upekkha bhavana

Radiating peace (Day 87)

100 Days of LovingkindnessUpekkha involves closely (upa) watching (īkś) ourselves in order to develop insight, and the calm that follows from insight, and it also involves wishing that peace for others in a compassionate and loving way — which means wishing that others attain insight. So there’s a self-regarding and an other-regarding aspect to upekkha, just as there is with lovingkindness.

These qualities of closeness, lovingness, the helpfulness that comes with compassion, are usually not stressed when people discuss upekkha. It’s the peace that is emphasized, although usually it’s translated as “equanimity,” which I’m now finding rather inadequate.

In cultivating upekkha we can start by closely watching our own experience, observing the arising and passing of pleasurable and painful experiences, and over time we come to accept this impermanence and experience peace, which is santi in Pāli and shanti in Sanskrit. This peace is what’s usually called equanimity, but I think peace is a much warmer word than equanimity, and one that resounds in the heart. But this peace is not all that there is to upekkha, which is why equanimity is a poor translation.

“Santi” is commonly used in the Pali texts as a synonym for Nirvana, the goal of Buddhist practice, and the Buddha often referred to his way as “the path to peace.” Nirvana is the ultimate in inner peace, and literally means the complete extinction of inner turmoil.

There’s another term similar to the close watching of upekkha, and that’s vipassana. Vipassana combines the prefix vi-, which is an intensifier, and passati, which is “to see.” So vipassana is “truly seeing” or “really seeing” and it’s simply the activity of examining the impermanence, non-self, and unsatisfactoriness of our experience.

(Vipassana is not a category of meditation practice by the way; the Buddha didn’t offer a list of “vipassana practices,” nor of samatha practices, samatha being the activity of calming the mind and developing skillful qualities of mindfulness, metta, etc. Since vipassana and samatha are activities, or approaches to meditation, any meditation practice can be either samatha or vipassana. You can use mindfulness of breathing with the intent of calming the mind and developing concentration, and that would be a samatha practice. You can use metta bhavana purely to develop kindness, and that too would be a samatha practice. But you can also, in mindfulness of breathing or in metta bhavana, notice the impermanence of your experiences as they arise and pass away, and so your mindfulness of breathing or your metta bhavana practices would be vipassana practices.)

Both samatha and vipassana approaches to meditation lead to peace. Samatha calms the mind, reduces conflict and turmoil, and leads to us being more at ease with ourselves and others. Vipassana, where we closely watch our experience, can deepen this peace yet further, leading ultimately to the profound peace of awakening. When we see our experience as a passing stream of impermanent events, we take them less seriously and we’re not thrown off balance by them. And so our upekkha, our close watching, leads to a sense of even-mindedness, or equanimity, or peace.

Oddly, it’s even-mindedness that has come to be seen as the defining characteristic of upekkha, even though upekkha literally means “close watching” and even though it’s one of the brahma viharas, and thus a loving quality. But really what’s happening is that in upekkha bhavana we cultivate peace, and wish that peace for other beings. We turn our attention toward ourselves, and closely watch our own experience; this leads to peace. We turn our attention toward others, and watch them closely and lovingly, and we wish that they experience the peace, the santi, of close watching. Upekkha really isn’t equanimity, although equanimity is an outcome of our close watching.

From this point in our 100 Days, on I’m going to refer to upekkha as “close watching,” and I’m only going to use the words “equanimity” and “even-mindedness” when referring to the quality of stability and peace that our close watching leads to. Really, upekkha is about radiating peace. Upekkha bhavana is really about cultivating peace through insight, and about radiating peace by wishing for insight to arise in others.

Yesterday I talked about how our speech can contribute to that project or radiating peace, as we take our close watching into daily life. We try to speak truthfully, and kindly. We try to speak helpfully — in ways that help people to grow. And we try to speak in ways that bring people into harmony with themselves and others. We try to speak, in short, in ways that will guide people toward experiences of awakening and of peace.

But talk isn’t enough, and if we’re to benefit others we must also act in ways to help bring about peace.

There is a lovely teaching that could be translated as the four grounds of bringing people together (if you’re geeking out on all this Pāli they’re the “sangahavatthūni”).

First we have giving (dāna). We have to put our money, and time, and energy where our mouth is. So it’s not enough to talk peace and to talk about being helpful and compassionate to others. People need places to practice. They need teachers. Sometimes they need basic material help. If we’re closely watching beings in a loving way, wanting to nudge them toward awakening, we have to help them in practical ways.

There’s kindly speech (peyyavajja), which I discussed yesterday, and won’t say anything more about for now.

There’s beneficial activity (atthacariyā). This is any activity we take that promotes peace and harmony. So this might include giving that’s non-material, like making yourself available to help others. It might include teaching, or sharing your practice with others (teaching really ought to mainly involve sharing your practice with others). It might include responding when you hear there is suffering, by doing whatever you can to help. It might include responding when you’re aware of conflict, by helping people to gain a broader perspective on their lives.

And this is the best of helpful acts: to arouse, instil and strengthen faith in the unbeliever; to arouse, instil and strengthen virtue in the immoral; to arouse, instil and strengthen generosity in the niggard; to arouse, instil and strengthen wisdom in the unwise.

Lastly there’s exemplification (samānattatā). This is where our life itself becomes a teaching. Even without intending to, you demonstrate kindness, compassion, and rejoicing in the skillful. Your actions show your peace and joy.

The Buddha’s presence seems to have had a profound effect on those around him. One time a Brahmin priest called Doṇa was walking along a road between two towns, and he’s said to have seen the Buddha’s footprints and recognized in them the form of a 100-spoked wheel, which is a very auspicious symbol. And of course he wanted to meet the Buddha and so followed him and tried to discover what kind of man this was. Now, I’m not a believer in miracles, but this story makes perfect sense to me. I can well imagine that the Buddha left a mark on those who saw him. Even if people didn’t talk to the Buddha, you can imagine them being affected by his bearing, and talking about him for some time afterward. We talk about having a carbon footprint; you can think in terms of the Buddha leaving a spiritual footprint. And you can imagine Doṇa hearing the “buzz” about this man who seemed to radiate peace as he passed, and being curious to meet him.

So perhaps we too can be a bit like this, although it’s not something you can try to do; it’s something that has to emerge naturally as your practice transforms you. As you keep a close watch on your speech and actions, as you keep a close watch on your mind when you’re meditating, as you closely watch the arising of pleasant and painful experiences and simply let them flow by, you’ll become calmer, kinder, and more peaceful. And this exemplification of the path will in itself help point others in the direction of peace.

Om shanti shanti shanti

PS. You can see all of our 100 Days of Lovingkindness posts here.

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Acting with equanimity (Day 86)

100 Days of LovingkindnessI’ve always suspected that the Buddha had a hard time expressing himself, not because of any lack of ability of his part, but because the language that he had available to him was very limited. Actually all language is limited, but the Buddha was trying to express teachings that were very profound and subtle. He said he’d doubted whether it was possible to communicate the insights that he’d realized:

This Dhamma that I have attained is deep, hard to see, hard to realize, peaceful, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise.

Fortunately “he saw beings with little dust in their eyes” and decided it was worth trying.

And he was trying to express something subtle in quite an earthy language. To give you an example, there’s a word “gocara” that’s often translated as something like “sphere,” as in “the sphere of the Awakened One.” The word gocara is a compound term, with “go” meaning “cow” and “cara” meaning “faring” or “wandering.” So the “sphere of the Awakened One” is more literally “the Buddha’s cow-pasture.” It has a pleasant, earthy ring to it, even more so than when we similarly use the word “field,” as in “his field is nuclear physics.”

Anyway, our own language has its limitations too, and we’re also trying to understand in our language something that was said in another. So we’re dependent on scholars and translators and their work, and on tools like dictionaries, which were also created by scholars and translators. The problems in all this are particularly evident when we’re discussing something like equanimity. In discussing upekkha we’re really struggling to understand what the Buddha meant — and we should bear in mind that the Buddha was probably struggling in having to use the word upekkha to cover several different kinds of mental quality. I’ve already pointed out the dangers of misreading equanimity as “not caring.” But even interpretations that avoid the error of thinking that equanimity is a neutral and indifferent state can be wide of the mark.

What if upekkha is really love plus insight? Let’s take love to mean the desire to help beings be all they can be, so that they can maximize their experience of peace and joy. And let’s take insight to mean seeing deeply into the nature of the mind, so that we really understand, on a very profound level, how peace comes about through an appreciation of impermanence. And so equanimity becomes about helping beings to become awakened.

There’s an old saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and he can feed himself for a lifetime.” How about if we had sayings like “Be kind to someone and they’re at peace for a day; teach someone to be kind to themselves, and they can be at peace for a lifetime”? Or something like “Recognize that you have no permanent and separate self, and you can behave toward others in ways that bring them joy; help someone to see that they have no permanent and separate self, and they can create their own joy”?

I’m struggling with language too, but I hope you get my point.

I think upekkha (equanimity as a translation seems almost entirely to miss the point) is really about helping others to become awakened because of your compassion. Let’s remember that “upekkha” is from a root meaning “to closely watch over.” It’s not directly about “balance” or “even-mindedness” at all. Those qualities are present in it, because if we’ve found the deep peace that comes from recognizing impermanence then we’re at peace. But I believe that upekkha is actually about wanting to share our insight, and the peace that arises from it, with others. It’s thus a close parallel with mudita (joyful appreciation) which is about wanting to see others developing skillful qualities, so that they can experience the joy and peace that comes from them.

Now you might be thinking something like, “Wait a minute, I’m not enlightened. I don’t have any insight to share.” But what I said above is only an approximation of the practice. I believe that when we’re cultivating upekkha, we’re both seeking insight ourselves, and wanting to see it develop in others too. All of the brahmaviharas have this dual nature; for example in developing metta we’re wanting to develop love ourselves, but we’re also wishing that others be well and happy. And when are beings well and happy? It’s when they’re experiencing metta. So we’re wishing for others what we’re developing ourselves.

So in upekkha bhavana we’re exploring impermanence, and trying to come to terms with it in order to experience the profound letting go that brings peace, and out of our love and compassion for others we wish them also to come to terms with impermanence and to experience that same letting go into peace. We want to be enlightened; we want others to become enlightened. We want awakened qualities to manifest in the world.

And it’s partly through our speech that we’re going to be able to help others develop insight. Possibly it’s going to happen in teaching situations, or where we’re studying with others, but it could also take place in therapeutic situations on in friendships.

The Buddha, in talking about skillful communication, held helpful speech and speech that brings harmony to be the highest forms of communication. For example, here’s how the Buddha describes spiritually helpful speech: “He speaks in season, speaks what is factual, what is in accordance with the goal, the Dhamma, and the Vinaya. He speaks words worth treasuring, seasonable, reasonable, circumscribed, connected with the goal” (emphasis added). And rather than speak in divisive ways, we should speak in ways that create harmony: “Reconciling those who have broken apart or cementing those who are united, he is impassioned for peace (samagga), delights in peace, rejoices in peace, speaks things that create peace.”

I don’t want to suggest that it’s only speech through which we can put our upekkha into action, nor do I want to suggest that we should be continually pointing out to others that things are impermanent or that they have a mistaken view of their selves! There’s a right and a wrong time for everything. But I’d suggest just carrying around this view, as a practice, in the background of your mind, that you want to be awakened. And as you think about others, or see them, or interact with them, call to mind that you want them to be enlightened as well, so that they can experience the deep peace of awakening.

PS. You can see all of our 100 Days of Lovingkindness posts here.

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Upekkha as an insight practice (Day 85)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

One of the things I love is that when you spend some time hanging out with a practice, you often start to see it in new ways. This has happened for me with each of the four brahmavihara practices we’ve been exploring — lovingkindness, compassion, joyful appreciation, and also equanimity, which is what we’re currently focusing on. I see each of these practices differently after practicing them regularly and reflecting on them, but I’m also starting to see things about the brahmaviharas as a whole that I’d never noticed before.

I’m noticing a kind of progression, suggesting an underlying framework that crops up over and over again in the Buddha’s teachings. It’s not the first time I’ve noticed this progression, but I’m now seeing it in a new way.

By way of background, many of the Buddha’s overviews of the path can be seen as consisting of two synergistic activities, which it’s tempting to call “stages” although that terminology is a bit misleading, since it tends to assume that the first stage is “lower” and less important than the second. In a synergy, both factors are crucial, and it’s not possible to say that one is more important than the other because each depends on the other for its fulfillment. These two synergistic activities that crop up over and over again are different ways of doing what I call “unselfing” — that is, reducing the sense of separateness that causes us to suffer.

These synergistic activities are found, for example, in the categories of puñna and pañña, or merit and insight. “Merit” is where we “unself” by developing skillfulness. We change our emotional and cognitive habits so that we think, speak, and act more skillfully. We replace greed with contentment, letting go, and generosity. We replace ill will with love and compassion. We become less selfish and less self-oriented, and more in tune with other people. This aspect of practice is like knocking down weeds and planting flowers. Insight is where we uproot the very cause of greed and ill will, by closely examining our experience and realizing that because everything that constitutes “us” is constantly changing, we don’t have the kind of separate and unchanging self that can be defended by ill will or bolstered by greed. So this is a more radical form of unselfing, where we learn to see through the delusion of separate selfhood.

Puñña and pañña — together — help us to abandon selfishness and self-view.

And these two, puñña and pañña, are mutually supportive. We can’t develop insight until we’ve done substantial work on ourselves to reduce our negativity and to become more open and positive. So puñña supports pañña. But as we begin to develop more appreciation into the impermanent nature of our experience, and of our selves, we find that we naturally become more skillful. So pañña supports puñña.

And this pattern of synergy can be seen in the terms samatha (calming) and vipassana (clearly seeing), and in the formula of the three trainings (ti-sikkha), where ethics and meditation correspond to puñña, and wisdom to pañña. And this can be seen in many other teachings as well, where there’s often a pattern of skillful qualities giving rise to concentration, which allows us to make a breakthrough into insight, which is sometimes described as “seeing things as they really are” or simply as “equanimity” (but here talking about the equanimity of the awakened mind, and not as the brahmavihara, although the one can lead to the other).

The brahmaviharas follow the same pattern, but in a particularly interesting way.

Metta and karuna (lovingkindness and compassion) are where we wish that beings be happy and free from suffering. We recognize, though our ability to resonate (anukampa) with others, that all beings wish to be happy and don’t wish to suffer. We all share these deep drives. And when we really recognize the universality of these drives, we find it harder and harder to stand in the way of others’ happiness, or to cause them suffering. Just knowing this intellectually isn’t enough, of course. We have to train our ability to resonate, and we have to train our ability to be kind and compassionate. (And we also have to train to be less selfish, grasping, and antagonistic). So this is a puñña activity, where we’re changing our habits and becoming less selfish.

Then there’s mudita, joyful appreciation. Now this is often described as us feeling joyful when we see joy in others. And seen that way it’s a mirror image of compassion, which is what we feel when we see pain in others. But mudita is far more than being empathetically joyful. It’s appreciating the skillful in others and appreciating the joy and peace that comes from those skillful qualities. It’s recognizing the operation of karma — how our actions affect our happiness, for good or bad — and so it’s really an insight practice. But it’s an insight practice that focuses on the arising of puñña in others. Mudita is when we appreciate, rejoice in, and support the arising of the skillful in others, because we clearly see that these qualities lead to true peace, joy, happiness, and freedom from suffering.

Upekkha is of course an insight practice too. It’s an insight practice where we ourselves cultivate and experience a loving peace. We experience peace as we learn that painful experiences and pleasant experiences come and go. We experience peace as we recognize that selfish clinging and ill will can never bring happiness, and because we’ve recognized that letting go can. We experience peace as we recognize the limits of our own abilities, and so there’s no clinging to unattainable outcomes (“I must save all beings!”) and no despondency and aversion when we’re not able to help others (“Some of those idiots just keep on causing suffering for themselves!”) We experience peace as we recognize that we can do what we can do, but ultimately all beings are the owners of their own karma (actions); ultimately they are responsible for their own happiness. We can help others. We can empathize with them. We can point the way. But as the Dhammapada says, “You yourselves must strive; the Buddhas only point the way.” And to the extent that we ourselves have any skill in pointing toward awakening, we have to recognize that others may not be interested in following that direction.

But we’re also wishing this peace for others. Even if we haven’t developed much peace ourselves, we can still wish that others attain to peace. We can wish that they come to recognize impermanence, and that they come to see the arising and passing of experiences with balance and equanimity. We can wish that they learn to let go of the desire to change that which cannot be changed, and that they increasingly see letting go as the path to peace. So really, we’re supporting the development of insight in others.

So mudita, joyful apprecaition, is an insight practice in which we recognize the workings of karma in others, as they bring about peace and joy through the cultivation of skillful qualities. On the other hand upekkha, or “closely and lovingly watching over others” is an insight practice in which we recognize the workings of karma in others as they bring about peace and joy by recognizing and realizing impermanence.

Mudita and upekkha are not just things we feel, however. They are intentions that lead to actions. Mudita leads to our rejoicing in the good we see in others, and upekkha leads to us appreciating and supporting any insight we seen in others, so that we help them to let go whenever we can, of any grasping that causes them to suffer. Having unselfed ourselves, we help others to relax their own sense of self, so that they too can become unselfed. Tomorrow I’ll talk more about putting upekkha into practice in our lives.

PS. You can see all of our 100 Days of Lovingkindness posts here.

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Words of equanimity; wordless equanimity (Day 84)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

So far in this 100 Days of Lovingkindness I haven’t said anything about the phrases we use in cultivating equanimity on the cushion, although in the guided meditation I posted the other week I suggested the words “May all beings find peace.”

In his “A Wise Heart,” Jack Kornfield suggests some beautiful phrases:

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

May you be open and balanced and peaceful.”

These remind us of a number of things. We’re reminded that equanimity includes an element of wisdom, which is where its peace comes from. Our deepest suffering comes from an inability to deal with impermanence, and from craving to have things they way we want them to be, and to having aversion to how things are. In equanimity we’ve accepted the coming and going of difficult experiences and have neither craving nor aversion.

We’re also reminded that in a way what we’re wishing for in cultivating equanimity is that other beings — all beings — have equanimity. Really we have the aspiration that all beings become awakened and experience the deepest and truest form of equanimity. We’re wishing that they have the openness, and balance, and peace of the awakened state. When I say “May all beings find peace” I don’t mean “peace and quiet” but enlightenment! We wish that the blessing of liberated equanimity (one of the uses of the word “equanimity” is as a synonym for enlightenment) arise in us and become manifest in others as well.

Sharon Salzberg has suggested the following phrases, although it would be a bit much to try to use all of these in one meditation, so feel free to pick and choose:
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  • All beings are the owners of their karma. Their happiness and unhappiness depend upon their actions, not upon my wishes for them.
  • May we all accept things as they are.
  • May we be undisturbed by the comings and goings of events.
  • I will care for you but cannot keep you from suffering.
  • I wish you happiness but cannot make your choices for you.

The traditional descriptions of the upekkha bhavana (the meditation practice in which we cultivate even-minded love) don’t contain any suggestions for phrases to use. In fact, both the meditation manuals I’ve been drawing on — the first century Path of Freedom and the 6th century Path of Purity — suggest that equanimity isn’t really established until the third jhana, which is a state in which verbal thought has ceased. Even in second jhana, there’s no thought, and because thinking has stopped, there’s no possibility — if we take these two commentaries literally — of there being equanimity phrases.

There are two things I’d say about this. The first of these is that I don’t think that the commentaries (which aren’t always reliable) do need be taken literally here. As I’ve pointed out before, there are different forms of equanimity. These include:

  • “Ordinary” equanimity, or mental stability, where we don’t get thrown off balance by pleasant or unpleasant feelings; we don’t, for example, lose our temper when someone says something hurtful.
  • Equanimity as a brahmavihara (what we’re mainly discussing here) which I see as mental stability combined with lovingkindness and an insightful awareness into impermanence, etc.
  • The equanimity of third and fourth jhana, where mental stability is experienced in combination with deep concentration and mental stillness.

I suspect that the commentators took the second and third of these and imagined that the equanimity of jhana and the equanimity of the brahma viharas are necessarily the same. And I don’t think they are. I think it’s possible to experience equanimity as a brahmavihara (even-minded love) in states of concentration below the third, or even second, jhana. It can be experienced in first jhana and even in access concentration. And it’s possible to experience the equanimity of jhana without having any lovingkindness to speak of.

Too great a desire for systematization is one of the besetting sins of Buddhist commentators!

The second thing I’d like to say is that although I believe that (or my experience is that) equanimity, or even-minded love, can be developed in access concentration and first jhana, it can also be experienced in second, and third jhana too. So here, all three forms of equanimity that I’ve just mentioned are experienced together: we have the mental stability of ordinary equanimity, which is pervaded with love, and which is experienced in a wordless and deeply focused mind. So this is a state of loving equanimity which is wordless and deeply concentrated.

I’ve been experimenting with allowing this wordless, jhanic, loving state to emerge while walking, and finding that it is possible just to be equanimous in this way without using any phrases at all. In fact, when a wordless and deeply calm mental state arises, it’s not possible to use phrases without dropping down to a less focused state of awareness.

The arising of this state of walking equanimity (and I’ve done this while driving, too) depends on the practice I described the other day of becoming aware of both the inner world of bodily sensations, thoughts, and feelings, and the outer world of light, sound, space, etc., and resting in this open and receptive state. Thought quickly falls away, and a loving gaze can be introduced, leading to an equanimous and loving state.

You can experience peace, and silently wish this peace for anyone you see.

Now some people assert, quite confidently, that jhanic levels of concentration can’t be developed in the midst of activities like walking. But the Buddha seems to have been quite clear that they can:

But whoever —
walking, standing,
sitting, or lying down —
overcomes thought,
delighting in the stilling of thought:
he’s capable…

And one of the rewards of walking meditation, the Buddha said, was that “the concentration (samādhi) he wins while doing walking meditation lasts for a long time.” Ajahn Brahm, in one of his books, also mentions that he has attained deep states of samādhi (concentration) while walking.

And one of the clearest descriptions of walking meditation including the overcoming of the hindrances and the entry into jhāna is this:

“If a bhikkhu has gotten rid of longing and ill will while walking; if he has abandoned dullness and drowsiness, restlessness and remorse, and doubt; if his energy if aroused without slackening; if his mindfulness is established and unmuddles; if his body is tranquil and undisturbed; if his mind is concentrated and one-pointed, then that bhikkhu is said to be ardent…” (AN II 14)

(I give these examples because a lot of effort has gone in to trying to “prove” that walking meditation and jhāna are incompatible.)

People tend to assume — and I think this is their self-doubt speaking — that even first jhana is out of their grasp, let alone third jhana. But I don’t think this is the case. I’d suggest trying the practice I’ve just outlined above. Basically take the approach I suggested in the guided meditation a few days ago, and try it while walking, or even while sitting with the eyes open in some spot, like a park, where you can see other people. You might be surprised how far you can go.

PS. You can see all of our 100 Days of Lovingkindness posts here.

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The still, spacious, and vibrant mind of equanimity (and how to get there) (Day 83)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

Sometimes I find it hard to write about equanimity. It’s hard to make an absence of reactivity sound interesting. There’s so much emphasis on not reacting to others suffering with aversion or to their happiness with craving, that it can sound like a rather dull and uncaring state. And even though I’ve been emphasizing that equanimity is actually love that is even-minded and free from reactivity, the emotional side of equanimity tends to get lost sight of.

So I’m going to try to stress some of the positive qualities of equanimity.

Upekkha (that’s what I’m calling “equanimity” or “even-minded love”) is a state of completely free and unbounded love, care, kindness, and compassion. It’s the removal of craving and aversion, which are barriers to our love. With equanimity we no longer get to the point where we withhold our kindness or compassion from anyone. It doesn’t matter whether we like people or dislike them, whether they’re skillful or unskillful, whether we know them or don’t know them, whether we admire them or not, whether they’re similar to us or wildly different. The barriers to us recognizing another person’s basic humanity — their deep-rooted wish to be happy, their even more deep-rooted wish to be free from suffering — have gone.

Equanimity is truly unconditional love.

Equanimity is seeing the mind as like the sky — spacious, open, vast, and by nature free — and our experiences as like clouds passing through the sky. Pleasant and unpleasant feelings, emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations arise and pass away, but never adhere to the sky. In fact because the sky is as insubstantial as the thoughts, emotions, etc., that pass through it, there is nothing for those experiences to cling to.

But the space of the mind of equanimity is a warm and loving space — at least with equanimity as a brahmavihara, which is what we’re discussing here. So the cool blue of the sky is warmed by the radiance of the sun.

And that sun shines on all. Equanimity as a brahmavihara is experienced, to some extent, in the final stage of the lovingkindness, compassion, and joyful appreciation practices, where we “break the boundaries” and let our expansive mind be filled with these loving qualities. And whoever the mind alights on, whether in our sensory experience of the external world, or in the inner world of our thoughts, they are met with love.

Buddhism has its roots in a hot country where sunshine was seen as much a problem as a blessing, and so Buddhist metaphors tend to focus more on rain. In the Flower Ornament Scripture (the Avatamsaka) we’re told:

The supreme water spirit Ocean covers the earth with clouds; the rain in each place is different, but the spirit has no thought of distinction. Likewise, Buddha, sovereign of truth, extends clouds of great compassion in all directions, raining differently for each practitioner, yet without discriminating among them.

Equanimity is deep peace. In “I Am That,” Nisargadatta Maharaj is recorded as having said “Pain and pleasure are the crests and valleys of the waves in the ocean of bliss. Deep down there is utter fullness.” While the surface of the ocean may be calm at one time, turbulent at another, in its depths the ocean is always still. Similarly, pleasant and painful experiences — such as witnessing great joy or great suffering in others — are said not to disturb the mind of one with equanimity.

Equanimity is strength. In the collection of ancient verses known as the Theragatha (songs of the elders) we’re told that “Just as a solid mass of rock is not moved by the wind” so the ” steadfast and unfettered” mind does not tremble. Equanimity is a courageous stance which is able to accept that which it cannot change. It does not fear discomfort nor seek immersion in pleasure. It doesn’t fear change. Pleasures and discomforts come and they go, like winds blowing around a rock.

Perhaps what I’m describing sounds impossibly remote. But I think that actually an experience of this state of equanimity is quite accessible. I’ve found that bringing two simple practices together can help induce a sense of equanimous love. A Youtube video of a guided meditation I recently led gives an outline of these two practices.

The first of these practices is of becoming aware of both the outer world of light, sound and — above all — space. We simply notice the space around us — in front, behind, to the sides, above, below — and notice the sounds and light that fill that space. It can feel as if our consciousness is filling the world around us, so that there is a spacious sphere of awareness. This in itself is enough to induce a sense of calmness. Often the mind clears and thoughts grind to a halt, are at least become less frequent and less disturbing. Then we extend this spacious awareness so that we’re also paying attention to the inner world of physical sensations, thoughts, and feelings, although it’s better to think of this as simply noticing the inner part of our sphere is awareness. Lastly, we simply maintain this awareness of the inner and outer dimensions of our awareness. If we start to lose touch with either the outer world (because we’ve started obsessing about a thought, for example) or if we start to lose touch with the inner world (perhaps because we’re listening to a sound) we relax back into this open, spacious awareness. As we hold this balance, the sense of there being any distinction between the inner and outer worlds may well fall away, and we’re left just with a unified sphere of awareness, which isn’t divided into “me” and “not me.”

The second of these practices is what I call “Loving gaze.” Here we may start by recollecting what it’s like to look with love. I often remember what I feel like when I sneak into my kids’ room at night and see them sleeping. There’s a sense of cherishing, of love, of tenderness, and of vulnerability. Recollecting this in meditation, I find that I now have a “loving gaze” — which isn’t of course a literal gaze, since my eyes are closed, but is more a sense of love pervading my awareness of the sphere of awareness. (If you can’t recall a memory of gazing with love, then just imagine what it’s like to look in this way.) So now, I have a sense of a vast, spacious consciousness that extends well beyond my physical body, and this vast and spacious consciousness is imbued with love.

It’s not terribly hard to bring those two practices together, and if you manage you’ll find that this experience of equanimity is a very positive and vibrant state.

PS. You can see all of our 100 Days of Lovingkindness posts here.

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The “near enemy” of even-minded love (Day 82)

100 Days of LovingkindnessThe traditional term “near enemy” points to some spiritually unhelpful quality or experience that can be mistaken for a helpful quality or experience. The near enemy is a kind of counterfeit of what we’re actually aiming for, and it’s unhelpful because while the genuine article helps free us from suffering, the counterfeit doesn’t.

Each of the four practices we’re focusing on in our 100 Days of Lovingkindness — metta (lovingkindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (joyful appreciation), and upekkha (even-minded love) — collectively known as the divine abidings (brahma viharas) or the “four immeasurables” has a near enemy.

Buddhaghosa, a 6th century commentator, has the following to say about the near enemy of upekkha, or even-minded love, which is translated here as equanimity:

Equanimity has the equanimity of unknowing based on the home life as its near enemy, since both share in ignoring faults and virtues. Such unknowing has been described in the way beginning, “On seeing a visible object with the eye equanimity arises in the foolish infatuated ordinary man, in the untaught ordinary man who has not conquered his limitations, who has not conquered future [kamma] result, who is unperceiving of danger. Such equanimity as this does not surmount the visible object. Such equanimity as this is called equanimity based on the home life.”

You can pretty much ignore the term “home life” here since this doesn’t really have anything to do with living at home, or being a householder as opposed to being a monk or nun. “Home life” is just “monkish” for “spiritually uneducated.”

What this passage as a whole refers to is simply “not caring.” You see a “visible object” such as a suffering person, and you simply don’t care. You may not have aversion for the suffering person (aversion is the far enemy) but for some reason you’re not moved by their plight. Perhaps you lack empathy at that particular time or generally lack empathy. Perhaps you’re cognitively overloaded and can’t take anything else in. Perhaps you’re tired. Perhaps you’re self-preoccupied. Perhaps your mind is moving too fast for you to slow down and pay attention to what you’re feeling. Maybe you have a mindset that other people’s suffering is not your problem. Whatever the reason, you just don’t care. You’re apathetic. You “ignore faults and virtues” because other people’s sufferings and joys just don’t interest you..

You may even think that all this is a virtue! You may think that you’re being “detached.” In fact a lot of people have the view that Buddhism is about detachment, and that you shouldn’t have any desires — even positive desires — if you’re practicing the Dharma.

In fact someone just wrote to me today, saying, in part, “To be free of desire – does that mean we shouldn’t have any goals and objectives for anything. or love our families or pursue any desires because ultimately they are impermanent and will eventually lead to suffering?”

This is as bad a misconception of Buddhism as you can have! The Buddha encouraged us to abandon craving, not desires as such. If we abandoned all desires we’d never do anything. We wouldn’t “strive diligently” for awakening (those were the Buddha’s last words). We wouldn’t develop compassion, since wanting to develop compassion is a desire. We wouldn’t practice compassion, since wanting to relieve another’s suffering is also a desire. Practice simply wouldn’t happen without desire! In fact I’d go as far as to say that you need a huge amount of desire to become awakened and to realize the goal of enlightenment, and that most of us lack that level of desire. For most people, the task is to develop enough desire to develop the desire we need for becoming awakened!

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The brahma viharas are mostly defined in terms of desires. Lovingkindness is the desire that beings be happy. Compassion is the desire to free beings from suffering. Joyful appreciation is the desire that good qualities, and the peace and joy that come from them, take root and flourish in the world. Without desire the brahma viharas simply wouldn’t exist.

Equanimity, or even-minded love, is not where we say “OK, all that desire for beings to be happy and free from suffering was great — now I’m going to give it up.” It’s the point at which our lovingkindness, our compassion, and our joyful appreciation of the good reach their fullness. It’s when they become imbued with a keen sense of impermanence. Because things change, happiness won’t last. So we don’t get intoxicated when people are happy. Because things change, suffering won’t last either, so we don’t get disappointed or depressed when people suffer. But what you do do is love, have compassion, and appreciate the good. You “ignore faults and virtues” in the sense that your love is unconditional, but not because you don’t care.

None of this causes us to become inactive. In fact, equanimity, or even-minded love, allows us to be more effective and sustained in our actions, because we don’t demotivate ourselves by dipping into depression or hopelessness or fear — or into not caring, the “near enemy” of equanimity — but are unshakable in our love and in our efforts to help beings.

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Equanimity’s “far enemies” (Day 81)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

Buddhaghosa decribes the “far enemies” of equanimous love like this: “Greed and resentment … are its far enemies … for it is not possible to look on with equanimity and be inflamed with greed or be resentful simultaneously.”

He also says, “[Equanimity’s] function is to see equality in beings. It is manifested as the quieting of resentment and approval.”

Equanimity destroys greed (or approval) and resentment, and greed (or approval) and resentment destroy equanimity, and so they’re direct opposites or, as the tradition calls them, “far enemies.”

Equanimity is a state of neither approval nor disapproval, aversion nor craving. It’s a state of balance, calm, and peace. When it’s applied in relation to our own experience, it means being with our painful experiences without resisting them in any way, and being with our pleasant experiences without clinging to them or longing for their continuation. We just act as skillfully as we can and let our experiences come and go.

Applied to our relationship with others, equanimity means more than one thing. It means that we don’t play favorites. We recognize that each person’s suffering and joy and welfare are as real to them as to anyone else. That’s why we “see equality in beings.”

Equanimity also means that as we wish beings well and wish for their suffering to end, we don’t have any aversion to their suffering nor any craving for their happiness. This can be harder for us to get our heads around; this is most certainly not a state of uncaring, but is simply an acceptance of the limits of our power. To use language from the late “Seven Habits” author Stephen R. Covey, others’ suffering and happiness are within our circle of concern, but are often outside our circle of influence.

And to avoid misunderstanding, it’s perfectly possible to want to relieve someone’s suffering and yet not have aversion to their suffering. Aversion here is an inability to deal with discomfort, where we can’t accept the reality of others’ suffering. And it’s perfectly possible to desire the well-being of others without craving it. Craving is where we’re attached to particular outcomes, and when those outcomes don’t appear we suffer.

So the state of equanimity is where we have the courage to change the things we can, and the serenity to accept the things we can’t.

In fact Buddhaghosa makes it explicit that equanimity, as a brahmavihara, is a stance where we recognize the limits of our influence:

Its proximate cause is seeing ownership of deeds [kamma/karma] thus: “Beings are owners of their deeds. Whose, if not theirs, is the choice by which they will become happy, or will get free from suffering, or will not fall away from the success they have reached?”

This is one of those places where even-minded love becomes a wisdom practice, because we’re cultivating an awareness of karma.

Now obviously not all suffering arises because of beings’ own choices and actions, but much of it does. When something unpleasant happens to someone, like they lose their job through no fault of their own, or they are subject to a bereavement, there is initial suffering, which is the “first arrow.” But the bulk of the suffering that comes from circumstances such as these is usually self-induced secondary suffering, and comes from the mourning and judgements and inability to let go that we commonly experience. This is the second arrow.

And it’s that self-induced suffering (and happiness) that we’re mostly concerned with here. When we see someone suffering, we may well start off by being compassionate toward them. But when we see them wallowing in their pain, or acting in ways that are going to deeper their suffering, then we can end up losing our sympathy and feel annoyed and resentful: “Pull yourself together!”

So with equanimity we cultivate love and compassion toward beings, and even knowing that they bring about much of their own suffering we refrain from judging or blaming them. We also don’t judge ourselves for being unable to keep them from suffering.

And similarly we cultivate love and compassion toward beings, and aware that they bring about much of their own happiness we refrain from approval. Normally we’d think of approval as being a good thing, and usually it is, but here approval is just the flip-side of blame. It might be useful to think of it as “conditional approval” — I’ll love you as long as you keep being “good” and as long as you’re happy. But as soon as you slip up, acting unskillfully and causing yourself suffering, I withdraw my approval and begin to blame you.

So this is what we’re avoiding in even-minded love: we don’t have conditional approval when beings are happy, and we also don’t blame beings when they suffer. We recognize that beings’ actions are outside our control, and while we continue to give them our love and compassion we don’t feel resentful to ourselves for our inability to save the world, nor cling to the idea that we should be able to save the world.

This is the highest form of love: We do what we can to help others; we love them and have compassion for them when they cause themselves to suffer; and we don’t judge. We love them and rejoice in their good qualities, and we rejoice in the peace and joy that come from those good qualities. But we don’t judge.

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“There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can’t control.” Marcus Aurelius (Day 80)

Marcus Aurelius

“There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can’t control,” wrote Emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, in his Meditations. “These things are not asking to be judged by you. Leave them alone.”

I’ve described even-minded love (upekkha) as being love with insight. One thing that allows our love to be even-minded, or equanimous, is insight into impermanence.

Even-mindedness is a quality that accompanies all of the other brahmaviharas, which are the four qualities of lovingkindness (metta), compassion (karuna), joyful appreciation (mudita), and even-minded love (upekkha) itself. We need to have even-mindedness accompanying these other states because loving-kindness, compassion, and joyful appreciation each involve desires. Metta is a desire that beings be happy; compassion that they escape suffering; and mudita that they continue to experience the joy and peace that comes from the good qualities they embody.

And the problem is that the things we want aren’t necessarily going to happen, or if they do they won’t last. We can wish that beings be well, but they’re going to experience distress, sickness, and loss. We can wish that beings be free from suffering, but their suffering isn’t necessarily going to end. And we can wish that they continue to enjoy the benefits of their skillful qualities, but it’s not guaranteed that either the skillful attributes nor the peace and joy that spring from them will endure.

In the brahmavihara meditations, we desire particular outcomes, and yet the things we wish for can never last. And so, in order that we ourselves be at peace, we need to appreciate impermanence.

In order to strengthen our even-mindedness, we can cultivate lovingkindness while bearing in mind that although we wish happiness for beings, they’re not necessarily going to find it, and when they do it’s not going to last. We can bear in mind their sufferings and develop compassion, wishing that they be free from suffering, and at the same time remember that any freedom from suffering that they experience will be temporary. And we can rejoice in their good qualities and the peace and joy flowing from those qualities, and remember that any peace they may experience is a phenomenon, like every other experience, that arises and passes away.

Non-equanimity is like sitting on the shore, watching waves rising and falling and cheering when the waves rise, mourning when they fall. With equanimity we recognize that the waves are not under our control. They rise, they fall; we watch, with love.

The “love” part of this is important. It’s easy to be fooled by words like equanimity and even-mindedness into thinking that upekkha is an emotionless, detached quality. Rather, it’s a form of love. It’s well-wishing. In upekkha we sincerely love beings and desire that they be well and that they be free from suffering, but we also accept that happiness and suffering are impermanent experiences that arise and fall outside of our control.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t act on our love, or that acting is pointless. We act with kindness; we seek to relieve compassion where we can; we encourage and rejoice in the good we see in others. But we don’t get attached to outcomes. When we do get attached to things turning out in a particular way, we may initially wish beings well or wish to relieve their suffering, but we soon become frustrated or despondent. We try to help them and perhaps they don’t want to be helped, and our love turns to aversion. Or we don’t have the skill to assist them, and we feel dejected. We act compassionately to help one person, and recognize that there’s an immeasurable amount of suffering in the world, and our efforts are just a drop in the ocean, and we feel depressed and hopeless.

This is why equanimity is necessary, and why it pervades the other three brahmaviharas. But it’s also cultivated as a quality of even-minded love in its own right, as the fulfillment of love.

In the formal practice, we develop a state of loving equanimity toward ourselves, by wishing ourselves well while bearing in mind that the joy and sorrow we experience is impermanent, and by simply accepting any pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral experiences that may arise.

Then we do the same with a neutral person (someone who we neither like nor dislike), then with a person we find difficult, then with a friend. Finally we expand our awareness into the world around us, where happiness and unhappiness rise and fall like waves on the ocean, and we wish all beings well while accepting the impermanence of their joys and sorrows.

100 Days of Lovingkindness

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Even-mindedness and the two arrows (Day 79)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

Upekkha, or even-minded love, is the fourth of the series of meditations we’re looking at in our 100 Days of Lovingkindness series.

As I discussed in the first post on upekkha, this word has several different meanings, although they’re all related.

There’s:

  1. Even-mindedness where we are able to accept ups and downs (specifically, pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral feelings) without being thrown off-balance.
  2. Even-mindedness in the deep states of meditative absorption called jhana, where the mind is very stable and focused.
  3. Even-mindedness as one of the four immeasurables (brahmaviharas), where we have even-minded love.
  4. Even-mindedness as a synonym for the awakened state, or enlightenment, where greed, hatred, and delusion have been unrooted, and so the mind is not thrown off-balance by them.

Now I don’t think these are entirely separate. I pointed out that upekkha as a synonym for the awakened experience (type 4) could be the same thing as the brahmavihara (type 3), but experienced permanently. Even-mindedness as an experience in jhana (type 2) is just ordinary even-mindedness (type 1) plus concentration. And even-mindedness as a brahmavihara (type 3) is just even-mindedness (type 1) plus love.

Since even-mindedness type 1 is the basis for all the rest, we should take a look at that.

The Buddha talked about there being “two arrows.” The first arrow is when we have an experience that is painful in some way. That’s an inevitable part of life. But then there follows a second arrow, which consists of our aversive response to pain. So we think “This shouldn’t happen to me! It’s not fair!” Or we think “It’s his fault!” Or we think, “This is horrible, this is how it’s going to be for the rest of my life!” Or we think, “This always happens to be. It must show that I’m a bad person, unworthy of being loved. My life sucks!” And all of these responses simply cause us more pain: hence, the second arrow.

And the same kind of dynamic works for pleasant feelings as well, except that the pain usually comes when the pleasant feeling has gone, and we mourn it, or when we find ourselves having been led into unwise actions in pursuit of further pleasure.

So the Buddha’s advice is simply to observe feelings as they arise and pass away, and to accept them mindfully without reacting with either craving or aversion. This acceptance of our feelings is equanimity, even-mindedness, or upekkha. We don’t ignore any pain or pleasure, and in fact we’re more conscious of it than when we’re busy reacting to it. We simply notice it as another experience. We lose the judgment. It’s not “bad” to experience pain, and it’s not “good” to experience pleasure.

And this is important in each of the brahmaviharas. At a very basic level, at the start of a period of lovingkindness, we have to become aware of how we feel, so that we know what we’re working with. Now it actually doesn’t matter whether we feel good, or feel terrible, or whether we don’t know how we feel — it’s only important that we’re aware of what our experience is. So if you’re feeling unhappy, that’s OK. To be paradoxical, it’s not “bad” to feel bad. You just feel unhappy, you accept the unhappiness, and you start cultivating lovingkindness for yourself. If you’re feeling happy, then that’s fine too. Same thing: just accept what’s there and start cultivating lovingkindness. If you’re not sure how you’re feeling, this is probably because you’re not feeling much. You’re experiencing a neutral feeling. And you accept that and start cultivating lovingkindness toward yourself. It’s all too common for people to go into a downward spiral when they feel bad or feel neutral, because they assume that something is wrong. Equanimity prevents this happening. It stabilizes the mind. We neither reject who we are, nor crave to become someone else. We simply accept what’s going on, and work patiently with it.

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And, later in each of these practices, we call to mind people who are friends, people you neither like nor dislike, and people you have a conflicted relationship with. Generally when we think of a friend we’ll experience pleasant feelings, a neutral person neutral feelings, and a difficult person unpleasant feelings. So these practices give us the opportunity to develop equanimity. We cultivate the ability to sit mindfully with the three basic “flavors” of feeling. This is a very important part of lovingkindness practice. The more we’re able to have equanimity for our painful, pleasant, and neutral feelings, the easier it is to cultivate upekkha.

In a more vipassana approach (and by that I means simply meditation that focuses on impermanence, non-self, and the unsatisfactoriness of our experiences, rather than the form of meditation taught by Goenka or other teachers as “Vipassana” or “Insight Meditation”) we can train ourselves to observe that our feelings come and go. This is something we know, of course. But in paying particular attention to this fact — by observing it in action — we take our feelings less personally. We’re not so prone to reacting when we remember the impermanence of our feelings. Also in a vipassana approach we can learn to recognize that because our feelings pass through, they’re not ultimately a part of us: “This is not me; this is not mine; I am not this” was the phrase that the Buddha taught. And lastly, in a vipassana approach to feelings, we can recognize that no feeling is capable, fundamentally, either of permanently destroying our wellbeing or of giving lasting happiness. We recognize the dukkha, or unsatisfactory nature of our experiences, and recognize that it’s not the contents of our experience that create happiness or lack of happiness, but the way we relate to the contents of our experience.

And the most powerful thing we can do to transform our relationship with the contents of our experience is to allow it to be, with equanimity.

PS. You can see all of our 100 Days of Meditation posts here.

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Equanimity is love — even-minded love (Day 78)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

It’s easy to forget that upekkha, or equanimity, is love. The word “equanimity” doesn’t sound very loving. It’s coldly Latinate, lofty, and remote, and doesn’t roll off the tongue easily. Few of us are likely to use the word in everyday conversation. The adjective, equanimous, is even worse! Even the Anglo-Saxon equivalents, “even-minded” and “even-mindedness,” don’t convey any sense of love, or kindness, either. But upekkha is a form of love.

The word in Pali or Sanskrit is from a root īkś, which means “to look upon,” along with a prefix upa-, which can mean many things, but which almost always connotes a sense of closeness, as in upaṭṭhāna (attending) and upakiṇṇa (covered over). So although upekkha is usually taken to have a distant quality, it’s actually quite intimate. It means “looking over” but in the sense of being close up. Perhaps we should render upekkha as something more like “equanimous love” or “even-minded love.”

Upatissa, the author of the first century meditation manual I’ve been sharing with you as we explore the “immeasurable” meditations of loving-kindness, compassion, joyful appreciation, and now even-minded love, describes upekkha like this:

As parents are neither too attentive nor yet inattentive towards any one of their children, but regard them equally and maintain an even mind towards them, so through equanimity one maintains an even mind towards all beings. Thus should equanimity be known.

The fact that Upatissa talks about parenting reminds us of the warm, intimate nature of upekkha. It’s warm, intimate, and wise, not cold and distant.

Any parent who has more than one child is familiar with the scenario he describes! The other day my daughter asked me: “Who do you love more, daddy? Me or my brother.” And then she cleverly added, “It’s OK if it’s not me.” I think she assumed that her addition would pave the way for me to tell her the “truth” that she wanted to hear (or feared hearing) — although the truth is that of course it’s simply not possible for me to quantify and compare the love I have for each of my children.

My kids are in full on dispute with each other at the moment. My four-year-old son is going in for a tonsillectomy tomorrow. He’s terrified of the prospect, naturally, and this is leading to him acting out in various ways, like having temper tantrums and meltdowns, and this has led to him doing things like hitting his six-year-old sister. This in turn has led her to “punishing” him by trying to exacerbate his anxiety — reminding him of his operation at every available opportunity, and sometimes going into graphic detail about how sore his throat will be afterwards, asking what kind of knife the surgeon will use, etc. And that leads him to get revenge by breaking her stuff. It’s a classic tale of spiraling vengeance!

So in the midst of any particular situation of conflict — he’s just broken her special bracelet, or she’s slyly reminded him of his operation by “helpfully” reminding him that he’ll get to have ice cream afterward — there’s no possibility of taking sides. I realize that both are suffering, and I want both to be happy. My son hurts his sister and I realize that both are having a hard time. Yes, he needs to be told that he can’t act this way, but fundamentally he also needs sympathy and to be helped in dealing with his anxiety. My daughter torments her brother and again she has to be encouraged to act less like a tiny torturer and more like a helpful big sister, but she also needs support because she’s suffering from having to cope with his anxiety and the behavior that springs from it.

So I can’t take sides. I don’t mean that I “shouldn’t” take sides. I’m incapable of taking sides. I can’t say “this child deserves happiness more than the other.” That just makes no sense.

So if you really, deeply, recognize that all beings want to be happy, and that they want to be free from suffering — when you realize that each being’s happiness and suffering is as real to them as it is for you and for any other being — there can be no sense of welcoming one person being happy at another’s expense. There is sympathy for all.

The thought may have crossed your mind — and it certainly crossed mine — OK, so Bodhipaksa says he can do this with his children, but his children are still his children, and is it even possible to have this kind of even-minded love for strangers, or for people we’re not related to, like other people’s children? Don’t we have an inbuilt bias, because after all we have a great history of affection and of relatedness with those we’re close to — friends, family — that we don’t share with strangers? It’s a good question. But when one of my kids is involved in an altercation with a child from another family — and this happens almost on a daily basis — I don’t see my own children’s happiness as being any different from, or important than, any other child’s. So in sorting out any dispute I try to maintain an awareness that the kids on both sides are suffering and want happiness. Sure, I’m going to put effort into protecting, feeding, and clothing my own children and not with the neighbors’ kids — but that’s a separate issue. That’s to do with the nature of the relationship we have, and the resources available to me. It doesn’t mean that I think my children’s happiness is more important to them than the neighbors’ kids’ happiness is to them.

This quality of even-minded love is inherent in all the other practices. It’s very similar to the final stage of the lovingkindness, compassion, and joyful appreciation practices, where we cease focusing on individual relationships and simply imbue the mind with those loving qualities, so that any being the mind touches, whether it’s because we encounter them in our lives or because we meet them in our thoughts, is touched by a loving quality. In the final stage of these practices there is a quality of even-mindedness, where we let go of our likes and dislikes. Happiness is desired by all, and suffering is something that all wish to avoid. Our likes and dislikes, our social connectedness or lack thereof, can obscure this truth, but it’s a truth nonetheless. And so the practice of equanimity is to see past these obscurations in order to recognize this truth.

So upekkha is love. It’s even-minded love, where we maintain an even mind towards all beings as we wish them well. It’s not a cold or distant state. It’s simply where we drop our biases and value all beings’ happiness and wellbeing.

PS. You can see all of our 100 Days of Lovingkindness Posts here.

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