We’re starting the Dhammapada this week in my Asian Ethics course (we’re done now with the Analects and the Tao Te Ching). As I was reading through the book and prepping some notes, I started thinking about the “four virtues” of Buddhism, namely joy, compassion, impartiality and lovingness. We’re called to cultivate all four, and I found myself thinking: which is hardest to do? Which easiest?
In a “rough” sense, the Buddhist virtues look a bit like this:
1. Compassion. A compassionate person can sympathize with a person who is suffering, and want to help that person to no longer feel pain.
2. Lovingness. A loving person doesn’t just want the other person to no longer feel pain, they also have a positive agenda — they want the other person to be happy (in a way that implies not simply the absence of pain).
3. Joy. A joyful person finds happiness in the successes of others.
4. Impartiality. An impartial person can extend him/herself (particularly in the above three ways) to all persons, regardless of who they are. So you can extend yourself to mother and child and friend, and stranger, all equally. Moreover, you can extend these attitudes equally to those who have done you good and those who have done you harm.
Which of these, do you think, is the easiest to do (whether for you personally, or in terms of human beings generally)? Which is the hardest?
Extra note: I’m assuming that most people will say (4) is the hardest. If so, the more interesting follow up question is — with respect to which, between (1) and (3)?