The Four Immeasurables

From the Desk of Pierre Zimmerman, MS


I wanted to share with you four intentions that are part of lay Buddhist practice to better be connected with others and share our deepest humanity. During the summer we tend to gather and visit friends, families and acquaintances and these intentions always come in handy in small or large groups.
Loving kindness is love with no strings attached or any particular agenda, just the pure, innocent wish for others and oneself to be content.
Compassion is the highest spiritual ideal of wishing other sentient beings to be free from suffering. The Tibetan word for compassion means “king of hearts.”
Sympathetic joy is experiencing happiness for someone else’s contentment, well being, successes and good fortune.
Equanimity is staying calm and centered, no matter what life throws at us; pleasure and pain, success and failure, praise and blame, fame and disrepute. It lets us relate in a deep way with friends, relatives and strangers.
Each of the four immeasurable has an opposite:
For loving kindness it is ill will or harmful intent,
For compassion it is cruelty,
For sympathetic joy it is envy or jealousy, and
For equanimity it is greed, aversion, prejudice.
Setting these four intentions sustains our energy and purpose to live in alignment with our best aspirations and wishes for ourselves and others. May it be so!

Empathy, Compassion and Altruism

By Pierre Zimmerman

The word empathy is a translation from the German word Einfuhlung, which refers to “the ability to feel the other from within.” Empathy can be set off by an affective perception of feeling for a person with whom we enter into resonance or by cognitive imagination evoked by the other person’s experience. Emotional resonance usually precedes cognitive resonance and depends on the intensity of our emotions as to whether we can really respond or become reactive instead.

heartTrue empathic concern consists of becoming aware of another’s needs and then feeling a sincere desire to come to his or her aid. It doesn’t involve pity, which is egocentric or condescending, or for that matter emotional contagion, which results in distress or empathy fatigue because we confuse our feelings with that of the other.

Compassion is the capacity to use our heart to relieve the suffering of another and all the possibilities to accomplish this. It includes the realization that ignorance is the fundamental cause of suffering and gives rise to an array of mental obscurations, lack of love, meaning, confidence and absence of a clear compass. Motivation for taking actions for release of suffering counts more than their outcome or results. Compassion doesn’t exclude anything possible to prevent the other from continuing to harm or break the circle of hatred.

Altruism is the motivational state that has the ultimate goal of increasing another’s welfare. It is a willingness to lead a life devoted to the well being of others without the need of ulterior motive. Valuing others and being concerned about their situation are essential. Buddhism defines it as the wish that all beings find happiness and the causes of happiness. In this context, happiness is not just a temporary state of well being, but a way of being that includes, wisdom, inner freedom and strength, as well as an accurate view of reality.

Altruistic love and compassion add joy when perceiving the happiness and good qualities of others as well as impartiality. Rejoicing means that we don’t want others’ qualities and happiness to diminish, but instead to increase and persist. This serves as an antidote to competitiveness, jealousy and envy and is a remedy for depression or despairing views. Impartiality or equanimity doesn’t depend either on our personal attachments or the way others behave towards us. Altruistic love requires courage; fear and insecurity are major obstacles to altruism. We need to develop an inner strength that makes us confident in our inner resources, which help us face the constantly changing circumstances of our lives.

Pierre Zimmerman is Director of One Big Roof and an instructor with the Saratoga Stress Reduction Program.

A Lesson in Mindfulness

The Blog I Didn’t Write By Mary Kathryn Jablonski

Like so many in our beautiful small town, I knew Mana Behan for over 20 years. She made me feel special. She made me feel chosen, and at the same time empowered. But this is not my story; this is the story of hundreds who knew her. This was her gift to all who knew her. These were the words that echoed across Saratoga: compassionate, maternal, authentic, and real. After Mana died, the Universe began testing me, and I found myself asking, What would Mana do? over and over. What I wanted to say after Mana Behan died, I held in, which she would never have done. So here I am rewriting the blog about Mana’s passing on her Birthday.

Mana BehanI met Mana at the Wellness Alliance in the Arcade Building on Broadway and followed her from yoga studio to yoga studio for her Yoga of the Aware Heart. She focused, through yoga, on opening the heart. No small task. Recently, here in the office at One Roof where I work, she’d greet me with a loving touch. She would give me torn scraps of papers that she’d probably used as bookmarks, with quotes on them, some Buddhist, some not. She gave me tea. She gave me suggestions, always in the form of questions: What would it look like if…  

The last time I saw her here in our offices, I was struggling with our website. A glitch would not allow me to upload a new practitioner’s photo. On my third try, refreshing the page, I was becoming more than frustrated. In came elfin Mana. She said, “Maybe this means you should step away from it for awhile,” in language not unlike Yodda’s.

“No!” I fumed, “I’ve got to figure this out!” I shot lasers of hate at the computer screen in hopes of completing the upload. Of course this did not help, and Mana floated out of the room, as I picked up the phone to call our web hosting company.

Fifteen minutes later Mana stood across from me at my desk, bent over deeply, and pounded her palm against the wood like a judge with a gavel. She shouted, “Look at me!” I jumped, and looked up to find myself nose to nose with her, staring at her blue eyes, which suddenly softened into a gentle smile. “Kiss me!” she demanded, and before I knew it she planted one on me and disappeared. I was weak with love. That was the last time I saw her.