When we are confronted with difficult situations, the Buddha encouraged us to respond with the four sublime states. Our teachers, including Ven. Ajahn Tong, Ven. Ajahn Ofer and Khun Thanat frequently stress the importance of this teaching to us.
1. Loving kindness: whenever we have an opportunity to help someone in need with wisdom we should help him right away without hesitation. This is an obvious way to generate good will among our friends, neighbours and colleagues.
2. Compassion: Even when a person behaves in a such as way that causes his or her own difficulties, we should not be deterred in our commitment to helping him. Since we are not perfect ourselves, we have an interest in promoting a compassionate and forgiving culture.
3. Sympathetic joy: If after helping a person she becomes better than us, we will not indulge in jealousy. Instead, we will join her in celebrating her success. There is nothing to be gained from a a jealous attitude except bitterness. It’s much more enjoyable to be happy for people when they succeed.
4. Neutral: If a person responds with anger whenever we try to help him, we will put ourselves into neutral position, which means we do not respond to that person’s anger. Reacting to unpleasant behaviour either with a positive or a negative response only encourages it. The lack of a response allows the negative energy to dissipate on its own.
What makes the Buddha’s teaching so special is that he did more than point out this path to us. If he had stopped at doing that it would be of limited use because the four sublime states do not necessarily come naturally to everyone nor does everyone agree that they are the ideal response to challenging personalities.
The unique aspect of the Buddha’s teaching is that he gave us a method of discovering for ourselves the correctness of his moral advice. When a person confirms for herself through her own observations in insight meditation that these teachings lead to happiness, the four sublime states arise naturally by themselves.