You are a ruby embedded in granite.
How long will you pretend it isn’t true?
We can see it in your eyes.
Come, return to the root of the root of your Self.
There is a teaching — very ancient and ever new: If
you would dwell more fully in the present moment, cultivate four powers:
love, compassion, joy, and peace. Doing so will lead to a
surprising recognition: They are intertwined in such a way that all four
arise together. Practicing any one with open heart and mind leads to
practicing the others. Each enhances each. Each balances and corrects
the others, bringing the quartet back into harmony when disharmony
threatens. Together, these powers constitute a fourfold path to health,
wholeness, and holiness.
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What can we say about this path, this journey?
First, its goal is fourfold. And that
multiplicity makes it communal. Of old, we might have imagined a
city on a mountain with four walls and four gates. The goal is partly
known and partly not known. We do not have a complete blueprint for the
community we seek, but we do know four of its key characteristics. We
know that, at our best, we are seeking: (1) an environment that is
loving and fosters love, (2) a community that is sensitive to the
fragility of life and takes compassionate steps to reduce suffering, (3)
a way of dwelling that is grateful for life and responds in joy, and (4)
a mode of shared living that prizes inner peace and seeks harmony and
reconciliation in outward affairs. This is the ancient and ever-present
human dream: a loving community, a compassionate circle of care, a
joyful belonging, a peaceable kingdom or commonwealth.
Second, the path to the goal is also fourfold.
Process and goal are organically linked. Good seeds become healthy
roots. Healthy roots, well tended, produce good fruits. By their fruits
you shall know them; and the fruits are love, compassion, joy, and
peace. Children play a game where one child thinks of something in the
room. Another child tries to find it. “Hotter, hotter, hotter,” say the
children as their playmate comes closer. “Colder, colder, colder,” say
the children as their playmate moves away from the goal. So the four
powers provide not only a glimpse of the goal but also a kind of compass
to keep us on track. When we are acting more lovingly and
compassionately, more joyfully and more peacefully, surely we are
Third, consider again the communal nature of the
goal. Call it the kingdom, commonwealth, or “kin-dom” (community of
all our kin — humans, other animals, plants, and minerals).
Avalon, the legendary island of Arthurian lore, this communal
reality is always present though hidden. The kingdom or commonwealth of
all our kin is within us and also round about us. As the great sages
teach, it is both “already present in seed” and “not yet fully
realized.” In this
paradox there is hope in troubled times: Because the communal life we
seek is already present in seed, we can water the good seeds. We can
amplify what is already in positive movement. Because the communal life
we seek is already present, we need not take on the burden of “making”
it appear. At times, we need only let go of our old stories and cultural
certainties and see them as the illusions they are. Then the communion
of all beings within us and around us will manifest to our wisdom eye.
Because the manifestation of the four powers is always in process, what
we do and what we release matters.
In dark and difficult times, we are called to go
deeper, into the rich soil of the earth. Called to return to the root of
the root of ourselves. And, if we see deeply, this includes Self, all
our kin in the Circle of Life, and our Mysterious Source.
The Fourfold Path
Among our earliest ancestors, the number four
pointed to wholeness. A community safe within four walls, open through
four gates. Four directions in space. Four seasons in time. Four primal
elements: the fire, the water, the air, and the earth. To speak of
“the Fourfold” is to underline this aspect, that the four are not
separate but profoundly interconnected. When we practice any one of the
four mindfully and insightfully, then we soon see all the others arise
as well. This intertwined aspect resonated through the thinking of our
There are also striking modern counterparts; I offer two
In the eighteenth century, William Blake writes:
Now I a fourfold vision see,
And a fourfold vision is given to me.
He is writing about levels of consciousness which
increase from single vision (a literal way of seeing) to double
vision, which sees symbolically as well as literally. Next, he moves to
threefold vision (the province of love, dream, imagination) and
eventually to fourfold vision (where the dreamtime opens to a fuller
reality than hitherto imagined, a waking dream far more real than the
collective illusions of conventional life). We might say that, here, the
kingdom or kin-dom is vividly before us. Furthermore, each simpler
vision is taken up and resituated in fuller ways of seeing and being.
The ways of seeing are intertwined.
In the twentieth century, philosopher Martin
Heidegger also speaks of a fourfold. His fourfold consists of the Earth,
Sky, Gods, and Mortals. A context wide enough and wise enough for the
mythic perspective to be reclaimed through poetic power. Again, all four
interconnect to form a viable world.
The Fourfold I am exploring — (a) love or loving
kindness, (b) compassion, (c) joy, and (d) peace (or equanimity, as it
is named in the Buddhist tradition) — is far older than Heidegger and
Blake, perhaps as old as some of the native peoples. It arises in
ancient India, the matrix of world religions, where it is known by two
titles: the Four Divine Modes of Dwelling (or the Four Abodes) and the
Four Immeasurable Minds. Let us look at these designations more
First, these four ways of being and doing are
called divine dwellings. When a Hindu Brahman came to the Buddha
and asked what he must do to live with Brahma (“Brahma” being the name
of God in his tradition), the Buddha is said to have answered: “Practice
the four Brahmaviharas” (Brahma meaning “divine”; and viharas,
“dwellings”). Practice the Four Divine Dwellings. Thus, these ways of
dwelling open us to the divine dimension. And as we explore them and
allow them to take root in us, we notice something else. We see that
each is limitless. Each is
beyond measure. Each is open to “the more and ever more.” There is no
end to love or compassion, or joy or peace. Practicing them is enacting
the goal (already present in seed) and also taking steps that are
congruent with the goal, namely acting lovingly, compassionately,
joyfully, and peacefully.
The Buddha recommended that this Hindu gentleman
practice a fourfold way of dwelling already present in his Hindu root
tradition. What a beautiful moment! Here we uncover a teaching older
than the historical Buddha — a trans-religious treasure, ancient enough
to have deep roots, basic enough to be found in all wisdom traditions.
And, because the four are seen as mutually modifying one another, they
help us to break the spell of separateness. They help us to reimagine
life as profoundly interconnected. To feel the resonance with many
traditions, let one of the traditions speak. “By their fruits you shall
know them,” says the young rabbi from Nazareth. And
elsewhere it is written: “What the Spirit produces is love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Love, joy,
and peace show up explicitly, and adding “compassion” — so dear to the
Buddhist tradition — is hardly a stretch. So we have
assurance we are on to something central, so central that it is a
touchstone of healthy and holy living.
Love, Compassion, Joy, and Peace
Let us clarify these four realities in two ways:
First, lessons from language will help us stay flexible in the
way we name the four powers. Second, lessons by contrast will
help us to clarify the four by noting their opposites and what are
called their “near enemies.”
A. Lessons from Language
As nouns (as in the listing above), the four
appear as qualities of character, capacities, and dispositions. There
are twin dangers here: We may see them as static, unchanging, and fixed.
We may see them as qualities that only individuals possess. In fact,
they are dynamic realities — and they manifest at interpersonal,
institutional, and planetary levels.
As verbs, the four are tasks or missions:
- to love — that is, to practice loving kindness or,
alternately, to seek the well-being of the relationship and those within
- to acknowledge suffering and alleviate it,
- to receive life as gift and — being grateful — to
rejoice in it, and
- to be at peace and to promote peace.
As adverbs, the four accompany and modify
all we do, reminding us to do whatever we do (1) lovingly,
(2) compassionately, (3) joyfully, and (4) peacefully.
As modifying one another, the four remind us
that all features are present whenever any one of them is present.
Because the four mutually modify one another, they are a simple yet
profound introduction to a key feature of the new ecological age —
namely, interconnection, interdependence, interbeing.
B. Lessons by Contrast
We can sharpen still further our understanding of
the Fourfold Path by focusing briefly on the opposites of these four
powers and on what is called, in the Buddhist tradition, their “near
enemies.” The near enemies are clever counterfeits, close enough to
cause the unsuspecting to accept the close facsimile for the real thing.
Consider the opposite of love as greed.
Greed wishes to take — at the expense of others. Love
seeks to give — for the well-being of others. The near enemy of love is
Consider the opposite of compassion as hate. Hate
seeks to have others suffer. Compassion seeks to be sensitive to
suffering, to reduce suffering when we can, to bear suffering together
when we must. The near enemy of compassion is pity.
Think of the opposite of joy as a sorrow that moves
to despair — to a place where trust and hope in the meaningfulness of
life fade away, and we are left as if dead. The near enemy of joy —
especially being able to take joy in the good of another — is
Think of the opposite of “being at peace and
fostering peace” as a state of deep opposition issuing in violence,
injustice, and exploitation. The near enemy of equanimity — what I am
calling being at peace and promoting peace — is indifference.
These opposites are all ultimately anti-life;
whereas, the four aspects of wholeness support life.
The Fourfold in a Context for Our Times
Because the Fourfold Path emphasizes interconnection, it addresses urgent needs of the new Ecological
us to expand our field of practice in an ever-widening, multi-layered
First, we expand our hearts to include all
peoples as our brothers and sisters. And as our Human-to-Human
relationships broaden and deepen, we find ourselves invited:
to stand with the prophets of every age for justice among peoples,
to recognize that “All people are my brothers and sisters,”(18) and
to realize that we live in them, and they live in us.
With the Roman playwright Terence we can affirm:
“I am a human being and nothing human is alien to me.”
Second, we expand our hearts — beyond
humans only — to include all beings that co-inhabit this planet with us.
What is being enlarged and expanded here is the sphere of
“Human-to-the-Natural-World” relationships where we are invited:
to regard all things as our companions;
to view the Great Family of all beings as our
to find our place in a communion of all our kin
— humans, animals, plants, minerals; and,
to realize that we live in them and they live
In the past, we were much more attuned to the
natural world; we knew in our bones that all things were and are our
companions. St. Francis of Assisi praised Brother Sun, Sister Moon,
Brothers Wind and Air, Sister Water, Brother Fire, Mother Earth — even
Sister Death. Francis
expands the sense of family to include the Great Family of all creatures
great and small.
As we expand the spheres of our relationships —
both “Human-to-Human” and “Human-to-the-Natural-World” — how we relate
to this enlarged circle of beings changes subtly. In Thomas Berry’s
words, we view the beings no longer as “a collection of objects,” but
rather “a communion of subjects.” This means
we care for all we meet and that we listen to and learn from them as
well. They are in us and we in them.
Third, we expand our temporal horizon to include
the beings of the three times — past, present, and future. In doing
so, we respond to an invitation:
to find our place in the greater community that spans generations — a communion of the living, the dead, and the yet-to-be-born, and
to realize that the ancestors, contemporaries, and children-yet-to-be-born live in us and we in them.
The Navajo remind us that we stand in the midst of
seven generations: between the ancestors and the children yet-to-be-born
— of all species. Before we act, the Navajo advise us to ask two
questions: “Will this honor the ancestors? Will it serve the children?”
This opens a trans-generational context — the
community of the living and the dead and those yet-to-be. One artist
sees this community as a Cosmic Fish swimming through the universe, with
every scale, a face. Christian
mystics speak of “the Communion of Saints.” Suppose we expand this to
include all life forms over eons of time — all holy. The ancestors, the
contemporaries, and all those yet to be — of all species. We are in
them and they in us.
Consider the much-loved poem of Edwin Markham:
|He drew a circle to keep me out
Rebel, heretic, a thing to flout.
Love and I had the wit to win
We drew a circle that took him in.
So the context for working with the Fourfold Path
is an ever-widening one, until we include the Circle of all Life, our
deep Self, and our Mysterious Source.
An Intertwined Practice
A friend and I were talking. She was distressed
because of recent conflicts between her son and his father. Finally, she
said to me, “All I know to do is to increase my love.”
This is our clue. In following the Fourfold Path we
are increasing our love, increasing our compassion, increasing our joy,
and increasing our peaceful presence. Surely in doing so, we are on
solid ground, contributing to community at every level.
In difficult times, we need a middle way — between
fight and flight. Returning
over and over to the Fourfold Path provides that middle way.
We are called to hold to what increases love and
compassion, joy and peace, but to do so without becoming oppositional.
This puts the energy of fighting into greater service. We are called to
release from roles and beliefs that are “too small to live in,” but to
do so without fleeing the world as our precious home. This
transforms the energy of flight to greater service.
So the invitation is to expand the circle, return
to the root of the root of everything and engage in the Fourfold Path.
This book is an invitation to explore that path more deeply and to live
that path more fully. When we work at the roots, we nurture soul and
spirit. When the roots become the branches, all benefit. The insights
become practices and the practices bear good fruit. So, as we move
through these chapters, let us do so in the spirit of the poet and
mystic, Rumi, taking to heart his invitation:
Come, return to the root of the root of your Self.