BV-Equanimity and its Mental Qualities

Tonight, we will practice the Brahma Vihara of Equanimity. It entails caring deeply while the heart and mind stay steady and balanced. When I review the events of the past few weeks, I recognize how valuable this divine abode is for flowing with the inevitable changes in life. 

At the end of April, Mark and I planned to fly to NY to visit my 95-year-old father. The day before our travels, my dad’s caregiver Scott developed a cough and fever and then tested positive for covid. As Scott quarantined and his assistant arrived to care for my father, Mark and I decided to postpone our trip, a disappointment for all of us. Equanimity practice helped me let go of our agenda and keep my heart open, praying for Scott’s healing and for my father’s protection from the virus.

With more spacious awareness, I remembered that every day countless people deal with disrupted plans and unexpected losses. I felt compassion for refugees fleeing Ukraine, Sudan, and other war-torn countries and for friends threatened by wildfires in New Mexico and Arizona. In the wider context of the universality of uncertainty, I feel grateful that my father stayed covid free while Scott recovered.

The Buddha described a mind filled with equanimity as “abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill-will.” Fortunately, even if we do not achieve that sublime state, which we associate with venerable spiritual masters like the Dalai Lama, we can experience many of the benefits of equanimity.

 According to Buddhist scholar and teacher Gil Fronsdal, two words in the Pali language refer to different aspects of equanimity. The first word upekkha means “to look over” in the sense of peaceful observation without being caught up in what’s seen. Gil says that in India, upekkha is used colloquially signifying “to see with patience or understanding.” It refers to the ease that comes from widening our perspective. In the spirit of grandmotherly benevolence, equanimity entails bringing a loving presence to others without reacting to their dramas. 

The second term for equanimity, tatramajjhattata,is a compound of three Pali words. Tatra means “there” or “all these things.” Majjha means “middle,” and tata means “to stand.” In combination, the word signifies “to stand in the middle of all things.” This dimension of equanimity is the capacity to stay centered and balanced amid whatever is occurring. Such equilibrium requires inner strength and stability. 

Equanimity protects us from being buffeted by the “eight worldly winds:” praise and blame, success and failure, pleasure and pain, and fame and disrepute. If we are attached to or elated by praise, success, pleasure, and fame, we suffer when the winds change. Gil reminds us that equanimity tempers our tendency to react to praise with conceit, to success with arrogance, to failure with self-criticism, and to pain with discouragement. The less our inner well-being is defined by the eight winds, the more we can stay unperturbed when they blow. 

Gil lists seven mental qualities that support the cultivation of equanimity. The first is virtue or integrity. If our words and actions cause no harm, we carry the ease of blamelessness wherever we go. A second support for equanimity is faith. When we have confidence in our ability to engage in spiritual practice, we can be steady in the face of challenges. 

A third support is a strong, stable, balanced mind. Practicing concentration and mindfulness helps us to develop and sustain mental calm regardless of shifting worldly winds.

A fourth support is a sense of well-being in our daily activities. We feel fulfilled when we bring close attention and care to the moments that make up our lives. We can appreciate sipping a cup of tea or watching an unfolding sunset. Sometimes at dusk, Mark and I enjoy sitting on our treetop-level balcony and observing the darkening sky until the first three stars become visible. 

A fifth support for equanimity is wise understanding. Wisdom helps us to accept whatever happens without resisting reality. Once we understand that our own thoughts and impulses arise due to impersonal conditions, we react less personally to them. We learn to discriminate between other people’s actions and the essence of who they are. Even if we disagree with what they say or do, we can be balanced in relationship with them. Wise understanding is crucial for recognizing when equanimity is absent. Mindful awareness of what is causing our imbalance helps us to regain equilibrium. 

The sixth support for equanimity is insight, seeing deeply into the nature of life’s characteristics as they are. With insight into the nature of impermanence, we realize that everything changes too quickly for us to hold onto anything. As the mind lets go of clinging, equanimity arises naturally. 

The seventh and last support is freedom from reactive tendencies. As we practice mindfully, we notice that we are no longer irritated by some of the issues that used to upset us. Gradually, we expand the range of life experiences in which we are free. 

Let’s be mindful of these seven supportive mental qualities as we practice a guided meditation to cultivate equanimity: integrity, faith, strength of mind, well-being, wise understanding, insight, and freedom. 

Sit comfortably and close your eyes. 

Take a few deep breaths and be aware of the ground supporting your body. 

Sense spaciousness in your heart and direct the following phrases to yourself: 

May I accept the comings and goings of life.

May I be open and balanced and peaceful.

Now transmit these same equanimous phrases to a beloved person. Visualize or have a felt sense of this dear one’s presence:

May you accept the comings and goings of life.

May you be open and balanced and peaceful.

Letting go of the image or felt sense of this loved one, breathe into the area of the heart…. Bring to mind a benefactor who has given you loving support during times of hardship. With gratitude, transmit equanimity phrases for the wellbeing of this benefactor: 

May you accept the comings and goings of life.

May you be open and balanced and peaceful.

Exhale and let go of the image or felt sense of the benefactor. Breathe gently into the area of the heart.

Bring to mind a neutral person whom you have seen in passing or met only briefly. Recall that everyone shares our wish to be free from anxiety and worry. With an image or felt sense of that neutral person, transmit phrases for their equanimity:

May you accept the comings and goings of life.

May you be open and balanced and peaceful.

Exhale and let go of the image or felt sense of the neutral person. Breathe gently into the area of the heart.

Bring to mind a person who is difficult for you to include in your heart. Remember that just like you, this person wants to be free from stress and angst. With an image or felt sense of this person who is challenging for you to accept, sense your interconnection and offer equanimity phrases for both of you:

May we accept the comings and goings of life.

May we be open and balanced and peaceful. 

Exhale and let go of the image or felt sense of the person whom you find difficult. Breathe gently into the area of the heart.

Visualizing or sensing the presence of everyone in our Insight Meditation Houston sangha, be aware that all of us are affected by personal challenges, climate change, warfare and violence, refugee crises, financial pressures, racial injustice, and political divisiveness. We all need to find “what peace there may be in silence.” Let the equanimity phrases benefit all of us in this spiritual community: 

May we all accept the comings and goings of life.

May we all be open and balanced and peaceful. 

Extending our good wishes for all beings everywhere:

May all beings everywhere be open and balanced and peaceful.

So be it.