Emotional Intelligence and Skillful Living

love the world

In these essays on the Conscious Process, I have often talked about the various obstructions to human development and liberation, chief among them being selfishness (greed), hatred, envy, and ignorance. Transcending these poisonous mind states signals the emergence of true maturity and emotional intelligence, and indicates that one has accomplished the necessary pre-conditions to move up and onward to higher levels of adaptation, beyond the elementary educational circumstances this earthly realm represents.

Many human wisdom systems have suggested antidotes to the aforementioned poisons, such as the Golden Rule of treating others as oneself, but here I am going to focus on four noble and sublime virtues called Brahma Vihàras, or Divine attitudes, which the Buddha recommended be cultivated and practiced as skillful means in all relations and under all conditions. These four Brahma Vihàras are loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity.

Now, with the advent of internet search engines, one could easily access and read numerous articles by all sorts of authorities that delve into Brahma Vihàras in great detail, and I do intend to offer my own modest understanding in a moment, but there is a good question that I would like to explore first. That is: why bother trying to cultivate such virtues at all?

Well, the negative consequences of our behavior are felt directly in our emotional life, and not just in this current human life, but also in all future lives as well, until the emotions are at last resolved. The emotional baggage we accumulate must be sorted out until all the lessons have been learned and traumas healed, and we have proven ourselves ready to engage a higher curriculum than the one which prevails on this comparatively primitive level of universal possibility.

Moreover, the influences of greed, hatred, envy, pride, and ignorance that we indulge have a more immediate effect on our living environment here on Earth by creating an atmosphere poisoned by violence, cruelty, fear, and misery. Literally, what we do to others we also do to ourselves, since in reality there is no separation. In that sense, we are responsible for creating our own prison, and so it is likewise our own responsibility to free ourselves from it. The Brahma Vihàras (both as subjects of contemplation as well as principles to be actualized) are tools in this respect, and very effective ones. Properly utilized, they constitute a veritable “karma repair kit”.

In previous essays, I have expressed my understanding that we are always being tested, and so every moment of life is a choice. We can choose to live in fear, anxiety, and existential despair, as if we are a helpless victim, or we can choose to learn from our experiences and self-correct, in the light of love and understanding. Indeed, it is appropriate that the first Brahma Vihàra is Loving-kindness, which is a sure foundation for all other virtues which complement it, and a perfect antidote to the poison of greedy selfishness.

loving kindness

Of course, it is easy for us to love the people that are attractive to us and return our love, but much more difficult to love those for whom we have some conditional aversion, or who are mean and threatening to us. Thus, to really embody the attitude of Loving-kindness, we need to be able to include all beings in our embrace, extending the same unconditional loving regard to everyone and everything with both intention and attention, recognizing all as mirrors of ourselves, manifestations of the same Source in which we all inhere, beyond any apparent separation. Its hallmark is the sincere desire for the happiness of others, without any expectation of some reward in return. In that sense, it is truly free of the taint of self-interest, which pervades the lesser forms of love.

With true Loving-kindness, there is no desire to possess or manipulate, since it is characterized by selflessness at its root. It is the perfect cure for the emotional contraction at the heart, because it is fearless in its free and open loving, neither grasping nor turning away, and always ready to exceed itself in service to love. It begins with learning to love oneself, and then extends that love to others, eventually encompassing the whole totality of universal manifestation with no exclusions in unconditional loving regard.

To get a more comprehensive view on the practice of Loving-kindness, one might investigate the readily accessible works of the contemporary Buddhist writer Sharon Salzburg, including her books “Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness” (1995), and “A Heart as Wide as the World” (1999).

The second Brahma Vihàra is complementary with Loving-kindness, and that is Compassion. Compassion is our empathetic response to the world’s suffering, both within individuals, as well as collectively. It is truly a divine attitude in its most evolved form, in that it is totally non-judgmental and non-withholding in its tender and vulnerable regard for the distress that plagues and even characterizes existence in this realm. The quality of Mercy radiates an intention from the very depths of our heart in all directions that every being be freed from pain, sorrow, and anything that causes suffering. This genuine concern for others is embodied in acts of charity and selfless service, and is prompted by a deep insight into the causes of human suffering – the afflictive poisons such as hatred, of which compassion is the most excellent antidote. Like Loving-kindness, it must eventually extend without limit to embrace all life and beings, and is a mark of a true Bodhisattva, who is moved by Compassion to alleviate the suffering of all sentient beings.


Among contemporary writers, the 14th Dalai Lama has written comprehensively on the subject, practice, and implications of Compassion as one of the four “Immeasurables” (Brahma Vihàras), and his books can be found here:  http://www.amazon.com/Dalai-Lamas-Book-Love-Compassion/dp/000712287X

As an antidote to the poison of envy, the third of the Brahma Vihàras is Sympathetic Joy, and is characterized by an authentic appreciation and pleasure in the well-being and success of others. It is the altruistic smile, even in the presence of doom-sayers, and accounts for the happiness experienced when others are happy. In its meditational application, it serves to counteract feelings of resentment and jealousy. Even when facing difficulties ourselves, we can let go of our personal self-interests and celebrate the achievements and joy of others when we have truly integrated this attitude into our view.

sympathetic joy 3

Of the four Vihàras, it might just be the most difficult to fully embody, since envy is perhaps the most pernicious of the vexations afflicting us in this human realm. This is due in large part to our competitive nature born of deep-rooted survival motives, and compounded by the type of conditioning and socialization so prevalent in these times, which stresses the predominance of self-interest, even at others’ expense. In fact, it has been noted by astute observers of the human animal that people are much more ready to sympathize with the misfortunes of others than to rejoice with them.

The ability to feel a genuine joy in another’s happiness, equal to one’s satisfaction with one’s own, represents a rare state of mind, and hence qualifies as one of the four sublime attitudes. However, since all the Brahma Vihàras are inter-dependent, one must be able to access a genuine affection for others, characterized by both the friendliness of Loving-kindness and the empathy of Compassion, for this quality to take root and mature into one’s everyday consciousness. Likewise, without such Sympathetic Joy, the other qualities might be mere empty shells. All three require a sincere and even profound opening at the heart, and likewise, all three must be supported by the fourth virtue – Equanimity.


Real understanding regarding the nature and purpose of our appearance can only be skillfully utilized when one is stabilized in Equanimity, and so in this anxious and conflicted realm we call “the world”, such actionable wisdom appears to be very rare. Moreover, none can claim it, for to make such a claim is itself a symptom of understanding’s absence. Every claim, every concept, falls short of true understanding. Every concept pointing to some self-image is a form of stress and dis-ease. In order to deconstruct the fortress of Ignorance, we require real Equanimity, born of detachment, and informed by Recognition.

When we are anchored enough in Equanimity to recognize the nature of consciousness, we can readily observe that consciousness itself is stressful. Even in the most conventionally desirable and pleasurable circumstances, we can see how a subtle sense of discomfort and dissatisfaction permeates our felt experience of life. Even the most intense joys are fleeting, and all that we might cherish is ultimately impermanent. Painful situations of course are self-evidently stressful. In fact, Buddha’s First Noble Truth is that life is dissatisfying, stressful, suffering (Dukkha).

anger 3

The poet-sage Eknath, when contemplating the arrival of consciousness, exclaimed, “I am stung by a scorpion!” Invariably, when mind appears, there is perturbation. Conversely, when mind dissolves in true understanding, there is rest. Relaxed and at rest in the midst of perturbation is true understanding, true equanimity. However, from a less than comprehensive perspective, it may seem for us as if there is only perturbation:

one endless stretch of falling dominoes, movement always in reaction, whittled down to the fine mind bones of a core contraction — this troublesome trick we call “myself” — so that we never come to peace at heart. In that story, there seems to be a matrix of enduring identity, of unbroken continuity, that feels just like “me”, trapped in a play of ambivalent circumstance that changes like the shifting schemes of shallow sleep we twist in while we dream.


Looking further into this apparent dilemma through the power of True Inquiry, anchored in Equanimity, we can realize that it’s not so. No such actual character can be found – nothing but a cobble of thoughts and memories that we’ve taken to be a self. It’s like a story we’ve been telling ourselves, a meaning we’ve superimposed on life, in order to avoid the looming emptiness of how things seem, and hence distract ourselves from our primal boredom, doubt, and discomfort. The obvious problem with such a strategy, however, is that it comes back to bite us, and thus we suffer the futile fruits of our own would-be escape plans.

Still, the one who seems perturbed, entangled, stressed, and in perpetual dilemma is not the end of the story. It actually is the story, and nothing more that: a fanciful narrative that is purely a product of the imagination – a fabricated mind state — and therein lies the clue to its undoing. With the benefit of true Equanimity, and supported by the other three virtues of Loving-kindness, Compassion, and Sympathetic Joy, we have within us all we need to see through the self-delusion and realize genuine liberation from the poisons of Ignorance, Greed, Hatred, and Envy. May all beings be happy, may all beings be free!


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About Bob OHearn

My name is Bob O'Hearn, and I live with my Beloved Mate, Mazie, and our lazy dog, Amos, in a lovely little mountain town called Paradise, situated on the ridge of the Little Grand Canyon, in the Northern California Sierra Nevadas. I have 6 sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: http://www.pbase.com/1heart Essays on the Conscious Process: https://theconsciousprocess.wordpress.com/ Poetry and Prosetry: http://feelingtoinfinity.wordpress.com/ Transliterations: http://freetransliterations1.blogspot.com/ Love Poems and Duets with Mazie: http://lovesight.wordpress.com/ Autobiographical Fragments, Stories, and Fables: http://travelsindreamland.wordpress.com/ Thank You!
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8 Responses to Emotional Intelligence and Skillful Living

  1. Admirer of your work says:
  2. Bob OHearn says:

    “There are only two states of consciousness that exist – the state of the ego and the state of love. The ego is the narrow state, the seed-form, the atomic stage; love is all encompassing, love is God. The center of the ego is I; the ego exists for itself. The nectar of love is the universe. Love exists for all. The ego is exploitation; love is service. And the service that flows from love, freely and spontaneously, is non-violence.”
    ~Siddharameshwar Maharaj

  3. Bob OHearn says:

    “Awareness is dynamic, love is being. Awareness is love in action. By itself the mind can actualise any number of possibilities, but unless they are prompted by love, they are valueless. Love precedes creation. Without it there is only chaos.”

    ~Nisargadatta Maharaj

  4. Bob OHearn says:

    Opening to receive love:

    There are many ways to show that you are open to receive love. These are merely some of them.

    1. With forgiveness. Forgiving yourself and forgiving others opens an enormous door of opportunity to receive love, from yourself, as well as from others.

    2. With trust. Trusting others, as well as trusting in your own heart opens an enormous door of opportunity to receive love.

    3. With creativity. Creativity opens yourself up to internal and external energy exchange and inspiration. This opens an enormous door of opportunity to receive love, from within yourself, as well as from others you inspire with your creation.

    4. With interactivity. Interactivity with other beings, of all creatures great and small, opens an enormous door of opportunity to receive love, whereas they who isolate themselves from all others close the door to receive.

    5. With communication. Communicating words such as ‘I would like some help’ and ‘I would like a hug’ opens an enormous door of opportunity to receive love, for your needs are not always known by others unless you communicate them.

    6. With action. Actions such as to perform a personal meditation, or perhaps to construct a charity store opens an enormous door of opportunity to receive love. Without action, love is merely a concept of mind.

    7. With kindness. Kindness given freely to others, and all things, allows others to receive more love.
    They are therefore able to find more love in their own hearts to give to others. Kindness opens an enormous door of opportunity to receive love, for kindness is the key.

    8. With honesty. Honesty opens an enormous door of opportunity to receive love, for truth is the ocean upon which love sails free. To be honest with yourself and with others empowers you to be open to the truth. If you are open to receive truth, then you are open to receive love.

    9. With patience. Patience acknowledges the acceptance of ‘the process’ of events. Patience opens an enormous door of opportunity to receive love, for patience is a part of acceptance, and in order to receive you must first learn to ‘accept’.

    10. With giving. You will notice that all aforementioned points indicate a state of giving. They all represent the action and process of transferring energy and influence outward from within. They are all radiating Self outward to the universe. By giving outward of your Self in this way, you are allowing the universe to act as a mirror to reflect that which you give, to return back to you to receive. For THERE IS ONLY ONE OF US. One who is not open to give, is therefore not open to receive.

    May your heart feed your soul, and your soul feed the world.

  5. Bob OHearn says:

    “Learning how to love is the goal and the purpose of spiritual life—not learning how to develop psychic powers, not learning how to bow, chant, do yoga, or even meditate, but learning to love.”

    ~ Lama Surya Das

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