Tonight, we will be practicing the 4th Brahma Vihara or Divine Abode in the Buddhist tradition: Equanimity (or Upekkha in the Pali language) has to do with clarity and wisdom and with being fearlessly open-minded, without judgments, desire or aversion. Equanimity implies accepting the reality of life’s high and low points and developing an attitude of inner peace amidst inevitable changes. Equanimity entails balancing presence with a forgiving and tolerant heart.
According to Bikkhu Bodhi, “Equanimity is an alive state of being in relationship fully. Stability in the face of what is constantly moving gives us unshakable freedom.”
When Mark and I visited Thuyet after Hurricane Harvey flooded his home, he gave me Thich Nhat Hanh’s most recent book, At Home in the World, which celebrates equanimity. This esteemed Vietnamese monk, known by his disciples as Thay, writes, “There are many young people who were born and raised in the US, but who do not feel they are accepted as Americans by other Americans…. But they don’t fit in with their country of origin either. Very few of us feel we are in our true home. Even if we are lucky enough to have a nationality, a citizenship, and a passport, many of us are still searching for where we belong….”
Thay continues, “I feel very comfortable in my home, even though I have been exiled from Vietnam for almost 40 years. Despite my exile, I don’t suffer, because I have found my true home. My true home is not Plum Village in France…. My true home cannot be defined in terms of place or culture. It’s simplistic to say that in terms of culture or nationality I am Vietnamese. I don’t have a Vietnamese passport or identity card, so, legally speaking, I am not Vietnamese. Genetically there is no such race as the ‘Vietnamese’ race. Looking into me, you can see Melanesian, Indonesian, Mongolian, and African elements. In fact, the Vietnamese race is made entirely of non-Vietnamese elements. This is true for any nationality. Seeing that can set us free. The whole cosmos has to come together in order to help you manifest.”
Thay maintains, “Our true home is the present moment, whatever is happening right here and now. Our true home is a place without discrimination [or] hatred. Our true home is the place where we are no longer seeking [or] yearning for anything, no longer regretting anything…. [Our] true home is something [we] have to create for [ourselves]. When we know how to make peace with our body, to take care of [it] and release [its] tension, then our body becomes a comfortable, peaceful home to come back to in the present moment. When we know how to take care of our feelings—when we know how to generate joy and happiness, and how to handle a painful feeling—we can cultivate and restore a happy home in the present moment. And when we know how to generate the energies of understanding and compassion, our home will be a very cozy, pleasant place to come back to…. Home is not something to hope for, but to cultivate….”
Through his own challenging experiences, Thich Nhat Hanh knows, “Liberation lies in the present moment. We can be in touch with our spiritual and blood ancestors right in the present moment…. When we can feel these ancestors with us in the present moment, we no longer need to worry or suffer. When we stop trying to find our home outside ourselves—in space, time, culture, territory, nationality, or race—we can find true happiness. Our true home is not an abstract idea. It is a solid reality that we can touch with our feet, our hands, and our mind in every moment. If we know this, then nobody can take away our true home. Even if people occupy our country or put us in prison, we still have our true home, and no one can ever take it away….”
Thay’s words inspire us to cultivate equanimity. To do so, we’ll use a guided equanimity practice that I learned from Lila Wheeler on one of our IMH retreats at the Margaret Austin Center:
Sit comfortably with closed eyes.
Recall a time when you were peaceful and calm…
Remember the goodness in yourself…in others…in life…
Recall challenges that you have faced…that others have faced…
Contemplate the benefits of a mind that has balance and equanimity.
As Thich Nhat Hanh recommends, recite to yourself, “Breathing in, I calm the body. Breathing out, I calm the mind.”
Continue with reciting silently to yourself the phrases, “May I be balanced. May I be at peace.”
Let your calmness spread, sending wishes that all who are here have balance and peace.
May all beings around us be balanced and peaceful.
May the whole world find balance and peace.
We acknowledge that all things arise and pass away—all experiences, joys and sorrows, pleasant and painful events, buildings, animals, nations, civilizations, maybe even the universe…
Rest in the center of all this.
Listen receptively to this equanimity prayer:
May I see the world with quiet eyes.
May I offer my care and presence without conditions,
knowing that they may be met with gratitude, anger or indifference.
May I find the inner resources to truly be able to give.
May I remain in peace and let go of expectations.
May I offer love,
knowing that I cannot control the course of life, suffering, or death.
I care about your pain, yet I cannot control it.
I care about my own pain, yet I cannot control it.
I wish you happiness and peace, but I cannot make choices for you.
I love you, but I know that all beings have their own journey.
You have yours, and I have mine.
May I see my limits compassionately, just as I view the limits of others.
May I be undisturbed by the changing circumstances of life.
May I be at peace amidst the changes of my life and the lives of others.
May I offer my efforts to help, knowing that they may be of great, some or no benefit.
May I be aware and at peace with all changes.
May I be free from preference and prejudice.
May I know things just as they are.
May I accept myself just as I am.
May I see into whatever arises.
Let us end by remembering, “Breathing in, I calm the body. Breathing out, I calm the mind.”
Slowly and mindfully open your eyes and reconnect with the sangha.