Sharon Salzberg teaches on why equanimity is important, and how to foster it.
The fourth Brahma Vihara is equanimity, where the predominant tone is one of calm. In this spacious stillness of mind, we can fully connect to whatever is happening around us, fully connect to others, but without our habitual reactions of rushing toward what is pleasant and pulling away from what is unpleasant. Developing equanimity, in effect, is how we can forge a space between fear and compassion and between sorrow and compassion. This is how we cultivate lovingkindness without it turning into impatient entreaty or demand, “Get happy already, would you!” This is how we expand sympathetic joy.
Without equanimity, we might offer friendship only as long as our offering is acknowledged and appreciated, or as long as someone responds in kind. We would offer compassion to ourselves only when we weren’t overcome by pain, and compassion to others only when we weren’t overcome by their suffering. We would offer sympathetic joy only when we did not feel threatened or envious. When we cultivate equanimity, our tremendous capacity to connect can blossom, for we do not have to push away or cling to anything that may happen.
Sometimes in teaching meditation we say, “Sit like a mountain. Sit with a sense of strength and dignity. Be steadfast, be majestic, be natural and at ease in awareness. No matter how many winds are blowing, no matter how many clouds are swirling, no matter how many lions are prowling, be intimate with everything and sit like a mountain.” This is an image of equanimity. We feel everything, without exception, and we relate to it through our own strength of awareness, not through habitual reactions. Practice sitting like a mountain sometime, allowing all images and feelings and sensations to come and go, as you reside in steadfastness, watching it all arise and pass away.
We Can Do It
Abandon what is unskillful,
One can abandon the unskillful,
If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do so.
If this abandoning of the unskillful would bring harm
I would not ask you to abandon it.
But as the abandoning of the unskillful brings benefit
Therefore, I say, “abandon what is unskillful.”
Cultivate the good,
You can cultivate the good.
If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it.
If this cultivation of the good would bring harm
I would not ask you to cultivate it.
But as the cultivation of the good brings benefit
Therefore, I say, “Cultivate the good!”
This passage is one of my favorites from the Buddha’s teaching. I think it beautifully exemplifies the extraordinary compassion of the Buddha. The mind of the Buddha sees not good and bad
people, but suffering and the end of suffering, and exhorts those heading toward suffering through greed or anger or fear to take care, to pay attention, to see how much more they are capable of, rather than condemning them. He sees those heading toward the end of suffering through wisdom and lovingkindness and rejoices for them.
It is a passage that inspires our sincere efforts. In the end, these ideas of how to live a better life aren’t something to admire from afar or hold in an abstract way. We need to experiment with them, breathe life into them, see how they affect our minds and hearts, and see where they take us. Turning our lives in the direction of kindness can be done . . . It can only bring benefit and happiness. I can do it. You can do it. Otherwise, the Buddha would not have asked us to do so.