“There is widespread misunderstanding about love and compassion that is difficult to correct. It is certainly wrong, but the snag is that it also contains an element of truth. Take, for example, the love we feel for our pet dog. Generally, this kind of love is prompted by our need for companionship, unquestioning adoration and obedience—it’s satisfying to see a dog sit when we tell him [her] to. In a way, it is a kind of love, but it is incomplete. Profound love is entirely unconditional, devoid of expectation, personal agendas and selfish motives. To feel profound love for a dog would mean not only caring for him [her] by feeding him [her], taking him [her] for walks and keeping him [her] clean, but at the highest possible level, to give him [her] the opportunity to discover the dharma, which will eventually lead him [her] to enlightenment.

As the term suggests, the four immeasurables is a practice that is made up of four contemplations that are immeasurable in every way, including the immeasurable objects of our practice: all sentient beings. What are the four immeasurable thoughts?


The contemplation of love develops the wish that all sentient beings will be happy and always encounter the causes of happiness. Start by thinking, “May all sentient beings be happy right now, at this very moment.” Then call to mind someone who is suffering from serious depression right now. As you think, “May all sentient beings enjoy happiness,” imagine that this person gets exactly what he [she] needs to alleviate his [her] depression and make the wish, “May he [she] encounter all the causes of happiness and, ideally, the dharma.”

Therefore, the first immeasurable thought is, “May all sentient beings enjoy happiness and the causes of happiness.” It differs from the ordinary humanitarian idea of giving, because rather than just providing one person with a meal or a bed, we are giving absolutely everyone both happiness and the causes of happiness.


Here, we develop the wish that sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. Focusing once again on the person suffering from depression, as well as all the depressed people in this world, think, “May they be free from both depression and the causes of depression.” The causes, in this case, are their emotions and their unvirtuous thoughts and actions. “May they be freed from all their sufferings this very moment!” And also, “May sentient beings refrain from killing, stealing, lying and all the negative emotions that cause unhappiness.” With this contemplation you have both given sentient beings happiness and its causes, and separated them from unhappiness and suffering and the causes of unhappiness and suffering.

Karma Chagme Rinpoche said that although all sentient beings had, at one time or another, been his mother, as they have no memory of that relationship, they feel free either to attack him or remain strangers. We, on the other hand, know of our connection; how, then, can we not be friendly with everyone?

This is probably true for all of us. For example, if your loving mother suddenly went crazy and attacked you, your first reaction would probably be concern, followed by an upsurge of even more love and compassion for her.


Next, we develop the wish that sentient beings will never be separated from “happiness” and “not suffering” by arousing a sense of appreciative joy: “May all sentient beings remain joyful forever.”

Joy is extremely important within the context of these immeasurable contemplations because even though we make a wish that everyone be completely happy, we still tend to feel jealous of those who appear better off than we are. Jealousy and envy are what I call “loser” emotions, and the antidote to them both is to arouse a sense of appreciative joy.


Lastly, since sentient beings suffer as a result of their attachment and aggression, we wish for them to be freed from all hopes and fears, aggression and attachment to worldly things (the eight worldly dharmas), so that eventually even the idea of making distinctions will not occur to them.


May all sentient beings abide in equanimity,

free from bias, attachment and anger.

May they be free from hope and fear,

passion and aggression.

May they have no notion of “family” or “enemy”;

May they remain impartial,

neither aggressive to enemies nor attached to friends,

And thus may all beings and all phenomena be equal.

Allowing this thought to rest in your mind is the practice of equanimity.

Practitioners must invest time and energy in calling to mind these four contemplations, and although it may sound abstract, like building an infinitely long ladder into the sky, always remember that this is a very important method for training the mind. Bodhisattvas need to develop unwavering courage and motivation, and you should start the process here and now. Contemplate each thought separately, applying it first to your loved ones, then extending it to your friends and neighbours, and eventually to all sentient beings. And it is not just an exercise in wishful thinking. Ultimately, we are making a heartfelt aspiration that all sentient beings be freed from making the distinction between good and bad, right and wrong.

There are good reasons for these four thoughts to be described as “immeasurable”—it’s a word we should pay some attention to, and should be understood in the context of “the path is the goal.” As it is now, when we pray, “May all sentient beings be enlightened,” we automatically imagine that bringing all beings to enlightenment is a measurable goal and that there is an end to the process. But there isn’t. If there were, we would be contemplating “the four measurable thoughts.” So, we must get used to the idea that our spiritual path has an immeasurable goal and that we follow it with an immeasurable attitude and an immeasurable motivation. In other words, no goal, no end to the process and a goal-less motivation.”

~ from Not for Happiness: A Guide to the So-Called Preliminary Practices, by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse

“In essence, this book explains what a Buddhist really is, namely, someone who deeply understands the truth of impermanence and how our emotions can trap us in cycles of suffering. Khyentse presents the fundamental tenets of Buddhism in simple language, using examples we can all relate to.”

“DZONGSAR JAMYANG KHYENTSE (Khyentse Norbu) is a TibetanBuddhist lama who travels and teaches internationally and is also an award-winning filmmaker. He is the abbot of several monasteries in Asia and the spiritual director of meditation centers in Vancouver, San Francisco, Sydney, Hong Kong, and Taipei. He is also head of a Buddhist organization called Siddhartha’s Intent.”

(Posted by Learn from Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, Facebook, 14 February 2024)


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