Insight Meditation Houston

Equanimity

Tonight we will be practicing the 4th Brahma Vihara or Divine Abode in the Buddhist tradition: Equanimity or Upekkha 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.

Upekkha is considered a wise practice for balancing the mind and liberating ourselves from reactivity and attachments.

It takes regular practice to be able to open the heart in a stable, sustained way, while letting go of preferences.

Sometimes equanimity is confused with indifference, which is considered its “near enemy.”   When we are indifferent, the heart is closed and defended in self-protection, but equanimity stems from an open and compassionate heart.

To illustrate the benefits of equanimity practice, there is a classic story of a man who trips and falls off a precipice.

He grabs onto a fragile vine and has a moment of respite.

Looking into the chasm below, he sees some hungry tigers, awaiting his arrival with great anticipation.

Then he notices a fresh red strawberry growing on the vine that is sustaining him.

Just as the vine breaks, the man picks the strawberry and eats it with great appreciation, while he plunges to his death.

Even in entire lifetime of practice we may not cultivate such equanimity.

But we can aim in that direction.

The 8th-century Buddhist scholar Shantideva of Nalanda University taught:

If there’s a remedy when trouble strikes,

   Why be unhappy about it?

    And if there is no remedy for it,

   There is still no point in being unhappy.

Centuries later, in 1943, Reinhold Niebuhr echoed Shantideva’s words, as he prayed for “the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

As we practice equanimity, in the way Jack Kornfield taught me, we repeat phrases for ourselves until we feel stable enough to send them to others….

Now sit in a comfortable position with eyes closed.

Bring a gentle attention to your breath.

Take a moment to reflect upon the benefits of a balanced mind and the gift of bringing a peaceful heart to the world around you.

Then silently repeat these phrases to yourself:

Breathing in, I calm my body.

Breathing out, I calm my mind.

May I be balanced.

May I be at peace.

Stay with these phrases until you feel quiet in your body and mind.

Then expand the sense of tranquility into a spacious equanimity.

Remember that all created things rise and pass away: joys, sorrows, pleasant and painful events, people, buildings, animals, nations, and whole civilizations.  Let yourself rest amidst all that is impermanent.

In silence, recite the following phrases to yourself:

May I learn to see the arising and passing of all things with equanimity and balance.

May I be open and balanced and peaceful.

Once you’ve established a sense of peace and equanimity, visualize someone you love, and repeat the same simple phrases for that person’s benefit:

May you learn to see the arising and passing of all things with equanimity and balance.

May you be open and balanced and peaceful.

Let yourself visualize other people in your life, and, one by one, imagine them surrounded with peace.

Continue as best you can, breathing easily, patiently repeating the phrases no matter what arises.

Gradually, as equanimity grows, you can expand the meditation to include, in turn, a benefactor who has cared for you, a neutral person, a difficult person, and finally all beings everywhere….

As we reflect on each person, it is traditional to acknowledge that all beings are heirs to their own karma and receive the fruits of their actions.

We can care deeply for them, but we cannot live their lives for them.

If you are especially preoccupied about someone’s suffering, you may free your heart by visualizing that person and adding the following phrase to the equanimity practice:

Your happiness and suffering depend on your actions and not on my wishes for you.

It takes deep wisdom to maintain compassion for those who are suffering, while remembering that we cannot control their destiny.

Return to the essential phrases of equanimity practice:

May you learn to see the arising and passing of all things with equanimity and balance.

May you be open and balanced and peaceful.