The Brahma Viharas are said to be excellent or sublime because they are the right, or ideal way of conduct towards living beings. On this retreat we will bring kindness (metta), compassion (karuna), sympathetic joy (mudita) and equanimity (upekkha) to whatever mental states arise, both on and off the cushion. We will explore the Brahma Viharas as sources of inspiration, combining this with a practical, down to earth approach, being honest about where we are in our spiritual practice (not where we think we should be).
[The Brahma Viharas,] provide the answer to all situations arising from social contact. They are the great removers of tension, the great peace-makers in social conflict, the great healers of wounds suffered in the struggle of existence; levellers of social barriers, builders of harmonious communities, awakeners of slumbering magnanimity long forgotten, revivers of joy and hope long abandoned, promoters of human brotherhood [and sisterhood] against the forces of egotism.'
If we already embodied the Brahma Viharas fully then we wouldn't need to cultivate them. We'd already be Enlightened! All of us are capable of kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. However, at times our working ground may lie within the traditional 'near and far enemies' of a specific Brahma Vihara. For example, however much we would like to feel kindness toward a colleague, maybe we only feel resentment. When faced with suffering in the world, maybe we feel overwhelmed by 'horrified anxiety'. Hearing of a friend's good fortune, maybe we experience envy. When practising the Brahma Viharas it is important to start where we are, even as we aspire to experience the limitless heart and mind when these 'Four Immeasurables' are fully realized.
The retreat will have a meditation focus but will also include daily talks, discussion, meditation workshops, sharing about practice (in pairs or small groups) as well as chanting and ritual. A typical day would be:
6.30 Rising bell
7.00 Mindfulness of Breathing meditation
8.00 Metta Bhavana meditation
(9.30-10.30 work period, e.g. chopping veg)
10.45 Brahma Vihara talk followed by discussion
12.00 Brahma Vihara meditation
4.00 meditation workshop or small groups
5.30 Coming into the body session
8.00 meditation, chanting or ritual
There will be silence overnight after the evening shrine room activity until after breakfast or mid-morning. Toward the end of the retreat there will be a full day of silence.