Buddhism: Theravāda

Experiences and Emotion

Primary Author
Chara Scroope,

Cultivating Emotional Qualities

A major tenet in Buddhism is the cultivation of particular wholesome emotional states and qualities. In particular, the Brahmavihāra refers to four sublime mental states that the Theravāda tradition encourages followers to cultivate to those around them, as well as those who they may feel hostility towards. These four virtues are:

  • Loving-kindness (mettā)
  • Compassion (karuṇā)
  • Altruistic (or sympathetic) joy (muditā)
  • Equanimity (upekkhā)

The cultivation of these four states along with the development of insight (through meditation) are thought to be complementary practices that aid Buddhists in their spiritual goals and in creating wholesome and harmonious relationships in their lives.


The English word “meditation” is a generic term used to describe various practices of mental concentration and contemplation in order to gain specific effects. There are various kinds of meditative techniques and practices in Buddhism, with specifics varying from place to place. Meditation is considered to help facilitate deeper wisdom and cultivate skilful emotional qualities. For example, early stages of meditation focus on developing awareness of one’s present experience, known as mindfulness. The continued development and refinement of this practice is said to lead to the goal of full awakening.

Most monasteries and temples have periods of intensive meditation practice at prescribed times of the year (such as Uposatha days, following the cycles of the moon). Some laypeople may participate in meditation retreats that may be anywhere from two days to 30 days long. During these intensive meditation periods, individuals meditate for most of the day while also observing noble silence (refraining from speaking and animated body movement).

Becoming Theravāda Buddhist

A Buddhist is typically understood as someone who takes ‘refuge’ in the Triple Gem. The Triple Gem refers to the three main components of Buddhism: the Buddha (the teacher), the Dhamma (the teaching) and the Saṅgha (the Buddhist community). The notion of ‘taking refuge in’ implies that the individual turns to the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Saṅgha as their source of spiritual support and guidance, and cultivates the qualities of wisdom, truth and virtue as represented in these three jewels.

It is common for many Buddhists to reaffirm and recite these refuges and their vows or precepts whenever they visit a monastery, temple or the place where they receive teachings. The recitation is usually in the form of a simple and sincere chant, such as “I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dhamma, I take refuge in the Saṅgha”. In addition to taking refuge in the Triple Gem, it is generally expected that Buddhists commit to certain moral precepts. Laypersons usually commit to the five moral precepts.

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