2020-12-28 Brahmavihāras: Equanimity (1 of 5)
5:12PM Dec 28, 2020
So I want to welcome you to the land of equanimity, the time of equanimity that this is the topic for this week's five talks. And in particular, it's the equanimity Brahmavihāra. It's a form of love, which is characterized by upekkhā, which is the Pali word for equanimity.
And it is maybe counterintuitive for many people to think of love as being synonymous or connected to equanimity. Because love seems to be something that's more proactive, engaged, going towards people doing something; it's being expressed many things.
But in fact, I think it's not too difficult to analyze love. The way that it's often practiced in the world around us is that it's often mixed up with other attitudes, needs and desires. Sometimes love is mixed up with what we need. If we need company, we need security, we need - sometimes people feel like they need admiration. Sometimes, love is mixed up with fear. And sometimes love is mixed up with lust, sometimes mixed up with power. And sometimes it mixed up with status, and all kinds of things that comes along with love. Sometimes it's very hard to see the difference between some of these other elements that come along with love, and love itself.
I like to think of the practice of mindfulness - as well as the practices of loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity - as being practices that purify love, that simplify it. Like you would simplify gold down to its beautiful essence. You take out the dross, take out the impurities that are there. So that as we simplify our love or clarify the love, it's not mixed up with these other needs and other things going on. It becomes more and more a wonderful treasure, a wonderful jewel inside of us, that source of nourishment support.
And so to purify our love to clarify our love. And so for example, for loving kindness, what gets purified is any form of ill-will - and any form of love that has to do with our self-centeredness, self-preoccupation. What's in it for me?
As we practice or connect to compassion, compassion is freed, certainly from any tendency for cruelty to harm people. And it's also purified from any sense of distress. any sense of dismay, horror that might be there, that sometimes it's confused with.
Appreciative joy gets purified of envy and jealousy. Sometimes it's a very strong motivator for insisting on love, or holding on to love, or protecting our love with someone else when there's jealousy and envy going on. And also, it's also purified from any kind of self-centered focus on oneself, around feeling discontent, or feeling giddy, or feeling like I'm the one who's now enjoying or delighting in the delight of someone else. And so it's kind of a vicarious way of living where the focus is really on oneself, rather than just being open to the, the joy of others.
And so equanimity also is a purification. It's a purification, they say, from two things: from repulsion, and pursuing. Sometimes it's translated as attraction. Sometimes as greed. But the Pali word has the connotation of pursuing - following after something. And so love that is neither pursuing, nor has any kind of repulsion towards anything as a result of it, or part of it.
And so, part of the one way to appreciate this quality of equanimity is that is, in fact not so much to try to understand it directly, but to understand its alternatives - that the mind that isn't centered in this restful, easeful place of equanimity is a mind that is either for or against things - in some kind of way that has qualities of pursuing or of repulsing, or pushing away in a way that's not so healthy. That's not really a place of freedom.
And so to begin discerning and noticing the small ways, or the big ways, which we're pursuing with love, wanting and getting. Some of us, especially when we were younger, maybe teenagers, the drive to pursue, it can be quite strong. So, to find a quiet equanimity, to find a place where love is not pursuing, is not repulsing anything, pushing anything away, but is able to stay open and clear.
And then in that openness and clarity, that purity of equanimity, love can radiate and shine quite broadly. So the purification of love is the task here. And it's closely connected to freedom. These different forms of love are freeing.
And freedom is a means for loving; it's opening to loving. And there's a wonderful reciprocal mutuality between the greater and greater degrees of freedom that the practice brings, and the greater our love. And the greater love we have supports the freedom we have.
The the Buddhist Theravāda tradition provides an analogy for these four kinds of love. And it has to do with parenting. Certain, you know, maybe see it as maybe ideal parent situation is that if maybe to parents have four children, one who is recently born, and everything's healthy with a kid, and there's enthusiasm and happiness and lots of loving kindness, lots of well wishing and goodwill for their future and delight. And it's very simple and clear, and just just just all around kind of lots of delightful, goodwill and loving kindness.
And then there is compassion, as that child grows up, or one of the children maybe has an illness. And so the second child has an illness and, or has some disadvantage, that the parents feel a lot of care and compassion, and they support that child in a different way than the others because of the sickness they have. So there's compassion.
Someone else is in the flush of youth. Life is just opening up for them brilliantly and wonderfully, and there's just a lot of joy and appreciation that things are working out so well, and the world is opening up for them, and the opportunities are there.
And then the fourth one is well established in their life, they may be in their 40s, or something, and well established in career and family or activities, whatever their life is going to be about. It's well established, and it's going along just fine. And the parents don't have to think about them so much and not be concerned about their welfare. And so there's a kind of equanimity towards that child so.
Whether this is a good analogy or not is not exactly the point here. We have to shape these analogies for ourselves. But the the idea being this association with ideal parental love. And parental love generally doesn't have the complexities that romantic love has, for example. It can have its own complexities, but the idea is maybe it's easier with parental love to feel a kind of simplicity and purity there.
Sometimes parental love is not about the parent. This is especially true when the baby is just born. That love is just so directed towards the baby, that there's sometimes a self forgetting that goes on for the parents, because it's just caring for the baby. So everything we need. So this ability to love without it being self-preoccupied love - without it being, for me myself and mine - what's in it for me, and what I need, and what I have to get.
There's nothing wrong with having needs, and in appropriate needs nothing wrong with pursuing what we need to be safe and happy and content. But it's useful to separate that from our capacity for love. So that our capacity to love can be simple, pure, just a wonderful opening and clarity.
One of the ways that I've experienced this in my life, that kind of the door to really appreciate this in a deep way, was and is through meditation. That through my first ten years of meditation practice, where I had a lot of suffering, and sat with a lot of suffering. Unexpectedly, it opened into a lot of compassion. And I learned to appreciate this beautiful capacity for just compassion without any need, compassion without any being for or against - even though there's a movement towards helping to do things.
But the movement towards supporting others or helping or caring for others, can be done without this kind of self-centeredness, being for or against anything. And then in my next years of practice - and especially when I practiced Vipassana - I discovered this wonderful capacity of good-will, of friendliness, of kindness, and also the simplicity of it, the purity of it, without needing to receive anything in return.
And then sympathetic joy. I've really come to appreciate this a lot in my time as a teacher, just feeling so much appreciation, so much delight in other people, and other practitioners, and learning. There's also a way in which that, coming out of meditation, that delight and joy can be so simple. Without any needs, or needing to do anything - really just delight and joy.
And then equanimity. The love of equanimity has a lot also to do with meditation. The way in which I've discovered freedom in meditation - freedom from attachments and clinging. Just feeling sometimes this real, tender warmth and care - and kindness that extends to people whom I don't really like, or have trouble with, or am disturbed by what they do. And to have this ability to have love and equanimity - my loving equanimity to spread out in such a clean way is also one of the great treasures.
So this topic for this week is equanimity. And it's one of the great important topics. It has a lot to do - more than the others maybe - with wisdom. And we'll see that wisdom comes into play - and how the practice really comes to play - to really cultivate and develop this equanimity factor. And how it is also leads to freedom.
So that's the topic for the week, and we'll end it on Friday with the new year on the first. For those of you who are up in early enough on the first, we'll begin the year with an evocation of this quality of equanimity. And who knows, maybe it'll be a great resource for 2021.
So thank you so much and look forward to tomorrow.