Reflections of Death Buddhist Hospices & HIV/AIDS

HIV/AIDS Prevention & Care

The Four Sublime States and People with HIV/AIDS by Watcharapong Thongsa-aad

Buddhism is a religion of peace and freedom. Buddhism teaches its followers to love peace, to not feel prejudice towards others, to not do anything will harm other people or oneself. Buddhism, wherever it is practised, has never been aggressive to anyone else, has never harmed anyone else. Wherever Buddhism is found, peace and happiness can also be found, just like the Wheel of Law. Wherever this Wheel turns, happiness and peace are found.

Buddha taught his followers to spread goodwill and good sentiments to each other and to all creatures in the world, be they humans, gods, celestial beings, devils, or lowly beasts. On the whole, then, Buddhism not only teaches to have goodwill, but also to not oppress or harbour revenge towards one another.

In today’s society, many people only show goodwill and love towards themselves, and seem to have forgotten that there are many other people all around them who are waiting to share their goodwill and love. If we share out love with other people – even a little – then society will be peaceful. Lover, generosity and thoughtfulness can form the foundation for a peaceful society. Indeed, it society lacks love, generosity and thoughtfulness, it will surely never find a way to be at peace.

Is there anyone who would refuse love? Every single person wants to be loved. Ask yourself – do you want love? We don’t like it when somebody displays anger or hatred towards us, and we don’t like gossip. We want love – why shouldn’t other people too?

Each day there are more and more people with HIV/AIDS who are refused love, understanding, generosity and thoughtfulness by other people in society. What have they done wrong? Nothing! They have done nothing wrong except that they have the HIV virus in their bodies. They have a disease, that all. Is it fair that society should reject them? Every human being must pass through birth, old age, sickness and death. HIV/AIDS is simply one kind of disease. People who have HIV or who are sick with AIDS are simply people with a disease or who are ill, that’s all. They are not different from other people with other diseases, yet society regards them as having something terrible, something hateful.

Thai society is a Buddhist society and in the past it was a very warm society, full of love, generosity and thoughtfulness. Yet today’s society is not like before. It’s true! Society is changing but the Four Sublime States (Brahma Vihara) have never changed. Society has changed because people lack enough religious devotion to live together peacefully, that’s all.

Buddha taught that everybody should use the Four Sublime States to dictate their behaviour so that society could be peaceful and happy. The Four Sublime States are:

Loving Kindness (Metta) – which is love, sincerity and wishing others well. It’s a love that seeks no reciprocation and is expressed with a cheerful, open face. Deeds match the feelings in the heart – it is not about saying one thing but doing another, or gossiping behind other people’s backs. Living kindness is the love that we give to people with HIV/AIDS so they can feel happy. It is the opposite of the hate that causes misery. It would be a wonderful thing if society could offer love and goodwill to people with HIV/AIDS.

Such love can be an encouragement to people with HIV/AIDS to help them feel better both physically and emotionally. They can live their lives as part of society. As well as offering love to people with HIV/AIDS we mustn’t forget to give love to people who have been affected by the impacts of HIV/AIDS. Society will thrive if we can share and if we can all cooperate and work alongside one another.

Compassion (Karuna) – which is understanding and being considerate enough to help people with HIV/AIDS escape from their suffering. It is the opposite of the prejudice that brings unhappiness to people with HIV/AIDS. AIDS is suffering. From the time that a person finds out that he or she has HIV, suffering begins. Difficulties and problems lie waiting for them an their suffering and unhappiness increase over time. Their lives change and society changes; many adjustments have to be made. Some people have to stop working because of the ignorance of their employers, and their expenses increase whilst their incomes decrease. In the present economic climate, even people who don’t have HIV/AIDS find it hard to make ends meet. We should spare a thought for others who are worse off than ourselves.

People with HIV/AIDS are members of society. Whenever someone in our society is in trouble, regardless of who they are, other members of society should help them. Some people with HIV/AIDS are very poor and out of work, but still have to look after their families. Giving only love will not be enough for them to carry on with their lives. Therefore, we must offer help with all four of the Sublime States. Generosity is part of a Buddhist’s character. Compassion was one of the great qualities of Buddha. It is one of the most important qualities of kinds and is also one of the most important qualities in all of us ordinary mortals too.

Sympathetic joy (Mudita) – is when we can rejoice in other people’s good fortune and have hearts that are clear and joyful. It is the opposite of feeling envy about other’s good fortune. Sympathetic joy can help us to open our minds to people, whether they have HIV or not, and keep our behaviour consistent towards them. If we used to go and see them, then we should still go to see them. If in the past, we used to be glad about their food fortune, we used to chat with them or comfort them when they had troubles, then now that they have HIV we should behave in exactly the same way and not knock them when they are already down. When we see that they are in good health and able to work, then we should wish them well with a pure heart and not be envious. The meaning of this sentiment is that we should all behave in a consistently benevolent way towards people with HIV.

Equanimity (Upekkha) – is about being fair and equal and not being biased in love or in hate. It’s about not listening to gossip or hearsay but about thinking things over carefully first before we form our opinions. This is especially relevant to all the news we hear about AIDS. People who listen to some news about AIDS who lack a sense of impartiality will feel fear, hate and rejection and will form a picture of people with HIV which is frightening. But, if we are fair-minded we can see that having HIV/AIDS is simply having one kind of disease. Everyone suffers from illness at some time or another and if they don’t get AIDS then they will get some other disease. We should think things over with a just mind so that members of society can live together without excluding anyone.

If these Four Sublime States are present in a society, a community and in individuals then that society, community or person will be happy. It will be a society in which there is thoughtfulness and consideration. These qualities can help members of society to behave righteously because those who follow the Four Sublime States can help others with their loving kindness and compassion. They have a spirit of cooperation and will be able to support one another. It will be a society in which ere is a spirit of charity as well, if we can practice.

Sacrificing and sharing, generosity and helping one another. These are things that must be fostered in every society (giving donations).

Speaking with pleasant words in a soft and gentle manner that is easy to listen to. Such words will foster love and can cement a sense of unity. They will bring goodwill, love and a sense of mutual respect within society and between people with HIV/AIDS and other members of society. There will be no harsh words spoken that can hurt others’ feelings or cause trouble for people with HIV/AIDS and others (good speech).

Helping one another in work and any other kind of activity or when people are going through troubled times, such as helping a person with HIV when they lack the necessities of life or are unwell – we should help them as much as we can. Children whose parents have HIV often come from a poor family and there isn’t even enough money to send the children to school. In those cases, we can help by looking after or providing funding for these children or else becoming their guardians (benefaction).

Behaving in a consistent manner all the time. If everyone practices such consistent behaviour then there sill be no more disagreements, only a spirit of cooperation. Everyone will have equal rights and people with HIV will not be separated out from people who don’t have HIV, and people won’t be divided into rich and poor. Everyone – no matter what their status – experiences both happiness and sadness. We should realize this and try to solve our problems together (equality).

If everyone in society – whichever society – behaves according to the highest principles of the Dharma, then members of that society can live together happily, without divisions between class and race. People will not be arrogant or conceited or despise or pick on people who are less fortunate. With regard to people with HIV/AIDS, we must understand them, show them goodwill and not discriminate against them. That way people with HIV can live together happily with others in society in which everyone has the Four Sublime States. In the words of the Buddha, ‘Goodwill and the Dharma are the support of the world’.