2021-03-08 Mindfulness of Breathing (49) Equanimity Factor of Awakening (Part 1)
5:53PM Mar 8, 2021
The topic for this talk is the equanimity factor of awakening. It's the seventh of the seven factors of awakening. Over the last week, I've been talking about the earlier factors. We're talking about these seven factors of awakening in the context of the practice of ānāpānasati mindfulness of breathing, where we're mindful of the mind. We experience the mind as we breathe in – and then experience the mind as we breathe out. We've taken our time to understand some of the things we can start experiencing, when we experience the mind.
The word 'citta,' (the Pali word for mind) is often translated as "mind state." It's not the mind as a thing, like the brain is a physical thing. But rather, it's the way in which we experience our interior life, our mental life, as a whole. Rather than the particular details of different activities of the mind, that go on: particular thoughts, feelings, impulses, intentions – it's the whole of the mind.
And how we experience the whole is personal, contextual, and depends on different factors of the mind that come together. It sounds a little bit strange to say this, but the state of the mind – how we experience a state of the mind – depends on the state of the mind. How we experience the shape of the mind, or how we experience this totality of the mind, is based on the state of mind, or which mental factors are strongest.
But as we open to the mind, we can see that it has different characteristics, which we can feel. Now that takes a lot of stability, and being really settled in the practice in order to start feeling this whole mind – and the mood of the mind that that might be there.
As our practice becomes stronger, there are seven factors, qualities or characteristics that become predominant in this state of the mind we can experience – different ones at different times, and sometimes all of them together. These are the seven factors of awakening: mindfulness, investigation, effort, joy, tranquility, samādhi, and equanimity. These all have different functions, or work in different ways.
As a state of mind, mindfulness creates real stability. I could say it differently: the mind doesn't waver, it's not agitated and jumping around when mindfulness or awareness becomes a little more of a state that's present, rather than something that we have to keep renewing, by keeping making the effort of having the intention to be mindful. There's unwaveringness of attention.
Investigation, this ability to look up and see clearly what we intimately experience – not by analyzing it or probing, but by tuning into the frequency of the radio and not having any more static. Just really feeling it and sensing more fully what's going on. That function is really important for the process of liberation. They say it's the most important of the seven factors for liberation, because we have to get things really into focus.
The effort factor – which sees the difference between wholesome and unwholesome – is really key in not being trapped by the unwholesome. But it finds a certain healthy escape, or stepping away, into the wholesome.
Joy provides deep satisfaction, deep contentment, bodily and mentally. It really feels good.
Then the last three – tranquility, samādhi and equanimity – are particularly useful. And certainly the joy factor as well. These are all feelings of pleasure, well-being – positive feelings we can have that are a tremendous support for the practice. They help free us from some of our addictive patterns, some of our attachments to pleasure.
If we think we're searching for happiness by having more money, status, relationships or something that's outside of us, that drive can be addictive at times. Or the strong ways in which fear operates inside of us, which can compel us to act in certain ways, from anxiety or phobias.
There's something about being settled in these positive factors – these states of mind of joy, tranquility, samādhi, and equanimity – that is so nourishing. They feel so wholesome as a source of well-being, that it creates a reconditioning factor. They condition us in new ways. Rather than being conditioned by fear, or a feeling of lack, or being deprived, or feeling unsafe – all kinds of ways life has conditioned us to be – instead we start to recondition ourselves. Then it becomes easier to begin letting go of some of the dysfunctional ways in which we might be living.
Relying only on mindfulness, seeing clearly, and recognizing what's happening to free us from some of our conditioning is very hard to do, if we rely only on mindfulness. But rather, having mindfulness support this process of settling, stability and growth in the Dharma – we begin eventually (and eventually is the important word here, so we don't get impatient) to start getting nourished by these wholesome qualities and way of being.
The last of these is equanimity. Many people, who aren't familiar with this idea in Buddhism, think that equanimity may be aloof, dry, or not really relevant for having a good time in life. Or that it may even not be relevant for making yourself safe in this world. If we're equanimous, then how do we make ourselves safe?
Before I became a Buddhist practitioner, I don't think I had used the word 'equanimity' in any kind of way in my vocabulary. I probably knew what it meant somewhat, but it had no relevance for how I lived my life, or how I talked or thought about myself. But certainly with practice and meditation, equanimity has become a more and more important quality. It is something I recognize and appreciate as a state – as a feeling that courses through my whole body, as the stability, clarity, openness, and freedom that come with equanimity.
It's considered to be one of the most sublime states of being that a person can experience. It's considered the crown jewel of the seven factors of awakening, which themselves are the crown jewels. That lets you know that if your practice develops over time, you'll maybe you'll start feeling how special this equanimity factor is – and its rich emotional aspect. It is not indifference, aloofness, or dryness.
The equanimity factor, the word belongs to a family of concepts and states, that are championed by Buddhism. One of them is equanimity, which is 'upekkhā' in Pali. Another one is a mouthful of words, which means literally something like (the etymology of it): "standing in the middle of it all." That's often seen as a sense of balance.
Then there's a word 'samma,' which may be cognitively related to our word 'same.' I'm not sure how these languages connect. They're distant relatives of each other: English and Pali. And 'samma,' can mean something like 'even.' It can also mean 'like,' as in "the same." But 'even', 'balanced' also, but an "evenness of mind." And 'samma' is related to the word 'samena,' which means either 'impartially,' or sometimes it's translated as "with justice." So, like the impartial justice, the impartial judging of things, is considered a really high ideal. And to treat people with a certain kind of impartiality doesn't mean indifference. It means that we treat everyone equally. And 'samma' is equal, or same, or sameness. So an evenness of mind and impartiality of mind, a balance of heart and mind, of body and mind – and equanimity.
For now, I will just say a little bit about equanimity, then pick up this topic tomorrow, because it's so important. The word for equanimity is 'upekkhā,' and the etymology is actually quite useful here. It literally means to have an overview, a bird's eye view of what's happening. It involves the wisdom that comes from seeing how things are.
Equanimity is a wisdom factor. It's not just something that arises because the quality of some inner balance is strong. Rather, it also comes from the strength of mindfulness, investigation, and all these other factors, when we are able to not be pulled for or against things. To not quickly become partial, or be reactive to experience, but to have the stability that allows us to have the overview.
And wisdom operates. Wisdom can see that, "Oh, that's being pulled into things; I don't need to do that." "That's my anger; I don't have to pick it up and get involved." "That's pain. I know about pain. I've meditated with pain for a long time. And I know I'm better off not getting pulled into its orbit and being preoccupied with or reactive to it."
There's a bit of wisdom operating with this overview – having the big picture of how it works. It belongs to the aspect of mindfulness, where we can begin observing what's going on. It's a bit like stepping back, and having the big picture – or being up on a hilltop, maybe looking down.
Or the experience that I had – a wonderful experience, which was very valuable for me many years ago, as a second year student in college. First time I was living with college roommates in a little apartment. The apartment had a deck, out the living room. And one day I was out somehow on the deck with the living room sliding door closed. Two of my roommates were having an (I think a friendly enough) animated conversation in the living room. I couldn't hear anything they were saying. But I could see the animated way they were. And I could feel how I was delighted seeing them. But I could feel how I wasn't being pulled around by what they were saying and how they were. I wasn't getting pulled in, or reactive to it. I was just sitting peacefully, delightfully just watching – kind of in a way of equanimity.
This ability to observe, watch, and maybe be delighted, compassionate. Maybe have a response that's situation-appropriate because of our ability to have the overview and clear-seeing of what's going on. The equanimity factor of awakening.
So one more talk on that tomorrow. Then we'll pick up the pace of the 16 steps of ānāpānasati. Thank you all very much, and I do look forward to being together again tomorrow.