The minds of those of us who have an enduring sense of well-being are like deep oceans. Sometimes on the surface the elements may occasionally whip up a few waves, but they can not touch the depths which remain in deep abiding tranquility.
Neuroscientists have shown that such people have more activity in the right frontal lobes of their brains than do other people. Such brain activity has also been correlated with those adept at meditation.
Some time ago I read of one such person, a Tibetan Buddhist who had a long history of meditation. The activity in his frontal lobes registered higher than anyone the scientists had previously tested. Similarly he always portrayed serenity and affability. They wanted to test the impact of the monk’s equanimity on other people. Accordingly they arranged two debates with academics from the institute where they worked. The first academic was a gentle, loving man who was greatly liked by his peers. The other was an adversarial and aggressive fellow who because of his high intellect and imposing manner was somewhat feared by his peers. The subject for debate was reincarnation which the monk strongly believed in but that both academics were skeptical about. They scheduled a half hour for each meeting.
The monk and his first proponent hit it off immediately and they continued their discussion long past the half hour’s deadline with each genuinely interested in the other’s viewpoint and seeking to understand the basis of their beliefs
The second conversation didn’t last long at all. The aggressive academic stormed out of the meeting complaining that nothing he said seemed to impact the monk’s equanimity and that he could not maintain his passion for the discussion under such circumstances.
The monk reflected the learning from the little parable that I relate below, that when we achieve equanimity there is no need to take on the emotional baggage of others.
Our sense of equanimity comes from a well-prepared mind and that it is entirely our own responsibility. And yet most of us believe that other people are responsible for how we feel.
How many times do we hear people say things like;
“You make me so angry when you ,”
“I can never be happy until you ..,”
And so on.
Here is a helpful little parable that concerns this issue.
In the early days of Buddhism the Buddha incurred the wrath of the Brahmins, the Indian priestly caste. The Buddha preached that human beings didn’t need an intermediary between themselves and the gods in order to obtain happiness. Because this was exactly the role that the Brahmins wanted to perform they were naturally very threatened by the Buddha’s words.
One day the Buddha sat on the ground in a clearing with thirty or forty of the local villagers eager to hear what he had to say. He had only been speaking for a few minutes before a Brahmin strode into the clearing. He walked up and down in front of the Buddha while he was speaking and began to abuse him using rough language.
The Buddha on hearing these outbursts fell silent. Eventually, after much ranting and raving, the Brahmin ran out of steam.
When there was silence, the Buddha who had been sitting quietly listening said, “Brahmin, do you ever have guests in your house?”
The Brahmin answered, “Of course we have guests in our house.”
“When you have guests in your house do you offer them food and drink?”
“Certainly – we always offer hospitality to our guests.”
“And if they don’t accept your hospitality, if they don’t accept your food and drinks, pray tell me, to whom does it belong?”
Getting a little angry now, the Brahmin said loudly, “Of course it belongs to me! It belongs to me!”
And so it is with any of the afflictive emotions – they belong to the one who is propagating them. We do not have to accept them! In a similar vein the good Dr Phil says, “Offence is never given; it is only taken.”
Most of us, being outcome dependant are caught up in an emotional roller-coaster ride. When things go well we are elated – when things go poorly we are disappointed and sad.
Joseph Naft, the spiritual teacher and writer has written;
“In Buddhism, Sufism, and Kabbalah, equanimity appears as a precursor to, and an expression of enlightenment, as a wonderful and necessary quality of mind and heart. The spacious mind-heart leaves room for all the difficulties and attractions of life, for everything wanted and unwanted. Within the warmth of this vast inner space, equanimity permits us to live freely, allowing everything to have its place without having us, without taking us. In equanimity, we live in the world of presence, neither fettered nor buffeted by the inevitable turmoil of life.”
To work towards equanimity, we let go of attachments and accept ourselves, our situation and our world. (Anthony De Mello used to say we had to learn not to cling. He meant we had to give up our attachments.)
The whole of the spiritual path may be summed up in the notion of not clinging. The Buddha taught that liberation comes from detachment. Most of our human problems and many of our difficulties in progressing along the spiritual path result from clinging or attachment.
On the road to liberation, we must let go of everything as me or mine. When we become accepting of the transience of life, relationships, material possession, emotions and thoughts and virtually everything else we have traditionally believed we needed then we have opened the gate to liberation.
We must engage with the world just as it is and put aside our desire to make it something other than what it is. This means accepting our imperfections and of those around us. How long did it take for us to realise that our parents, no matter how much we loved them, had their faults? And then our partners who seemed so wonderful when we first got together gradually began to show failings and imperfections. And then finally, we came to the realisation that we, ourselves, were less than perfect.
Equanimity, in the end, comes from an ability to accept things just as they are. Equanimity comes from the realisation that my own personal well-being is largely dependant on my state of mind and that is my own responsibility – not someone else’s and certainly not something I can come to if I feel I am a victim of the world and my particular circumstances.
Let me leave you with a little story. I am not sure of its source but I suspect it came from something by Ram Dass that I read some years ago.
A samurai went once to see a monk. The samurai was a huge fearsome man and the monk was a tiny little fellow. The samurai stood in front of the monk and demanded belligerently, “Teach me about heaven and hell.”
The monk looked up at the samurai in disdain. “You, you great oaf! How could I teach you about heaven and hell? You’re a great smelly, ignorant ox. Look how dirty your clothes are. And what sort of samurai are you. You don’t even look after your sword. See how rusty the blade is.”
The samurai was furious. In his anger he raised his sword over the little man’s head preparing to slay him”
Before he could lower the blade the monk looked up at him and now with compassion in his eyes said softly, “That’s hell.”
The samurai stood stunned for moment. He was overwhelmed. The little man had obviously taken a great personal risk to demonstrate hell to him. He slowly lowered his sword. He looked back into the face of the monk and nodded his understanding. His gratitude at the others preparedness to make such a sacrifice instilled a sense of peace in his heart. He slowly smiled.
“And that,” continued the monk softly, “is heaven.”