Tuesday, January 20, 2009
The Pali word, upekkhā, which is generally translated in English as equanimity does not quite capture the full meaning of this ancient and important word.
Upekkhā is encountered throughout the Pali canon being associated with the four immeasurables or divine abodes of Brahma and as an important element of the fourth jhana which is considered in the scriptures to be the jumping point to Nirvana.
By examining the word's construction, we can get a better idea of its meaning.
Upekkhā is formed from the prefix upa and the root ikh meaning, "to see." The prefix upa generally means unto, to, towards, near, with; it has the notion of bringing towards or with.
Putting these two elements together the meaning of upekkhā can be understood as bringing towards what is one seeing, or a type of seeing which is characterized as bringing into one's vision or bringing with one's vision. In short, an inclusive sort of seeing that takes in things.
When we contrast this idea with apekkha the meaning of upekkhā becomes a lot clearer. Apekkha which is translated as longing for or desire has the same root as upekkhā (ikh) but with a different prefix, apa. The prefix apa is in some senses opposed to the prefix upaApekkha can thus be understood as looking away or a type of seeing that is characterized by looking forth towards something. This can be interpreted as a form of seeing which goes away from what is one currently seeing to the thing looked upon; a form of vision which leaves or excludes all except the thing desired.
Upekkhā being in a sense the opposite of apekkha, can now be undetstood as a form of seeing that gracefully includes whatever comes into the field of vision.
Unlike apekkha that is characterized by the exclusive movement of the mind away to something, upekkhā is characterized by the inclusive movement of the mind that brings in something. While the desire expressed in apekkha is discriminatory in that it distinguishes and focuses on one aspect of reality, upekkhā is nondiscriminatory in that it does not break up reality but includes all in it.
It is important to not get confused at this point and understand upekkhā as indifference. Indifference is not upekkhā because indifference is discriminatory while upekkhā is not. Unlike apekkha that focuses on one thing at the expense of other things, indifference excludes by focusing away from some things (generally things not considered important). As such indifference always involves value judgments unlike upekkhā that does not.
Hopefully at this point, upekkhā can be seen as a far richer word than the English word of equanimity. From this analysis, upekkhā can be better understood as a noncritical quality that embraces reality and the totality of existence. in that the prefix signifies away from, forth, down or on.
UpekkhaWritten by Dhammacaro on 08/18/2006
Upekkha is a Pali word which means in English equanimity, self-control, accepting the facts and detaching oneself from all feelings or emotions. Equanimity is a balanced state of mind characterized by lack of strong attachments - attractions (cravings or desires) or repulsions (aversions). In equanimity one still notices and cares (even deeply) about what is going on, and has the capacity to be active rather than merely reactive.
All states of mind depend on the power of mind, springing from mindfulness, concentration and wisdom. This state of mind experiences feelings as they really are, without forming any opinion. Whatever feeling that happens, is experienced it as it really is. The mind is put into a balanced state with no difference between good and bad, happiness or pain, wholesomeness or unwholesomeness. If s particular state of mind is formed, it can become attached to this or that, or distracted by good or bad feelings. Such a state of mind is a factor of desire and ends up with suffering. The enlightened ones always say, "Don't attach to any feeling; good or bad, let go of things."
Upekkha springs from intention which must be accumulated or practised. The intention does not come to us by accident. It comes to us by training or practising. We may have some bad experiences occurring in our mind when we practise, because we are still overwhelmed by ignorance. If we do it constantly, we can be calm, mindful, concentrated and self-controlled. These states of mind can sometimes suppress some kinds of desire and defilements and some can get rid of them. This depends on how strong our mind is. Upekkha is neither a happy nor a painful state of mind. It is neutral, indifferent to happiness or pain. In practical terms, we have to practise mindfulness to catch ignorance which is the basic root of all defilements; remember, training is needed to do this big task of "Getting rid of desire and getting real wisdom."
'Upekkha' is equanimity, impartiality or keeping a well-balance mind. This is the most difficult one among the ten perfection to be practiced by a worldly being. But the Bodhisattas observe this perfection without a slightest feeling of favour or disfavour, attachment or detachment, towards anyone. Particularly, they keep their mind in balance, without being moved or influenced by the 'Attha Loka Dhamma' -the Eight Vicissitudes of Life.
Labho Alabho Ayaso Yasoca
Ninda Pasamsa Ca Sukham Ca Dukkham
Gain and loss, fame and ill-fame, praise and blame, and happiness and sorrow.
All these Eight Worldly Conditions rotate like a wheel on everybody's life. If we meet the first four conditions of these four pairs of vicissitude, we shall be extremely happy and overjoyed. But it is natural and unavoidable, one day or another, we shall have to face the last four conditions. Then, what will happen?
We shall be extremely sorrowful and disheartened and perhaps some people will become crazy. A worldly person who has no right understanding of thc Dhamma cannot stand on his feet or keep his mind well-balanced when he is faced with the vicissitudes of life. On such occasions 'Upekkha' is the only remedy that can assist a man to stand up like a firm rock, unmoved or unshakable by the wind.
Our Bodhisatta - Sumedha Pandit, firmly resolved in 'Upekkha' advising himself thus:"O, Sumedha, from now onward you must fulfil the perfection of equanimity as well. Be unperturbed in both prosperity and adversity. As the earth remains indifferent when both pure and impure matter is thrown upon it, you too must remain unperturbed in both prosperity and adversity until you become a Buddha."
Illustration from LOMAHAMSA IATAKA.
THE STORY OF LOMAHAMSA
Once the Bodhisatta was born in a rich and noble family. His name was Lomahamsa. Having come of age, ht realized the vanity of worldly pleasure. He thought that if he were to become an ascetic, people who knew him well, would pay him great respect and shower him with various gifts an offerings. He, therefore, decided to leave home and wand from place to place practising equanimity.
With only a cloth to cover his body, he left his home and wandered as an ascetic, seeking opportunities to practise equanimity. He preferred to stay long in those places where he was likely to be ridiculed and abused. His object was maintain a balanced mind amidst gain and loss, praise and blame, honour and dishonour, happiness and pain. He succeeded in his noble effort.
In the course of his wanderings, he came to a place where there were mischievous children who found pleasure in abusing and making fun of others, especially old people. The Bodhisatta thought it was the place for him to practise equanimity.
The children were delighted as they had found a suitable person for their amusement. So they made fun of him and Lomahamsa pretended to be displeased with their mischievous doings. As a result, these naughty children ridiculed him more and more. As if greatly offended, he went to a cemetery and slept there, using some bones for his pillow. Taking full advantage of his indifference, these urchins now surrounded him and subjected him to all kinds of insults. But elderly men and women who appreciated the goodness and holiness of the Bodhisatta, came and paid him great respect.
Under all circumstances the Bodhisatta practised perfect equanimity without any change of mind whatsoever. "Equally balanced was I at all times; amidst pain and happiness, praise and blame. This is my Perfection of Equanimity."
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 difficult it is to attain and maintain balance of mind.
Looking into life we notice how it continually moves between contrasts: rise and fall, success and failure, loss and gain, honour and blame. We feel how our heart responds to all this 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 again. How can we expect to get a footing on the crest of the waves? How shall 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 alloted 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-saka). But as soon as we have performed any action, our control over it is lost: 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 or our own mind and deeds. Because this knowledge frees us from fear, it is the first basis of equanimity. When, in everything that befalls us we only meet ourselves, why should we fear?
If, however, fear and 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 past; 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 defence 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 cer-tainty our minds will become serene, and we shall gain the strength of patience of equanimity to bear with all our present adversities. Then our deeds will be our friends (kamma-bandhu).
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 pain. Our deeds return to us in a guise that often makes them unrecognizable. Sometimes our actions return to us in the way that others treat us, some-times as a thorough upheaval in our lives; often the results are against our expectations or contrary to our wills. Such experiences point out to us consequences of our deeds we did not foresee; 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 messages 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 equa-nimity.
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 propen-sity 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 hin-ders 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 centre of one's being. Thus detachment should be practised.
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 non-self will be our guide on the path to deliverance, to per-fect equanimity.
Equanimity is the crown and culmination of the four sublime states. But this should not be understood to mean that equanimity is the nega-tion 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.