Brahma Vihāras
Brahma Vihāras

1. Brahmavihāras

The Brahmavihāras (sublime attitudes, lit. Abodes of Brahma) are a series of 4 Buddhist virtues and the meditation practices made to cultivate them.

They are also known as the Four Immeasurables (Sanskrit: apramāṇa, Pāli: appamaññā) or 4 Infinite Minds.

The Brahma-Vihāras are:

  1. loving-kindness or benevolence (maitrī/mettā)
  2. compassion (karuṇā)
  3. empathetic joy (muditā)
  4. equanimity (upekṣā/upekkhā)

According to the Metta Sutta, cultivation of the 4 Immeasurables has the power to cause the practitioner to be reborn into a Brahma realm (Pāli: Brahmāloka)

2. Etymology and translations

  1. Pāli: cattāri brahma vihārā
  2. Sanskrit: catvāro brahma vihārāḥ

Brahmavihāra may be parsed as Brahma and vihāra, which is often rendered into English as sublime or divine abodes.

Apramāṇa usually is translated as the immeasurables, means boundlessness, infinitude, a state that is illimitable.

When developed to a high degree in meditation, these attitudes are said to make the mind immeasurable and like the mind of the loving Brahma (gods).

Other translations in English:

  1. 4 divine abodes,
  2. 4 divine emotions,
  3. 4 sublime attitudes,
  4. 4 divine dwellings.

3. The Brahma-vihāra

The 4 Brahma-vihāras are:

  1. Loving-kindness (Pāli: mettā, Sanskrit: maitrī) is active good will towards all;
  2. Compassion (Pāli and Sanskrit: karuṇā) results from Mettā, it is identifying the suffering of others as one's own;
  3. Sympathetic joy (Pāli and Sanskrit: muditā): is the feeling of joy because others are happy, even if one did not contribute to it, it is a form of sympathetic joy;
  4. Equanimity (Pāli: upekkhā, Sanskrit: upekṣā): is even-mindedness and serenity, treating everyone impartially.

Early Buddhism

The Brahma-Vihāra is believed to be a pre-Buddhist concept, to which the Buddhist tradition gave its own interpretation.

According to Richard Gombrich, an Indologist and scholar of Sanskrit, Pāli, the Buddhist usage of the Brahma-Vihāra originally referred to an awakened state of mind, and a particular attitude towards other beings which was equal to living with Brahman here and now.

The later tradition took those descriptions too literally, linking them to cosmology and understanding them as living with Brahman by rebirth in the Brahma-world.

According to Gombrich, the Buddha taught that kindness - what Christians tend to call love - was a way to salvation.

In the Tevijja Sutta, The Threefold Knowledge of the Dīgha Nikāya set of scriptures, Buddha Śākyamuni was asked the way to fellowship/companionship/communion with Brahma:

He replied that he personally knows the world of Brahma and the way to it, and explains the meditative method for reaching it by using an analogy of the resonance of the trumpeter of the Aṣṭa-Maṅgala:

76. 'Then, with his heart filled with loving-kindness, he dwells suffusing one quarter, the second, the third, the fourth.

Thus he dwells suffusing the whole world, upwards, downwards, across, everywhere, always with a heart filled with loving-kindness, abundant, unbounded, without hate or ill-will.

77. 'Just as if a mighty trumpeter were with little difficulty to make a proclamation to the 4 quarters, so by this meditation, Vāseṭṭha, by this liberation of the heart through loving- kindness he leaves nothing untouched, nothing unaffected in the sensuous sphere.

This, Vāseṭṭha, is the way to union with Brahma.

78. 'Then with his heart filled with compassion,...with sympathetic joy, with equanimity he dwells suffusing one quarter, the second, the third, the fourth.

/Tevijja Sutta, 76-8, Dīgha Nikāya/

The Buddha then said that the monk must follow this up with an equal suffusion of the entire world with mental projections of compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity (regarding all beings with an eye of equality).

In the 2 Metta Suttas of the Aṅguttara Nikāya, the Buddha states that those who practice radiating the 4 Immeasurables in this life and die without losing it are destined for rebirth in a Heavenly Realm in their next life.

In addition, if such a person is a Buddhist disciple and thus realizes the 3 characteristics of the 5 aggregates, then after his heavenly life, this disciple will reach Nibbāna.

Even if one is not a disciple, one will still attain the heavenly life,

after which, however depending on what his past deeds may have been, one may be reborn in a hell realm, or as an animal or hungry ghost.

In another sutta in the Aṅguttara Nikāya, the laywoman Sāmāvatī is mentioned as an example of someone who excels at loving-kindness:

In the Buddhist tradition she is often referred to as such, often citing an account that an arrow shot at her was warded off through her spiritual power.


The 4 Immeasurables are explained in The Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga), written in the 5th century CE by the scholar and commentator Buddhaghoṣa.

They are often practiced by taking each of the immeasurables in turn and applying it to oneself and then to others nearby, and so on to everybody in the world, and to everybody in all universes.