Application of Four Bhavanas in Living a Holistic Life

Nov 29, 2020

Man of 21st century is equipped with tools through which he can be well connected with people and places that he only dreamt of a hundred years ago. But while operating these tools, he slowly loses connection with his inner self. He gets so engrossed in looking outside that he forgets to look inside. With every new invention of modern sciences, he believes himself to be going closer to lasting happiness. But in fact, with each such step, he goes far from it. Where modern sciences do help man understand and utilise external aspects of things better, internal aspects too need to be understood well in order to perceive things in their totality. Otherwise, man would be misguided in his quest of lasting happiness. Thus, a multi- dimensional approach of observing world is today’s need for leading a balanced life.

In the fast pacing lifestyle of current times, humans live extremely competitive life. Instead of understanding the fact that progress of every individual is unique from the other individual; one constantly finds himself in conflict with people around him, who are at different stages of their progress. It often results into stress, disappointment, hatred, anger, pride and other such negative feelings. No modern science tool can help cure these mental human sufferings. Spirituality has to step in to help man live in harmony with the world around him. The concept of four Bhavanas provides guidance in dealing with this matter.

This concept of four Bhavanas proposes to develop a feeling of friendliness in relation to beings in general (maitrī), a feeling of gladness in relation to those superior to oneself in merits (pramoda), a feeling of compassion for those in misery (karuṇā) and a feeling of neutrality in relation towards those not amenable to reason (mādhyastha). The present study examines four Bhavanas in the view of applying them in living a holistic life. While thisconcept has been explained in various texts of Yoga philosophy throughout the ages, this study is based on the 1667 AD work Śanta-Sudhārasa by Upadhyaya Vinayvijayji.

The Śanta-Sudhārasa discusses sixteen Bhavanas, out of which first twelve Bhavanas are called Anuprekṣā Bhavanas. Their purpose is to make soul realise its relation with outer things, how that relation was created and how long it is going to last. Literal meaning of Anuprekṣā is introspection. It relates soul with its original form. The other four Bhavanas are Parā Bhavanas, also known as Yoga Bhavanas. Their purpose is to create a connection between Saṃsāra (worldly existence) and Dharma-dhyāna. They are called Parā Bhāvanā because when they are being meditated upon, they bring fine (para), auspicious result. In Jñānārṇava of Acharya Shubhachandra, it is sited that sages take refuge to these four Bhavanas for accomplishment of Dharma-dhyāna. Upadhyaya Vinayavijayaji calls them the best medicine for Dharma-dhyāna.

riendliness (Maitri)
Friendliness is the essential need of the hour. Here, the author tells the Ātman to create friendliness, affection and love everywhere. He proposes the idea of Friendship on a huge scale. The Ātman has to wish that may every living being in every place of the universe would be happy. May they all be grounded in equanimity that their confusions, disturbing thoughts and troubles would end;  so that, they experience peace. A person, who feels friendly towards everyone, would wish that people who feel passion and hatred towards him, would seize to feel so. He would also include himself when he would wish that Rāga-dveṣa would be eliminated from the world.

If there would be enmity in one’s mind, he will also perceive it everywhere. But here the author reminds the Ātman that jivas (living beings) towards whom the Ātman feels hostility, have been his friends and relatives in innumerable previous births. And it would not fit proper to him to feel hostility towards jivas who had been his friends once. Instead, if he would consider that he doesn’t have any enemy then indeed there would be no enemy.

Inner hostility is materialised as anger. Like fire, it first burns the place where it has started and then goes on destroying everything else around it. That is why to have hostility towards any living being is not affordable to the soul. If he is unable to give a new life to anyone, then he also does not have any right to take it. Not only that, it is also not suitable forhim to hurt anyone’s feelings. Instead of that, he should practice two things which nourishFriendship i. e. being a fish of Sama-rasa (sama-rasa-mīna) and being a Swan, who has right judgement (viveka-kala-haṃsatā)7. Once the feeling of equanimity is developed, then the person would never prefer to grudge hatred against anyone. And once a person would learn to choose guṇas for himself, he would never opt for vices.

While concluding the subject of Friendliness, the author pleads the reader to just taste friendliness once. He is sure that once it has been tasted, one would not resist practicing it more and more day by day. That will simplify his journey.

espect for Virtue (Pramoda)
Pramoda is to feel glad on seeing virtues of others. It is to praise them, respect them and to value them. To develop any virtue in oneself, the first thing to do is to recognise those who have that virtue. When one starts to look for and appreciate virtues in others, one becomes tolerant and his power of perceiving virtues strengthens. He will try to see virtues of even those living beings, which are at lower level of spiritual progress. His feelings would spread universally while he would be extending his love towards them. His Pramoda Bhavana would not be restricted to any appearance or attire. He will never limit his appreciation to any religion, sect or group of people. He will pay his respect to anyone in whom he will see the qualities of content, truthfulness, generosity, humility, modesty, compassion, equanimity, patience, etc.

The author makes the readers aware by telling them that accomplishment of their birth isinlistening tovirtuesofgreatmen,appreciating themandfeelinghappy onseeingprosperity of others. He appeals them to be interested in listening to praises of sages. By this, their qualities will be purified. And purification of qualities means progress in those virtues, which he appreciates in others. This is the secret of acquiring those virtues. Upadhyayaji further encourages the reader to pursue just one virtue, because he is sure that others will follow it. He asks the reader to praise virtues devotionally, lovingly, in whichever way one knows to do; but praise he must. When one will decide to see only virtues in others, he will see them everywhere. This will result into tranquility.

ompassion (Karuā)
While thinking about sufferings of others and searching for their remedies, one forgets himself and expands his compassion towards the world. Such a compassionate person notices sufferings of many kinds. He notices diseases, distress, mental illnesses, quarrels, addictions, violence, fear, poverty, war etc. He also feels pain when he sees people being stressed by the desires of obtaining different things and then again being stressed by the worries of keeping those obtained things safe. He realises that the cause of all these sufferings lies in rāga (passion) and dveṣa (hatred). His sympathy towards the sufferers and thoughts regarding their cure bring him serenity of mind. Two adjectives are given to this serenity of mind (Manaḥprasāda). They are Nirvikāra (unchanged) and Āyāti-sundara (auspicious for thefuture) .

However, Upadhyayaji Maharaj does not stop at narrating how a heart full of compassion feels. He also guides with the solution to cure the surrerings. He shows the path of worshipping the most compassionate Tīrthaṅkara Paramātmā, who wished that every single living being would be free from the bondages of Karma. Here, worshipping does not only mean performing rituals. To worship Paramātmā, is to act according to his teachings. His teachings are such that it will show a way out of these sufferings and will lead the jiva to go further on the path of spiritual progress. The author suggests reflecting upon humansufferings through the point of view of Āgamas, which have their roots in penance and sacritice. Just like tating refuge of paramātmā and his teachings can help man from sufferings. A sadguru too can help him with his knowledge.

Another solution is suggested by the author, wherein he recommends to abandon or lessen activities that cause Āśrava (inflow if karma), Vikathā (non-religious tales viz tales relatedtowoman, food, stateandtheft), Gārava (arrogance) and Kāma. And then he emphases on practicing Saṃvara (the prevention of the accumulation of new karmas) . (As these topics are too vast, I’m refraining to include them in this paper. )

Friendliness and Compassion are interrelated. In friendliness, love extents far and wide in its purest of forms and in compassion, sympathy does the same. Through compassion one can enjoy the pleasure of worshipping paramātmā. It is not something that is to be meditated upon in solitude, but something to be practiced in the society around us.

A sympathetic person would naturally try to help out people who are lost from the path of spirituality, who are living a life full of vices or who are blinded by the false knowledge. But when such people refuse to accept any help, they should be disregarded thinking that they are subject to their karmas18. This is Mādhyastha Bhavana. Here, one does convince his mind to be indifferent, but with a feeling of sorrow.

By preventing passion and hatred, neutrality is achieved. The more efforts a jiva puts into preventing his rāga (passion) and dveṣa (hatred), the more he will succeed in cultivating neutrality. When the person realises that every living being depends solely on his karmas, he will stop making judgements on seeing happy or distressful people. Mostly, these judgements that either includes praise or criticism are generated as a result of passion or hatred.

Neutrality is capable to relieve a man who is exhausted from diseases like saṃsāra. Such a disappointed soul finds solace in neutrality.

Upadhyayaji Maharaj gives example of Tīrthaṅkara paramātmā to the man who wishes to spread the message of right path by force. Tīrthaṅkara paramātmā has enough strength to conquer all three worlds. And yet he never tried to make anyone follow his pathby force19. Likewise propagator or messenger of any faith should also resist from making anyone accept his faith by force or tricks.

In today’s time of information explosion, one can receive uninterrupted stream of news from any corner of the world. This leads him to constantly think about matters of others. International affairs, national politics, state news, what is happening to whom in his family etc. but in such pursuit, he forgets to think about himself. The author suggests to take out time for one’s self and think about matters of his interest. Stability of mind is preferable to that of wasting his energy in unnecessary thinking.

Many a times it happens that while one fails to make any impact upon others by teachings, he loses control over his mind. It is crucial in such situations to be stable and be satisfied with your effort irrespective of their results20. Here the author strongly recommends practicing equanimity (samatā). In the presence of equanimity, ange cannot emerge. Thus, the person seeking peace of mind should steadily make efforts to accomplish the quality of equanimity. The other two ways of developing Mādhyastha Bhavana is to have unity in one’s speech and actions and not depend on pudgal (matter).

While concluding the topic of Mādhyastha Bhavana, Upadhyayaji Maharaj gives it simile of Tīrtha. The word ‘Tīrtha’ has many meanings. One of them is channel. And rightly it is a connection between Saṃsāra and Mokśa. It is delightful and beautiful. Such a Tīrtha should be reminisced21.

These four Bhavanas are the causes of tranquillity. They guide a human being towards the right path and teach him to understand things in their totality. So that the illusions that caused his sufferings would dissolve helping him to lead a holistic life. 

-Mana Apoorva Shah