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Equanimity (Upekkha) by Nyanaponika Thera

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  • Antony Woods
    Equanimity is a perfect, unshakable balance of mind, rooted in insight. Looking at the world around us, and looking into our own heart, we see clearly how
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 12, 2006
      "Equanimity is a perfect, unshakable balance of mind, rooted in

      Looking at the world around us, and looking into our own heart, we
      see clearly how difficult it is to attain and maintain balance of

      Looking into life we notice how it continually moves between
      rise and fall,
      success and failure,
      loss and gain,
      honor and blame.
      We feel how our heart responds to all this with happiness and sorrow,
      delight and despair, disappointment and satisfaction, hope and fear.
      These waves of emotion carry us up and fling us down;
      and no sooner do we find rest, than we are in the power of a new wave
      How can we expect to get a footing on the crest of the waves?
      How can we erect the building of our lives in the midst of this ever
      restless ocean of existence, if not on the Island of Equanimity.

      A world where that little share of happiness allotted to beings is
      mostly secured after many disappointments, failures and defeats;

      a world where only the courage to start anew, again and again,
      promises success;

      a world where scanty joy grows amidst sickness, separation and death;

      a world where beings who were a short while ago connected with us by
      sympathetic joy, are at the next moment in want of our compassion —
      such a world needs equanimity.

      But the kind of equanimity required has to be based on vigilant
      presence of mind, not on indifferent dullness.
      It has to be the result of hard, deliberate training, not the casual
      outcome of a passing mood.
      But equanimity would not deserve its name if it had to be produced by
      exertion again and again. In such a case it would surely be weakened
      and finally defeated by the vicissitudes of life.
      True equanimity, however, should be able to meet all these severe
      tests and to regenerate its strength from sources within. It will
      possess this power of resistance and self-renewal only if it is
      rooted in insight.

      What, now, is the nature of that insight?
      It is the clear understanding of how all these vicissitudes of life
      originate, and of our own true nature.
      We have to understand that the various experiences we undergo result
      from our kamma — our actions in thought, word and deed — performed in
      this life and in earlier lives.
      Kamma is the womb from which we spring (kamma-yoni),
      and whether we like it or not, we are the inalienable "owners" of our
      deeds (kamma-ssaka).
      But as soon as we have performed any action, our control over it is
      it forever remains with us and inevitably returns to us as our due
      heritage (kamma-dayada).
      Nothing that happens to us comes from an "outer" hostile world
      foreign to ourselves; everything is the outcome of our own mind and
      Because this knowledge frees us from fear, it is the first basis of
      When, in everything that befalls us we only meet ourselves, why
      should we fear?

      If, however, fear or uncertainty should arise, we know the refuge
      where it can be allayed:
      our good deeds (kamma-patisarana).
      By taking this refuge, confidence and courage will grow within us —
      confidence in the protecting power of our good deeds done in the
      courage to perform more good deeds right now, despite the
      discouraging hardships of our present life.
      For we know that noble and selfless deeds provide the best defense
      against the hard blows of destiny,
      that it is never too late but always the right time for good actions.
      If that refuge, in doing good and avoiding evil, becomes firmly
      established within us, one day we shall feel assured:
      "More and more ceases the misery and evil rooted in the past.
      And this present life — I try to make it spotless and pure.
      What else can the future bring than increase of the good?"
      And from that certainty our minds will become serene, and we shall
      gain the strength of patience and equanimity to bear with all our
      present adversities. Then our deeds will be our friends (kamma-

      Likewise, all the various events of our lives, being the result of
      our deeds, will also be our friends, even if they bring us sorrow and
      Our deeds return to us in a guise that often makes them
      Sometimes our actions return to us in the way that others treat us,
      sometimes as a thorough upheaval in our lives;
      often the results are against our expectations or contrary to our
      Such experiences point out to us consequences of our deeds we did not
      they render visible half-conscious motives of our former actions
      which we tried to hide even from ourselves,
      covering them up with various pretexts.
      If we learn to see things from this angle, and to read the message
      conveyed by our own experience,
      then suffering, too, will be our friend.
      It will be a stern friend, but a truthful and well-meaning one
      who teaches us the most difficult subject, knowledge about ourselves,
      and warns us against abysses towards which we are moving blindly.
      By looking at suffering as our teacher and friend, we shall better
      succeed in enduring it with equanimity.
      Consequently, the teaching of kamma will give us a powerful impulse
      for freeing ourselves from kamma, from those deeds which again and
      again throw us into the suffering of repeated births.
      Disgust will arise at our own craving, at our own delusion, at our
      own propensity to create situations which try our strength, our
      resistance and our equanimity.

      The second insight on which equanimity should be based is the
      Buddha's teaching of no-self (anatta). This doctrine shows that in
      the ultimate sense deeds are not performed by any self, nor do their
      results affect any self.
      Further, it shows that if there is no self, we cannot speak of "my
      own." It is the delusion of a self that creates suffering and hinders
      or disturbs equanimity.
      If this or that quality of ours is blamed, one thinks:
      "I am blamed"
      and equanimity is shaken.

      If this or that work does not succeed, one thinks:
      "My work has failed"
      and equanimity is shaken.

      If wealth or loved ones are lost, one thinks:
      "What is mine has gone"
      and equanimity is shaken.

      To establish equanimity as an unshakable state of mind, one has to
      give up all possessive thoughts of "mine," beginning with little
      things from which it is easy to detach oneself, and gradually working
      up to possessions and aims to which one's whole heart clings. One
      also has to give up the counterpart to such thoughts, all egoistic
      thoughts of "self," beginning with a small section of one's
      personality, with qualities of minor importance, with small
      weaknesses one clearly sees, and gradually working up to those
      emotions and aversions which one regards as the center of one's
      being. Thus detachment should be practiced.

      To the degree we forsake thoughts of "mine" or "self" equanimity will
      enter our hearts. For how can anything we realize to be foreign and
      void of a self cause us agitation due to lust, hatred or grief? Thus
      the teaching of no-self will be our guide on the path to deliverance,
      to perfect equanimity.

      Equanimity is the crown and culmination of the four sublime states.
      But this should not be understood to mean that equanimity is the
      negation of love, compassion and sympathetic joy, or that it leaves
      them behind as inferior. Far from that, equanimity includes and
      pervades them fully, just as they fully pervade perfect equanimity."
      From: The Four Sublime States: Contemplations on Love, Compassion,
      Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity by Nyanaponika Thera, The Wheel
      Publication No. 6 (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1993).
      For free distribution with the kind permission of the Buddhist
      Publication Society.

      to be continued tomorrow...
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