Sublime Equanimity

Adapted from a talk by Gil Fronsdal, May 29th, 2004 and posted on http://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/books-articles/articles/equanimity/

Equanimity is one of the most sublime emotions of Buddhist practice. It is the ground for wisdom and freedom and the protector of compassion and love. While some may think of equanimity as dry neutrality or cool aloofness, mature equanimity produces a radiance and warmth of being. The Buddha described a mind filled with equanimity as “abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill-will.”

The English word “equanimity” translates two separate Pali words used by the Buddha. Each represents a different aspect of equanimity.

The most common Pali word translated as “equanimity” is upekkha, meaning “to look over.” It refers to the equanimity that arises from the power of observation, the ability to see without being caught by what we see. When well-developed, such power gives rise to a great sense of peace.

Upekkha can also refer to the ease that comes from seeing a bigger picture. Colloquially, in India the word was sometimes used to mean “to see with patience.” We might understand this as “seeing with understanding.” For example, when we know not to take offensive words personally, we are less likely to react to what was said. Instead, we remain at ease or equanimous. This form of equanimity is sometimes compared to grandmotherly love. The grandmother clearly loves her grandchildren but, thanks to her experience with her own children, is less likely to be caught up in the drama of her grandchildren’s lives.

The second word often translated as equanimity is tatramajjhattata, a compound made of simple Pali words. Tatra, meaning “there,” sometimes refers to “all these things.” Majjha means “middle,” and tata means “to stand or to pose.” Put together, the word becomes “to stand in the middle of all this.” As a form of equanimity, “being in the middle” refers to balance, to remaining centered in the middle of whatever is happening. This balance comes from inner strength or stability. The strong presence of inner calm, well-being, confidence, vitality, or integrity can keep us upright, like a ballast keeps a ship upright in strong winds. As inner strength develops, equanimity follows.

Equanimity is a protection from the “eight worldly winds”: praise and blame, success and failure, pleasure and pain, fame and disrepute. Becoming attached to or excessively elated with success, praise, fame or pleasure can be a set-up for suffering when the winds of life change direction. For example, success can be wonderful, but if it leads to arrogance, we have more to lose in future challenges. Becoming personally invested in praise can tend toward conceit. Identifying with failure, we may feel incompetent or inadequate. Reacting to pain, we may become discouraged. If we understand or feel that our sense of inner well-being is independent of the eight winds, we are more likely to remain on an even keel in their midst.

One approach to developing equanimity is to cultivate the qualities of mind that support it. Seven mental qualities support the development of equanimity.

The first is virtue or integrity. When we live and act with integrity, we feel confident about our actions and words, which results in the equanimity of blamelessness. The ancient Buddhist texts speak of being able to go into any assembly of people and feel blameless.

The second support for equanimity is the sense of assurance that comes from faith. While any kind of faith can provide equanimity, faith grounded in wisdom is especially powerful. The Pali word for faith, saddha, is also translated as conviction or confidence. If we have confidence, for example, in our ability to engage in a spiritual practice, then we are more likely to meet its challenges with equanimity.

The third support is a well-developed mind. Much as we might develop physical strength, balance, and stability of the body in a gym, so too can we develop strength, balance and stability of the mind. This is done through practices that cultivate calm, concentration and mindfulness. When the mind is calm, we are less likely to be blown about by the worldly winds.

The fourth support is a sense of well-being. We do not need to leave well-being to chance. In Buddhism, it is considered appropriate and helpful to cultivate and enhance our well-being. We often overlook the well-being that is easily available in daily life. Even taking time to enjoy one’s tea or the sunset can be a training in well-being.

The fifth support for equanimity is understanding or wisdom. Wisdom is an important factor in learning to have an accepting awareness, to be present for whatever is happening without the mind or heart contracting or resisting. Wisdom can teach us to separate people’s actions from who they are. We can agree or disagree with their actions, but remain balanced in our relationship with them. We can also understand that our own thoughts and impulses are the result of impersonal conditions. By not taking them so personally, we are more likely to stay at ease with their arising.

Another way wisdom supports equanimity is in understanding that people are responsible for their own decisions, which helps us to find equanimity in the face of other people’s suffering. We can wish the best for them, but we avoid being buffeted by a false sense of responsibility for their well-being.

One of the most powerful ways to use wisdom to facilitate equanimity is to be mindful of when equanimity is absent. Honest awareness of what makes us imbalanced helps us to learn how to find balance.

The sixth support is insight, a deep seeing into the nature of things as they are. One of the primary insights is the nature of impermanence. In the deepest forms of this insight, we see that things change so quickly that we can’t hold onto anything, and eventually the mind lets go of clinging. Letting go brings equanimity; the greater the letting go, the deeper the equanimity.

The final support is freedom, which comes as we begin to let go of our reactive tendencies. We can get a taste of what this means by noticing areas in which we were once reactive but are no longer. For example, some issues that upset us when we were teenagers prompt no reaction at all now that we are adults. In Buddhist practice, we work to expand the range of life experiences in which we are free.

These two forms of equanimity, the one that comes from the power of observation, and the one that comes from inner balance, come together in mindfulness practice. As mindfulness becomes stronger, so does our equanimity. We see with greater independence and freedom. And, at the same time, equanimity becomes an inner strength that keeps us balanced in middle of all that is.

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Mindfulness and the Police

Lay Dharma teacher Cheri Maples offers a sharing during the 2016-06-15 21-Day Retreat in Plum Village.

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Fierce Compassion

Cheri Maples

Cheri Maples

If you are interested in learning about Cheri Maples views on the seven most important elements of spiritual transformation, you can find them in articles on this web site. We suggest reading them in the order they appear in the table below.

Article Title Lessons Location
The Mindful Street Cop Compasion/
Personal Compassion
Purpose and Slowing Down for the Present Moment Purpose and the Present Moment Sustaining Compassion/
Mindfulness & Contemplative Practices
Fierce Compassion Compassion as Fierce or Gentle
& Violences does not Resolve Violence
Compasion/
Personal Compassion
Suffering Can Be the Seeds of your Strength Suffering Can Be the Seeds of your Strength Sustaining Compassion/
Destructive Thoughts and Feelings
Openness to Whatever Arises Openness to Whatever Arises Sustaining Compassion/
Destructive Thoughts and Feelings
Watering the Seeds of Joy Watering the Seeds of Joy Sustaining Compassion/
Mindfulness & Contemplative Practices
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We are Everything

Looking Deeply at No Birth and No Death
by Thich Nhat Hanh

 When we begin to understand that we are everything, our fear begins to disappear.  We have deeply touched the dimensions of space and time.  But to really be free of fear, we must look deeply into the ultimate dimension of no birth, no death.  We need to free ourselves from these ideas that we are our body, and that we die.  This is where we will discover the place of no fear. Here is a guided meditation to help you prepare for it.

Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.

Breathing in, I am aware of a wave on the ocean.
Breathing out, I smile to the wave on the  ocean.

Breathing in, I am aware of the water in the wave.
Breathing out, I smile to the water in the wave.

Breathing in, I see the birth of the wave.
Breathing out, I smile to the birth of the wave.

Breathing in, I see the death of the wave.
Breathing out, I smile to the death of the wave.

Breathing in, I see the birthless nature of the water.
Breathing out, I smile to the birthless nature of the wave.

Breathing in, I see the deathless nature of the water.
Breathing out, I smile to the deathless nature of the water.

Breathing in, I see the birth of my body.
Breathing out, I smile to the birth of my body.

Breathing in, I see the death of my body.
Breathing out, I smile to the death of my body.

Breathing in, I see the birthless nature of my body.
Breathing out, I smile to the birthless nature of my body.

Breathing in, I see the deathless nature of my body.
Breathing out, I smile to the deathless nature of my body.

Breathing in, I see the birthless nature of my consciousness.
Breathing out, I smile to the birthless nature of consciousness.

Breathing in, I am only aware on my in-breath.
Breathing out, I am only aware of my out-breath.

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Four Vows

Here are two of many translations of the Four Vows:

Creations are numberless; I vow to free them.
Delusions are inexhaustible; I vow to transform them.
Reality is boundless; I vow to perceive it.
–Zen Peacemaker

The awakened way is unsurpassable; I vow to embody it.
However innumerable beings are, I vow to meet them with kindness and interest.
However inexhaustible the states of suffering are, I vow to touch them with patience and love.
However immeasurable the Dharmas are, I vow to explore them deeply.
However incomparable the mystery of interbeing, I vow to surrender to it freely.
–Thich Nhat Hanh

The Four Great Bodhisattva Vows are recited daily in Buddhist Temples and monasteries at the close of the service (Sanzenkai). We recite the Four Great Bodhisattva Vows to encourage us in our study and pursuit of the Enlightement of the Buddha.

These great vows express the infinite Compassion of the Buddhas, and, in chanting them we express our desire to become as the Great Bodhisattvas and Buddhas.
Our tradition emphasizes that each person who practices Buddhism should see his or herself as holding a candle in one’s hand. This candle will help one to light (see) the way, and others will benefit from the light. For this reason, Mahayana Buddhists do not wait until perfect enlightenment before one acts, we begin to act when we begin our practice.

“The vows of the four great Bodhisattvas” Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on January 15, 1998 in Plum Village, France.

The key point is for us to be in touch with these four Bodhisattvas within ourselves by using the energy of mindfulness. By reflecting on the qualities of these four Bodhisattvas we will see that mindfulness has four aspects.

The first aspect is compassion and loving-kindness. In order to be a Buddha, a person must have a lot of love. S/he can love the lovable but also the unlovable.

The second aspect of mindfulness is great understanding. Without great understanding Buddha is no longer our Teacher. A Buddha must have great understanding and wisdom.

The third and fourth aspects are action and vows. When you are able to see clearly, you can only love. You cannot abandon the person that you love. They may be horrible, difficult people but you cannot abandon them because they are in hell and they need us.
When you love, you have to act. If you say that you have a lot of love but you don’t do anything then that is not love that is merely lip service..

To vow to go to the darkest places to help beings is perhaps the greatest of vows because sometimes these places are horrible. You will not abandon those who suffer.

We have a habit energy to be a judge. Sometimes a judge for ourselves, sometimes a judge for others. When we hear something, we immediately form s judgement as to whether this is bad or good. Don’t be a judge. Don’t be a wall. You have to be space. Space can absorb everything, but if you are a judge you will have a wall and whatever people say will rebound back to them and they won’t feel relieved at all but rather suffocated.

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Chant of Karmic Purification or Repentance

All my ancient, twisted karma,
from beginningless greed, hate, and delusion,
born through body, speech, and mind,
I now fully atone.

The practice of Buddhist repentance is very unique because we are not asking for divine forgiveness. It is the clear recognition of our own unskillful actions done intentionally or unmindfully through our body, speech and mind. These are the result of our lack of compassion and wisdom, originating from our attachments, aversions and delusions. We should never forget that we are the masters of our own destiny and responsible of all our actions, big and small.

After recognizing our misgivings, we make the resolution to be as mindful as we can, so as to never repeat them under any circumstances. In this sense, repentance is about forgiving oneself through expressing regret, and to start fresh, absolving oneself of unhealthy guilt while renewing determination to further avoid evil, do good and purify the mind with greater diligence. Living with a heart full of guilt and regret, which are negative emotions will never let you see things with wisdom and equanimity.

Excerpt from “The purpose of repentance” by Dennis Estrada

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DEDICATION OF MERIT

There are infinite chants dedicating merit, some brief and some long. This is from the Theravada Forest Monk tradition:

May all beings always live happily,
free from animosity.
May all share in the blessings
springing from the good I have done.

“Brief Notes on Dedication of Merits” according to Vajrayana Mani Mantra Teachings as told by the Venerable Yangthang Rinpoche Penor Rinpoche

 The dedication of merit as it is taught in the Buddhadharma is one of the most vital and profound part of spiritual practice and a unique aspect of the Buddha’s teachings not found in other forms of spirituality. The reason why we are still suffering in samsara is that we have not gathered the accumulations of merit and wisdom. Although we have performed numerous positive deeds over many lifetimes – we have never dedicated this merit to the achievement of full enlightenment for all sentient beings. Thus when the positive karma ripens, it simply leads to some temporary positive states or happiness which will be used up in time and therefore when our merit finishes, we will lose that happiness and simply fall back into suffering.

By dedicating our merits to supreme awakening for all beings, we will experience positive results and well-being from that merit, plus it will not be used up until the ultimate aim of your dedication, which is supreme enlightenment for all beings, is achieved. Thus, dedicating our merit is like adding a drop of water to an ocean, just as the ocean never dries up, that drop of water is never exhausted. The ocean is likened to the vastness of the purpose to which our merit (a drop of water) is directed to.

Another reason why we dedicate our merits is because in the teachings it is said that ‘a hundred eons of generosity and moral discipline can be destroyed in one moment of anger’.

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