In early Buddhism, the four virtues of practice were said to be Metta, Karuna, Upekkha and Mudita, usually translated as loving kindness, compassion, equanimity and empathetic joy.
We’re very familiar with the first three, but not the fourth. Does this matter and, if it does, why?
It seems to me that the first three, when the fourth is excluded, make possible a kind of christianised buddhism, where the purpose of practice can be seen as the making of a great person, and, to aid that, the three virtues can be seen as personal attributes, cultivated by this person. So this person is benevolent, kind, steadfast. But the larger space is thrown into shadow by this inflated person, and joy is forgotten.
But if we take the four qualities together, I don’t think we can see the practitioner as a great, or potentially great person, but rather as a co-arising and relational person, and the qualities cease to be personal qualities, but rather are the qualities of a re-enlivened and re-envisioned open and relational space within, around and between us, which we directly experience when we practice.
Buddhism is a house built on these four foundations. The fourth might seem tiny, barely noticeable, but its removal will cause the house to buckle and tilt, imperceptibly at first. The house can remain standing for a very long time. But fall it will.