The Four Brahmaviharas, or Divine Abodes, are often translated as ‘the immeasurables’ or ‘the ‘immeasurable minds’.
When these four qualities are cultivated they are said be a powerful antidote to negative mind states.
These teachings are found in several different Buddhist texts, including the Metta Sutra.
A very similar list is found in the non-Buddhist spiritual text “The Yoga Sutras” by Patanjali, which was written a few centuries after the rise of Buddhism.
The Brahmaviharas represent a method for engaging life in a positive and enlightened way, a way that helps us avoid suffering and encourages peace and happiness. They represent a way to overcome our ego.
Metta (lovingkindness): this is benevolence and kindness. It signifies wanting others to be happy and succeed. It’s often easy to wish for success for our friends and relatives, not to mention ourselves. But, in this case we’re trying to extend this to all beings.
Karuna (compassion): this is wanting others to be free from suffering. It’s easy to say we don’t want others to suffer, but it must be mentioned that this includes people we don’t like as well.
Mudita (empathetic joy): this is celebrating and being happy when others are successful. Congratulating people and telling them we’re happy for them is normal. It’s something we’re taught to do, I think.
Upekkha (equanimity): this is learning to weather the storm of life, learning how to accept loss and gain, success and failure. This might be the most difficult one. It’s certainly hard to keep an even mind when things aren’t going well. It can be so easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged.
In the Metta Sutra they’re listed this way:
May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes;
May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes;
May all sentient beings not be separated from sorrowless bliss;
May all sentient beings abide in equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger.
In the Visuddhimagga (path of purification) written in the 5th century by Buddhaghosa, he explains the Brahmaviharas as things you take on for yourselves and then cultivate for others around and then spread out your view to encompass all beings.