Equanimity, Have Your Say in Your Heart (Upekkha: The Fourth of the Four Brahma Viharas)


The word Upekkha is taken from the Sanskrit / Pali and precisely translates into English as equanimity. Upekkha is the fourth of the Four Brahma Viharas, also known as the four immeasurable meditative states. Equanimity means freedom of mind, emotional stability, or calm abiding. In Buddhism the notion of calm abiding gives reference to a pure state of being. What exactly is a pure state of being? It is that place within your consciousness that is free from fluctuation, grasping and illusion. It is peaceful abiding in a state of consciousness free from attachment and continuous distraction. It is most important to note at the onset of our discussion that equanimity (Upekkha) does not mean apathy, indifference or callousness. Conversely, equanimity is a spiritual quality that engenders a sense of mental balance and an open heart when confronted with the extremes of a volatile world. It does not mean that we have no feelings, no say, but that we have no need to be aggressive, combative or harbor animosity or ill will. It means that we have ascertained a sense of peace within ourselves and we are content to have our say within the cathedral of our own hearts.

Just as the first three meditative states rise up from within, of their own volition, equanimity does as well. All four of the immeasurable qualities can be realized and cultivated through meditation practice where we are trained to focus more deeply inside ourselves. This is where we will discover our authentic nature and the enduring source of peace that abides within. Through experience and understanding we soon come to appreciate that this natural state of well-being can never be sustained outside ourselves. Equanimity, like all of the immeasurables, is the byproduct of our own inner work toward self liberation. Self liberation is the process of attaining freedom from the ego’s competitive desires and neurotic sense of self involvement. These are the relentless method by which the ego attempts to sustain its own illusion of itself. As the meditation process gradually deflates our illusion, we make space for the peaceful abiding of equanimity which has always resided within our consciousness, just waiting to be realized. Through the cultivation of equanimity in our daily life, we acquire a healthy sense of confidence based in humility, stability, grounded in self awareness, and a holistic world view that does not capsize in a sea of tumultuous emotions.

The great meditation master Chogyam Trungpa once accurately described meditation as "a sane relationship to experience" and this is precisely the point when we consider the meditative quality of equanimity in our lives. A mind grounded in equanimity has discovered its foundation in understanding. Once again, this is not apathy or a lack of concern, quite the contrary this is true empathy based in a accurate knowledge of inter-being and a rational view of the world. It is through taking time to understand all sides of a given situation that we remain rational, not allowing ourselves to go to extremes. It is through our awareness of the interconnection of all life that we are able to achieve the mutual respect for our world that is needed to attain true peace. A mind balanced in equanimity is always aware that happiness and suffering are contingent on our chosen way of viewing and reacting to life's events. A mind grounded in equanimity is always mindful of the individual responsibility we all share for our actions and their consequences. In other words, we are all in charge of our own Karma. This also means that although we may have empathy and compassion for a suffering world, we cannot simply wish or worry that suffering away. Each of us will ultimately come to terms with the consequences of their own actions. Equanimity gives us a moral, coherent, stable platform from which we may guide our lives as we reach out to the world with the authenticity of an open heart.

Through the cultivation of equanimity, the fourth immeasurable quality, we come to see the futility of taking sides, impulsively giving in to behavioral extremes. To practice equanimity is to always remain open. This does not mean we must give in to opposing views that we may feel are morally or ethically reprehensible. It means making room in our hearts and minds for all opinions and perspectives, being willing to make space for alternative views as we make effort to genuinely see the other side of our own perspective on events. Sometimes it means being silent even when we feel like arguing or voicing our own strong opinion. In spiritual practice we call this "Having your say in your heart". This is not easy and is a spiritual practice in itself, one that must be applied and reapplied to daily life. It is the practice of remaining open and free at all times rather than hardening into an opinionated position of indignation. In the words of Pema Chodron, “It means we must learn to think bigger” not allowing ourselves to succumb to the small minded impulses of rage and retribution. Training in equanimity is the practice of overcoming fear and aversion while allowing ourselves to feel vulnerable while we open our hearts. It means that we put aside the ego's self serving obstructions of passion, aggression and desire. It is not an easy process. We have, after all, a lifetime of conditioning. Thus we must exercise patience, take time and apply a focused effort. The cultivation of equanimity is a spiritual training process that only meditation in its various forms and practices can provide. It is through our committed effort and pure intention that we practice meditation and cultivate all four of the immeasurable qualities of love, compassion, appreciative joy and last but certainly not least - equanimity.

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Sangha Without Borders is currently physically located in London, UK