The Four Immeasurable Minds are loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. Typically, we are taught to begin the practice with meditation on loving-kindness. But, Patrul Rinpoche in his Words of My Perfect Teacher stresses the need for meditating on equanimity first because this removes the danger of having partial or biased love, partial or biased compassion. When we begin on the path, there is a strong tendency to have stronger love towards those we like and lesser love towards those we don’t like. Once we have developed wisdom with this meditation, it becomes true love, which cares for each and every person without any bias. This is the purest compassion because it cares for everyone.
We meditate first to cultivate impartiality or equanimity, then we go on to meditate on the others, and thereby develop bodhicitta. Equanimity means not being influenced by attachment or aggression (cultivating the heart that does not dwell in aversion). Loving-kindness means wanting everyone to attain happiness. Compassion means wanting to free everyone from suffering. Joy means rejoicing in the success and happiness of everyone, delighting when sentient beings are in peace and happiness. Bodhisattvas are not jealous of the sentient beings’ achievement. They regard the achievement of the sentient beings being the same or even better than that of their own. Bodhisattvas have the immeasurable mind of joy. So the chant is said in this way:
May I dwell in equanimity free from attachment, aggression and ignorance. May I attain happiness. May I be free from suffering. May I rejoice in the success and happiness of all beings.
As we sit, we begin by thinking of ourselves first, chanting these aspirations for our own freedom, then we think of our loved ones, the neutral person–some one we see frequently but don’t know really–then, our benefactor or mentor, the difficult one, and then all beings everywhere. We can go through all of the “categories” in one sitting or practice with each one for as long as it takes for the wish to become genuine. We could even say this spontaneously when we see someone or hear of someone who is suffering and needs energetic and spiritual support. However this practice is done, it will certainly be beneficial to us, and to those we think of with loving-kindness–metta.