them or to build on their trust in us as a means to extract something from them including what we might call friendship. Sometimes this may necessitate keeping the relationship of listening out of the realm of socializing friendship, if we are to continue to be most useful. Compassion means being on the person’s side, no matter what. It means being prepared to stand by them and not run away if we feel averse to what we are hearing. Understanding is said to be the substance of compassion. This does not mean we agree with everything proposed by the person we are listening to. Sometimes true compassion means finding a way to be honest with someone when you believe that their thoughts, words and actions are unwholesome. This disagreement, while needing to be firm needs also to be kind, whilst making clear to them that you will continue to stand by them. We need to be concerned with the possibility that our listening is characterised by the sense of pity that goes with the thought: “I am so glad I am not you!” or by giving advice which is condescending. We must trust that if we listen to the person’s suffering and allow for the discharge of any painful emotions attached to that suffering, they will come up with their own next step, integral to their healing. Sympathetic joy means listening to and truly rejoicing with the person in all that is good and going well in their life. When we are listening to someone who is suffering, we need to be careful in determining when we might ask them to share with us also what is going well for them in their life as an antidote to the despair that often accompanies suffering. Our joy in their wellbeing must be genuine. Nothing will make it more clear to another person that we are not truly present to them than a remark like “Oh, I know how you feel.” or if we use the opportunity to take over the listening period with our own sharing, even if what we share is positive. Generosity means making sure that we truly give them the gift of our time. Equanimity here means being very clear that when somebody says something to you, you understand what it is that they mean by what they have said rather than proceeding on the basis of your own assumptions about what they mean. Ask them to clarify what you are concerned about might lead to misunderstanding. Be open to who they are and all that they say without judgment. Assume inclusiveness in your approach for it may be that people will talk with you about things that you have never experienced or are outside the ambit of your knowledge or expertise. Avoid judgment. Avoid judgment. Avoid judgment. Further, in your attempt to be impartial, avoid indifference. No matter what you may think of the person or their difficulty or their joy, to them it is highly significant and to them it is also highly significant that they have trusted you with their heart. Be aware of the precious nature of this person’s life and the rare opportunity for trust to have arisen in their hearts. Here it becomes clear that the Four Divine Abidings are not separate and discrete entities: equanimity needs loving kindness if it is to avoid becoming indifference. Loving-kindness needs equanimity if it is to avoid becoming attachment. Compassion needs sympathetic joy if it is to avoid leading to despair. Sympathetic joy needs understanding and compassion and equanimity if you are to avoid becoming a Pollyanna. Above all else, we need to have let go of a sense of a separate self for the purposes of listening. I do not mean that we need to let go of intelligent consideration while we listen but I do mean we need to let go of a sense of being separate and different from this other person and their ten thousand joys and their ten thousand sorrows. We need to let go of the ego’s need for self-aggrandizement. We need to know whether the other person’s suffering is triggering our own and, for the purposes of listening, we need to put aside the restimulation of our own painful emotions until the listening period is over. If we cannot, we need to be very honest telling them that our capacity to listen has now become compromised and we need to give them the option of finding someone else to listen to them. If we are honest in this way, we are practising equanimity, compassion and generosity towards them and equanimity, compassion and mercy towards ourselves. There is no waiting for Enlightenment required, for we touch the Buddha in ourselves as we listen deeply and mindfully.