To cultivate equanimity we practice catching ourselves when we feel attraction or
aversion, before it hardens into grasping or negativity.
As human beings, we are subject to continuous change throughout life. Taoists speak of ten thousand sorrows and ten thousand joys. The joy turns into sorrow. Sorrow turns into joy. There is no exception. Equanimity is a liberating quality that gives us an open, equitable, peaceful and stable heart towards the vicissitudes of life. We develop equanimity being attentive to our reactions, this is what Buddha called the eight worldly concerns. These eight concerns are formed by four pairs of opposites. All of us, at one time or another, are their victims. To cultivate equanimity is to look deeply to how we react to their presence, of the opposites, in the course of our lives.
The first pair is “praise and censure”. When we are praised, congratulated, is it possible for us to become aware of our reaction? Do we reject the compliment automatically to avoid discomfort or, on the contrary, do we rejoice and do we expect more? When being criticized, can we see our reaction? Surely it is likely that we feel bad when we are censored. The question is: can we be attentive to the feeling of unease without getting lost in it? Do we remain aware of our reaction to censorship without letting us take the story? In case of useful information, can we extract something from it? Are we able to see that both praise as censorship completely escape from our control?
The second pair of the eight worldly concerns are related to “gain and loss”. How do we react to gain? Is gain always something positive? How do we react to loss? And is loss always something negative? When we reflect on our past experiences, is it not just something we considered as a gain that turned out to be a loss, and conversely, something we had taken as a loss, in the final, turned out to be a gain? When we hold on to a gain, is there the fear of losing what was won? With the attachment born from success, is there at the same time, the fear of failure?
Each culture has its own fixed idea of what constitutes a success or a failure. When we cling onto certain pre-defined models, we expose ourselves to disappointment. If we want to find true inner freedom, we need to question these role models to let emerge our own understanding of things. So we shall see that gains and losses are part of the ebb and the flow of life.
In the practice of equanimity, we need to become aware of our relationship to “pleasure and pain”, the third pair of the worldly concerns. What happens when we run after pleasure and reject suffering? Is it possible for us to understand the suffering inherent in the pursuit of this policy, seeking pleasure and escaping from pain? Is this suffering inherent in this pair of opposites? Or can we really experience the pleasure entirely without clinging to it and trying to perpetuate it? When we experience a painful sensation, can we open ourselves to pain without trying to reject it?
To be free from the eight worldly concerns we need to understand their changing nature. Understanding that pleasure and pain arise and then disappear, seeing that these two opposites are often beyond our control, we learn not to cling; our non-attachment found freedom. We open ourselves to pleasure and pain, and yet we are not overwhelmed by the desire or aversion.
“Good and bad reputation” are the last pair of the eight worldly concerns. Do we feel the need to be noticed by others, when we carry out a meritorious act? What is our reaction to criticism? What kind of relationship do we have with the status? By making ourselves aware of how we handle our reputation, we will free ourselves from the opinions of others.
In order to become familiar with these conditions and become more equitable, we must understand its non-substantiality. With the practice of attention we become more aware of their inherent impermanence. We see the conditional nature of reputation and understand that lasting peace and happiness do not come from recognition. We see that nasty words have only temporary effect and should not affect us permanently. The more we are directed in finding our balance in relation to these conditions, the more we free ourselves from the need to be considered in a particular way. Then we discover the kind of peace that does not depend on how others perceive. If we can remember constantly to bring surveillance to these worldly concerns as they arise in our daily lives, we will begin to see that the present suffering is all about attachment and we will begin to see the essential emptiness and the impermanence of conditions. In meditation practice we may not like what arises, yet, the availability to stay with what is going on is the path to bring liberation. The less attached to comfort, the more comfortable we are regarding ourselves and this world.
The practice of equanimity does not mean that we must become passive beings. When it’s hot we open the window. But every time it is not in our power to change things, is it possible for us an inner refuge? I do believe so. This inner refuge is our ability to be impartial.
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