This talk discusses equanimity, the fourth of the four brahmavihārā (four immeasurables or four infinite minds) practices. The other brahmavihārā practices are loving-kindness (mettā), compassion (karuṇā), and sympathetic joy (muditā). Ajahn Kalyano describes equanimity (upekkhā) as the most difficult of the four to cultivate, and it is not only a quality to cultivate, but also the fruit of our practice. “Equanimity” is the quality of being grounded, with a calm that is not easily disturbed by events.
To illustrate the nature of equanimity, Ajahn Kalyano uses the analogy of a ship’s ballast. Ocean-going vessels carry ballast at their bottoms. This is a heavy material, such as sand, and is necessary for ships to remain safe and stable in the water. Without ballast, wind or waves could easily capsize a ship, but with the proper ballast, a ship is much more stable. Similarly to a ship’s ballast, equanimity is “ballast” which helps a person resist being blown around by the eight worldly winds. The winds (pleasure & pain, gain & loss, praise & blame, and fame & disrepute) are constantly buffeting us about, often unexpectedly. A quality of equanimity helps us keep our feet and stay on course in the face of these winds.
Ajahn Kalyano also speaks extensively about how an awareness of karma supports the development of equanimity. Past karma (cause and effect) leads to events that affect us in the future; understanding how this works makes us more resistant to getting caught up in the events. Ajahn Kalyano even says at one point that equanimity is an awareness of karma. The teacher doesn’t go into detail about how an understanding of karma leads to equanimity, but perhaps an appreciation for the fact that events often have complex causes extending far into the past can help keep us from taking things too personally.
Finally, it’s important to not fall into the trap of indifference. Equanimity doesn’t mean not caring. The teacher uses the example of a hospital emergency room here — despite seeing people in great pain and distress, the doctors and nurses can keep their equanimity and respond appropriately (and in a caring fashion). Equanimity is only one of the four brahmavihārā practices, and one can’t develop equanimity without the support of the other three.
In the subsequent discussion, the group agreed that the teacher’s analogies were very helpful. We discussed how one might help keep their equanimity — taking time out for meditation was one suggestion. And each person’s needs could be different — introverts and extroverts could calm themselves in different ways. A lot of the discussion explored the idea of karma as it relates to equanimity. Karma is inherently neutral — the results of karma could be good, bad, or indifferent. Perhaps thinking about karma can help us keep equanimity by reminding us that much of what goes on around us is out of our control.
For another perspective on equanimity, see the Dharma talk “Equanimity in our Whirling World“ by Rev. Hōgetsu Laurie Belzer, a Zen teacher (contrasting with Tan Ajahn Kalyano’s Theravada tradition).
Scroll down to listen to Ajahn Kalyano’s talk. Happy Learning!
From the Teachers: Upekkha (Equanimity)
“Upekkha (equanimity)” by Ajahn Kalyano*
* Venerable Ajahn Kalyano was born in the UK and began practicing meditation regularly at university. He traveled to Thailand in 1983 to seek out a meditation teacher. He entered the community of monks at Ven. Ajahn Chah’s monastery, Wat Nong Pa Pong in 1985 and spent long periods of time helping to nurse Ven. Ajahn Chah through his extended period of illness. He began training under Ven. Ajahn Anan in 1991 and continued his work in translating Dhamma teachings from Ven. Ajahn Chah and other forest Ajahns. He also spent much of his early years practicing in the ascetic tradition of a wandering “dhutanga” monk in the forests of Thailand.
In April 2001, Ven. Ajahn Kalyano was invited to travel to Melboune, Australia to be the Abbot and resident teacher of the Buddha Bodhivana Monastery. In 2008 he was given the title of Upajjhaya or Preceptor by the Supreme Sangha Council of Thailand, which allowed him to perform the Upasampada or Admission Ceremony for new monks at the monastery. In 2016, he received, from the King of Thailand, the honorary title of Chao Khun Sophon Pavanavithet, for his contribution in spreading the teachings of the Buddha.