Equanimity (mental element 46, Eq)
Equanimity is neutrality of mind, an ethically wholesome quality related to pure consciousness. It is that phenomenon which keeps mind in the middle between deficiency and excess, between craving and aversion. Here, the word “middle” does not mean a quantitative mid-point (for example, 50 being the mid-point between 0 and 100) but a qualitative core (a center) related to mental balance and impartiality.
Equanimity is not just the absence of craving and aversion; also it is the element that makes the mind balanced and impartial. Mere absence of craving and aversion does not automatically result in a balanced or impartial state of mind. When craving and aversion are eradicated, equanimity arises and makes the mind balanced and impartial. In this sense, equanimity has its own intrinsic functional nature.
Equanimity is degraded to the level of the mundane when people confuse it with the quality of mind control, self-control, pain control, pleasure control, pain-pleasure management, and so on. For example, many spiritual practitioners take pride in being able to tolerate pain, discomfort, and inconvenience because they assume they have more equanimity than those who live in comfort. Only ignorant people think this way. They do not realize that even wild animals are highly capable of tolerating high degrees of discomfort. Does that make wild animals equanimous?
You cannot say you are equanimous just because you are able to tolerate pain. In most cases, it is not equanimity but insensitivity. Moreover, becoming insensitive to pain generally leads to the development of resentment for pleasure. Resentment increases to such a level that you cannot tolerate comfort and become critic of richness and order. Ultimately you feel insecure in a five-star hotel or any other opulent and comfortable environment.
People living in pleasant conditions are neither more, nor less likely to have equanimity than people living in painful conditions. Many spiritual practitioners living in comfort think it is okay to live in comfort as long as they do not get attached to it. Such people become insensitive to pleasure and unknowingly develop resentment for pain. Resentment increases to such a level that they cannot tolerate discomfort and become critics of disorder and poverty. Ultimately they feel insecure in an uncomfortable environment.
Whenever there is any trace of resentment, disapproval or approval, repulsion or attraction there is no real equanimity. A person in a state of equanimity is equally at ease in a royal palace and in a slum. He neither desires, nor chooses comforts or discomforts. He neither approves of affluence, nor disapproves of poverty. He is disinterested in these matters because he has transcended the issue of pleasures and pain. He is at peace in all circumstances, because he is desireless. But his desirelessness is rooted in contentment and renunciation, and not abandonment, rejection, or denial.
As you are reading, many questions might have arisen in your mind.
•Should we not desire or choose anything? •Is it not healthier to choose to live in a clean and pollution-free environment than to live in a slum-like environment? Why should we not approve of something that is good? •Why should we not disapprove of noise, bad smell, mosquitoes, and whatever that is bad? •How can we do anything at all, including good such as serving others, if there is no desire or interest?
These are fine questions. They share an answer, which is that you can choose to live in a clean and pollution-free environment as a practice of virtuous living. You can choose to live in comfort as a way to support your meditation practice and minimize waste of energy. You can show interest and get involved to serve people, as a practice of loving-kindness, compassion, and so on. But you cannot say you are doing these things in order to develop equanimity. Becoming virtuous, compassionate, loving, and serving all is not the same as equanimity. However, all of these practices eventually lead to equanimity.
Another classic example of confusion about equanimity is assuming that equanimity leads to indifference if practiced while dealing with others. This is not true because in order to deal with others with equanimity you have to first develop the foundation of loving-kindness, compassion, and gladness: the three divine mental elements, which we will soon discuss in detail. Without such foundation, yes, you may develop indifference towards others, but not equanimity.
Think of your past. Remember your growth from childhood to adulthood. When you were small, loving-kindness was the predominant quality when your parents dealt with you. When you were sick, compassion was the predominant quality of your parents’ attention towards you. When you were young and healthy, gladness was predominant in your parents’ mind. When you became an adult, left the house, and were employed, equanimity was the predominant quality of your parents’ awareness. Why? They knew you, the adult child, would now be able to take care of himself/herself. Your parents were neither involved in your affairs as they once were, nor did they abandon you in their awareness. Once you became an adult and self-sufficient, you were looked upon without getting involved. This quality of an onlooker without getting involved is similar to equanimity. Lack of involvement is not same as indifference towards the adult child, because in parents’ awareness there is always a sense of welfare, compassion, and gladness for their adult child since they graduated through those mental states as their child matured.
The practice of loving-kindness, compassion, and gladness towards other people can only make us equanimous towards them. These practices can only make us impartial, unprejudiced, and neutral towards all beings, including ourselves. These practices can only help us break down the barriers by helping us see all (including ourselves) equally.
When we mature in the practices of loving-kindness, compassion, and gladness, and equanimity arises out of that, we no longer have any friends or enemies. We no longer love one person more than another. Having transcended differences and discrimination, we become neutral. We become like “space,” which is impartial towards all beings and formations and yet encompasses all. If space were the body of a person, then equanimity would be that person’s mind.
While dealing with others, equanimity is the abiding quality (status quo) of an enlightened master. For example, when an enlightened master sees a drowning child, he knowingly steps out of equanimity, arouses compassion for the child, saves the child, steps back into equanimity of mind, and walks away without rejoicing or expecting a reward. He does not think that “he” has saved the child. Instead, he observes the entire episode as a third person. In this way, an enlightened master abides in the world fully awake, fully active, and supersensitive. The master is able to abide in equanimity only because he practices loving-kindness, compassion, and gladness towards other people.
Equanimity is very subtle. It is hard to understand intellectually and even harder to understand experientially. But, you can get a taste of it during a prolonged meditation practice. Broadly speaking, during a prolonged meditation, equanimity can be somewhat experienced as the awareness of the “absence and the opposite” of pleasant or unpleasant feelings. Such awareness is unique. It is an experience of a feeling of “neither pleasure nor pain,” which is not only the mere absence of pleasant and unpleasant feelings, but also the opposite of both. This awareness is critical in differentiating equanimity from the worldly attitude of indifference, apathy, coldness, and so on. In apathy, for example, there may be the absence of pleasant or unpleasant feeling but there is no awareness of it. And obviously in apathy there is no possibility of even being aware of such a thing as neither pleasure nor pain.
If you meditate to develop mindfulness, non-reaction, wise attention, and concentration, and then establish yourself in the transcendental and passive states of mind, equanimity arises as a result of that. In other words, equanimity arises only through passive and transcendental actions. In meditation, simply practice observing body-mind-consciousness phenomena passively, transcend higher and higher levels of mental absorption and insight, and let equanimity arise by itself. Later chapters will provide specific instructions on how this is done.
Types of Equanimity
A way of minimizing the confusion about equanimity is to view it as a spectrum: A hierarchy ranging from materialistic equanimity (lowest level 1) to spiritual equanimity (highest level 4) (see table).
Level 1: Materialistic Equanimity
•Not reacting to conditions of poverty or prosperity •Not getting attached to discomforts or comforts •Being at ease with heat or cold, summer or winter, beauty or ugliness, material successes or losses, and so on
Level 2: Physical Equanimity
•Not reacting to sensations of pleasure or pain caused by bodily conditions •Observing pleasure or pain as physical sensations without developing a craving for pleasant sensations or an aversion for painful sensations
Level 3: Mental Equanimity
•Not reacting to feelings of pleasure or pain and joy or sorrow, but observing them as mental phenomena without developing cravings or aversions •Neither becoming glad nor sad •Neither feeling resentful nor seeking approval •Maintaining mental composure •Not being attached to any thought, feeling, or emotion •Perfecting non-greed and non-hatred •Maintaining peace of mind at any cost
Level 4:Spiritual Equanimity
•Experiencing neutral feelings of neither pleasure nor pain •Experiencing states of neither perception nor non-perception •Experiencing states of being neither free nor bound •Having a sense of selflessness, serving without thinking, “It is me who is serving” (inaction in action) •Being disinterested in worldly matters while also being fully established in loving-kindness, compassion, and gladness
Notes of Caution for various levels of equanimity:
Level 1: Materialistic Equanimity (False)
•Control, masochism, pain management, power tactics, and so on •Can lead to a false sense of equanimity
Physical Equanimity (False)
•If practiced as a meditation technique for developing equanimity, this can lead to deep attachment to the technique, ignorance about body-mind phenomena, breeding of meditator ego and a false sense of equanimity
•No caution required •Leads to mental purification and the dawn of real equanimity if coupled with the practices of loving-kindness, compassion, and gladness towards all beings, including oneself.
•No caution required •Realizing that neither perception nor non-perception is a state of awareness rather than a physical feeling •Such mental states result only from mental equanimity and consistent practice of mindfulness and wholesome concentration
As made clear by the notes of caution above, in order to arouse equanimity it is best to practice virtue, abstinence, mindfulness, concentration, non-reaction, giving wise attention, loving-kindness, compassion, gladness, and so on and to let equanimity arise by itself as a result. In addition to these specific spiritual practices, in daily life one should avoid the company of prejudiced people. One should avoid over enthusiasm. One should neutralize one’s perception and cognition. One should neither agree nor disagree. One should become non-opinionating. One should seclude oneself from worldly mundane matters as much as possible, and consistently incline the mind towards neutrality. Above all, one should develop the mental habit of letting go.
Do not practice equanimity directly—even in meditation. Instead, practice everything that leads to equanimity. Let it arise. Equanimity is highly illusive. It is like the Earth’s horizon. If you try to achieve it or reach it, you can never succeed.
Direct practices can lead to confusion, frustration, abandonment, inactivity, indifference, apathy, and coldness. In fact, it is almost certain that unwholesome qualities will develop in worldly-minded people or even in experienced meditators who try to practice equanimity directly in meditation or in daily life. Developing a false sense of equanimity hinders spiritual growth.
The easiest way to know whether or not you are developing equanimity is to become aware of its nearest allies: blissfulness, peacefulness, ease, non-reaction, contentment, lack of expectation for gifts and rewards, renunciation, sense of seclusion, and non-attachment, sense of being space-like (overlooking the world of formations), and so on. If you experience any of these states, then you can be sure that you are approaching the state of equanimity.
As I am saying fantastic things about equanimity, it may sound as if equanimity is perfect intelligence itself. That is not the case. Equanimity itself is an ultimate mental power. However, that is not sufficient. Equanimity has to be conjoined with the other six mental powers (which we have previously discussed) to attain perfect intelligence. However, equanimity is definitely a near-final signpost showing the way to such attainment.