‘Love is the water of compassion’: Tāranātha on the ‘four immeasurables’ in ‘A Hundred Blazing Lights’

Jetsun Tāranātha

Today, for the anniversary of the parinirvāṇa of Jetsun Tāranātha (28th of the 3rd Tibetan month), and as part of the launch of the new publication of Tāranātha’s Meaningful to See, this post, is about the section from his more extensive commentary, A Hundred Blazing Lights on the second preliminary practice, ‘generating a mind of awakening’, in which he concludes that when meditating on the four immeasurables of love, compassion, joy and equanimity, in order to give rise to the mind of awakening (bodhicitta), compassion is the most important of the four. In this section, Tāranātha explains the importance of the immeasurables, the faults of not having and benefits of having them, their nature and more. He quotes extensively from Ornament of the Mahayana Sutras (Mahāyāna Sūtrālamkāra kārikā,  ཐེག་པ་ཆེན་པོའི་མདོ་སྡེའི་རྒྱན) to support his explanations.

The cause of bodhicitta

First, Tāranātha explains the four immeasurables and why they are so important for the Mahāyāna path:

 ….the cause of generating bodhicitta (the mind of awakening) when it has not yet been generated. It stabilises the generation of it. As it is the unsurpassable method for increasing what has been generated, all yogis on the Mahāyāna path, should make strenuous effort to meditate on the practice of the four immeasurables.

Faults of not having the four immeasurables

With respect to this, the first point is the fault of not having the four immeasurables. It will lead to one’s mind being completely stirred by afflictive emotions; ill-will and malice, a hostile and resentful mind, disliking it when others have happiness. Without the opposing antidotes to pleasure-seeking out of attachment and desire, the negative and destructive physical, verbal and mental conduct will increase. Due to pleasure-seeking and the mind that wants harm, other afflictive emotions will also increase and flourish. It will cause the arisal of infinite faults and dangers, both now and in the future. It is also said in the Ornament of the Mayahana Sutras:[1]

The bodhisattva who is malicious, violent, unhappy,
and addicted to malice and lust,
undergoes many kinds of faults.
These faults destroy (the bodhisattva) oneself,
destroys [the happiness of] other beings,
and destroy ethical discipline.
Damaged, impoverished, defenseless,
rebuked by teachers, unpleasant words and conflicts,
born in the inopportune states,
deprived of what one has attained or not attained,
one gets huge mental suffering.

In relation to faults, even though all afflictive emotions and negative conduct are generally defects, however, since the root, or predominant [minds], of all these are attachment and craving, hostility and not rejoicing, they are said to be the faults.

Benefits of the four immeasurables

In terms of the benefits, he says:

 From Ornament of the Mahayana Sutras:[1a]

If one is well established in love and so on, the faults will not arise.
Without afflictions, one never gives up working for the sake of sentient beings in samsara.

The antidote to hatred is love. The antidote to wanting to harm and injure others is compassion.  The antidote to not rejoicing [at other’s happiness] is rejoicing.  The antidote to both craving pleasure and wanting to harm others, is equanimity towards those close and distant.  [Cultivating] the four immeasurables enables one to abandon those afflictions. By abandoning them, the faults of the afflictive emotions will not arise again in the future either.

Even though in the Abhidharma there are many explanations about the way of abandoning in dependence on the preparatory stages of meditative concentration.[2] Here it is not necessary to present this.  In terms of the explanation that loving kindness and so on,  do not abandon the seeds of the afflictions, it is explained like that in general (spyi ldog) for worldly beings [non-Buddhists] and sravakas. For Bodhisattvas of dull faculties, who do not know the skilful methods, is it also explained like that. For those [bodhisattvas of dull faculties, hearers, self-realisers and non-Buddhists] they [the four immeasurables] are only antidotes for suppressing and directly stopping the afflictive emotions. However for Bodhisattvas who know the skilful means, since they have realized the selflessness of phenomena, the four immeasurables are also an antidote which can greatly eliminate the seeds and habitual tendencies of the afflictive emotions.  Therefore, even though the mere aspect of love is not an antidote that can eliminate the seeds [of the afflictions], the meditative equipoise on the immeasurables of love and so on, are necessarily distinguished from that as having the power to destroy the seeds. Since love and so on do not contradict delusion, they cannot completely eliminate the faults.

Those who boast ‘I am an expert’ after hearing only the spoken words and having a rough approximation of them, this is conceited vanity and the stories of those who are not experts. The bodhisattvas in all three realms abandoned the afflictions and by the power of aspiration and samadhi, took rebirth in samsara. This amazing conduct of not abandoning working for the welfare of sentient beings everywhere, is [due to the] the force of the four immeasurables.

Thus, abandoning the faults and afflictions, and establishing one a supreme Arya who works for the benefit of sentient beings, these are described as the main benefits.  Additionally, it is explained that another benefit is the function of the immeasurables to bring about the ‘five results’[4]:

[Quote from the Ornament of the Mahayana Sutras][5]:

One will continually abide in the realm of Brahma[1][6],
or born in the desire [realms] of intelligent ones[2].
As a result, one can perfectly accumulate merit [3] and
thoroughly ripen all sentient beings[4].
One will never be separated from the Brahma realms and
and thus devoid of opposing conditions.
Even if the condition of mindlessness arises
it will not be without ceaseless.

The ‘nature’ of the immeasurables

Tāranātha goes on to define the ‘nature’ of the four immeasurables as follows:

Loving-kindness is the wish that sentient beings meet with fresh and unprecedented bliss.  Similarly, compassion is the wish that they be separated from suffering and, from now onwards, the ways in which suffering arises are stopped. Joy is the mental bliss that is brought forth by rejoicing and liking it when other sentient beings experience happiness and joy.

When these three [immeasurables] are drawn out, it is a specific mind that is similar to not having any aversion or anger and not possessing any attachment. That is called equanimity. Equanimity itself is a steadfast basis for virtuous minds and so on. The mind that equalises those who are close and distant is the source of the cause of non-attachment and non-aversion. With loving-kindness, the first of the three, since is it is possible for attachment to be mixed with it and this is an affliction, faults could occur afterwards. With equanimity, since this potential fault is eliminated, it is taught as having the characteristic of being pure and without, or not mixed with, the afflictions.

Compassion is that which wants to eliminate the obstacles to happiness of sentient beings. Both love and joy, are wanting genuine happiness and bliss for sentient beings. Thus, those three are about the thought of happiness alone. Since the mind of equanimity is devoid of hostility and aversion on side but also has the attribute of the intention of happiness with no attachment to oneself,  to also establish sentient beings in a state without aversion or attachment, it is the mind that benefits itself. So, equanimity is a mind that is both about [wanting] benefit and happiness [for others].  The nature of the four immeasurables, such as loving-kindness and so on, are like that.

However, Tāranātha then states that love, and the other immeasurables, cannot by themselves free one from desires and attachment:

Merely meditating on love and so on, does not have the power to free oneself from desires and attachment, so it is not correct to say one can do this, when being born in the Brahma realms.

He continues with an explanation as to why some on the lower paths, who follow mainly the Abhidharma, may erroneously think that the meditations on coarser levels of ‘peace’ are the final goal ‘and that the tradition of the superior unique, definitive Mahayana is mistaken. In order to clear away any such mental dullness, I have said a little.’

For that reason, among the four immeasurables, the most important is that of compassion.  If one has compassion the six pāramitās can arise. If one does not have compassion, one cannot enter into the training of the Bodhisattvas.

The importance of compassion

Avalokiteshvara, Chaturbhuja (see: https://www.himalayanart.org/items/73807)

Tāranātha then gives a poetic quote on the importance and necessity of compassion from the Ornament of the Mahayana Sutras[7], comparing compassion to the roots of a tree, with love being the ‘water’ that increases and nourishes its growth:

Compassion, tolerance, ambition, aspiration, life, and the full maturation of living beings;
this is the great tree of compassion beginning with the root and ending with the superior fruit.
If compassion were not the root, there would be no endurance of difficult deeds.
If one could not bear up under suffering, one would have no ambition for the sake of beings.
without such ambition, one would not make the aspiration for higher lives.
If one does not manifest higher lives, then one would not develop beings.
One should recognize that love is the watering (for the tree) of compassion;
its broad growth comes from joyous willingness to undergo suffering;
and the vast spread of its branches of great bliss comes from
correctly applied mental attitudes.
The growth and fall of leaves comes from the unbroken continuum of aspirations.
Fertile flowers and fruits come from success in the two objectives, oneself and others.

Thus for loving-kindness, it is the cause that increases compassion. If there is compassion, then one has the power to be patient with performing difficult actions for the sake of sentient beings. If one has that patience and forbearance, then the distinct mind [bodhicitta] that carries the burden of acting for the welfare of sentient beings will arise.  It plants a kind of mind similar to that which one aspires will arise, the distinctive aspiration for the benefit of beings.  Then from that, one can perform the infinite benefit for all wanderers.  By those causes, one will perfect the two accumulations and become a fully awakened Buddha. Yet, if one abandons compassion, since all of that will not arise, for the bodhicitta aspiration, the accomplishment of compassion is particularly emphasized.


[1] Chapter XVII, Verses 24, 25 and 26, D4020.

[1a] Chapter XVII, Verse 27, D4020.

[2] Divisions—for the first concentration, the “not unable”: (1) mental engagement of a beginner; (2) mental engagement of individual investigation of characteristics; (3) mental engagement of belief; (4) mental engagement of thorough isolation; (5) mental engagement of either joy or withdrawal; (6) mental engagement of analysis; (7) mental engagement of final application

[4] The five results: the result of ripening, the result that resembles the cause, the result of absence / freedom, the functioning result, and the dominating result; rgyu mthun gyi ‘bras bu, bdag po’i ‘bras bu, skyes bu byed pa’i ‘bras bu, rnam smin gyi ‘bras bu, bral ba’i ‘bras bu.

[5] D4020 mdo ‘grel (sems tsam), phi 129b-260a (vol. 123).

[6] This is a reference to one of the concentrations of the form realm.

[7] These verses are from the Chapter XVIII, verses 36-40. D4020 phi 1b-39a (vol. 123).


The translations here are provided for not-for-profit, free use and distribution. However, please do source them if you reproduce or share them online or publicly anywhere else. All rights reserved, Adele Tomlin/Dakini Publications 2020.


Leave a Reply