The good give up (attachment for) everything; the saintly prattle not with thoughts of craving: whether affected by happiness or by pain, the wise show neither elation nor depression.
Dhammapada (Chapter VI, The Wise, vs. 83)
We are still susceptible to elation and depression. Those who have highly developed wisdom, the arahats, are not susceptible to elation nor depression, they have equanimity instead. There are many kinds and degrees of this quality and the arahat has the highest degree.
Equanimity, evenmindedness or balance of mind (in Pali: tatramajjhattata), is one of the nineteen sobhana cetasikas which accompany each sobhana citta. It is not easy to know the characteristic of equanimity. We may think that there is equanimity whenever there is neither like nor dislike of what we see, hear or experience through the other senses, but at such moments there may be ignorance instead of equanimity. We may confuse equanimity and indifferent feeling, but these are different cetasikas; equanimity is not feeling, the cetasika which is vedana. The Visuddhimagga (XIV, 153) states about equanimity :
It has the characteristic of conveying citta and cetasikas evenly. Its function is to prevent deficiency and excess, or its function is to inhibit partiality. It is manifested as neutrality. It should be regarded as like a conductor (driver) who looks on with equanimity on thoroughbreds progressing evenly.
The Atthasalini (I, Book I, Part IV, Chapter I, 133) gives a similar definition. When there is equanimity there is neither elation nor depression. The object which is experienced is viewed with impartiality and neutrality, just as a charioteer treats with impartiality his well-trained horses. Equanimity effects the balance of the citta and the other cetasikas it arises together with. There is no balance of mind when akusala citta arises, when we are cross, greedy, avaricious or ignorant. Whereas when we are generous, observe morality (sila), develop calm or develop right understanding of nama and rupa, there is balance of mind.
There are different forms and degrees of equanimity. If we know more about them it will help us to understand the characteristic of equanimity. The Visuddhimagga (VI, 156-172) deals with different kinds of equanimity.
One of the aspects of equanimity mentioned by the Visuddhimagga is equanimity as specific neutrality. As we have read in the definition of equanimity given by the Visuddhimagga, it has the characteristic of conveying (carrying on) evenly citta and the accompanying cetasikas, and its function is the preventing of deficiency and excess, or the inhibiting of partiality. Equanimity effects the balance of the citta and the cetasikas it arises together with, so that there is neither deficiency nor excess of any one among them.
When the citta is kusala citta it is always accompanied by equanimity which effects the balance of the citta and the accompanying cetasikas. Kusala citta is also accompanied, for example, by energy or effort, viriya, which is balanced: there is neither deficiency nor excess of it, and thus it can assist the kusala citta in accomplishing its task. All cetasikas play their own part in assisting the kusala citta and equanimity has its own specific function in effecting mental balance.
When we abstain from wrong action or wrong speech there is equanimity with the kusala citta. When others, for example, treat us badly or use abusive speech, there can be equanimity, and then there is no impatience, intolerance or anxiety about our own well-being- with evenmindedness one can abstain from answering back harshly or from acts of vengeance. Equanimity is one of the "perfections" the Bodhisatta developed together with right understanding for innumerable lives. When there is mindfulness of nama and rupa appearing now there is patience and equanimity, even if the object which is experienced is unpleasant.
There are several other kinds of equanimity. There is equanimity in samatha and equanimity in vipassana. When calm is developed or when there is right understanding of the present moment there is equanimity which performs its function. The Visuddhimagga mentions some aspects of equanimity which are equanimity of samatha and some which are equanimity of vipassana.
One of the aspects of equanimity mentioned by the Visuddhimagga is equanimity as one of the "divine abidings" (brahmavihara-upekkha) and this is developed in samatha (Vis. IV, 158). As we have seen, there are four "divine abidings" which are objects of calm: loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity.
When loving kindness is developed one wishes that other beings may be happy. When compassion is developed one wishes beings to be free from suffering. When sympathetic joy is developed one wishes beings' success. When equanimity is developed one does not think of promoting other beings' happiness, alleviating their misery or wishing their success, but one views them with impartiality.
We read in the Visuddhimagga (lX, 96) about the divine abiding of equanimity:
Equanimity is characterized as promoting the aspect of neutrality towards beings. its function is to see equality in beings. It is manifested as the quieting of resentment and approval. its proximate cause is seeing ownership of deeds (kamma) thus:
"Beings are owners of their deeds. Whose (if not theirs) is the choice by which they will become happy, or will get free from suffering, or will not fall away from the success they have reached?"
It succeeds when it makes resentment and approval subside, and it fails when it produces the equanimity of unknowing, which is that (worldly-minded indifference of ignorance) based on the home-life.
Ignorance is called the "near enemy" of equanimity, because one may think that there is equanimity when there is actually ignorance. Its far enemies are greed and resentment, When there is attachment or aversion there cannot be equanimity at the same time.
If one understands the characteristic of equanimity it can be developed in daily life and condition moments of calm. Sometimes people may be beyond any help, but when we remember that unpleasant results in life they receive are conditioned by kamma, that people are "heirs" to kamma, it will prevent us from being distressed. Sadness about other people's suffering is not helpful, neither for ourselves nor for others, whereas when there is equanimity we can be of comfort to others.
Those who have accumulated conditions for the development of calm to the degree of jhana can, with the divine abiding of equanimity as meditation subject, attain jhana.
The Visuddhimagga mentions other aspects of equanimity, which pertain to samatha, namely the specific quality of equanimity in the third stage of rupa-jhana (of the fourfold system and the fourth stage of the fivefold system, which is called equanimity of jhana (jhana-upekkha).
There is still pleasant feeling (sukha), but no attachment to it; there is equanimity even towards the highest bliss.) and equanimity in the highest stage of rupa-jhana, which is called purifying equanimity. At each subsequent stage of jhana the jhanacitta and its accompanying cetasikas are calmer, purer and more refined.
Each of the aspects of equanimity mentioned by the Visuddhimagga is different. Equanimity as "specific neutrality", equanimity as one of the divine abidings, equanimity of jhana and purifying equanimity are all different aspects of tatramajjhattata.
The Visuddhimagga also mentions aspects of equanimity of vipassana. Equanimity as a factor of enlightenment is an aspect of equanimity in vipassana mentioned by the Visuddhimagga (IV, 159).
There are seven factors of enlightenment (sambojjhanga):
- mindfulness (sail),
- investigation of Dhamma (Dhamma vicaya, which is panna),
- energy (viriya),
- enthusiasm (piti),
- calm (passaddhi),
- concentration (samadhi) and
- equanimity (upekkha).
Equanimity is in this case again the cetasika tatramajjhattata. When the enlightenment factors have been developed they lead to enlightenment.
They are not developed separately, but they are developed together with satipatthana. The enlightenment factor of equanimity performs its own function while it accompanies citta and the other cetasikas. We read in the Visuddhimagga (IV, 159) about the enlightenment factor of equanimity: "He develops the equanimity enlightenment factor depending on relinquishment".
When right understanding sees the unsatisfactoriness of all conditioned realities which arise and then fall away, there will be indifference towards them.
When satipatthana is being developed we do not have to aim at the development of equanimity because it develops together with insight. The enlightenment factors reach completion through satipatthana. When conditioned realities have been clearly understood as they ate, enlightenment can be attained.
There is yet another aspect of equanimity mentioned by the Visuddhimagga and this is the sixfold equanimity which is actually the equanimity which has reached completion at the attainment of arahatship. We read in the Visuddhimagga (IV, 157):
Herein, six-factored equanimity is a name for the equanimity in one whose cankers are destroyed. It is the mode of non-abandonment of the natural state of purity when desirable or undesirable objects of the six kinds come into focus in the six doors described thus:
"Here a bhikkhu whose cankers are destroyed is neither glad nor sad on seeing a visible object with the eye: he dwells in equanimity, mindful and fully aware."
(Gradual Sayings Book of the Sixes, Chapter I, I).
The arahat has a perfect balance of mind. He is unruffled by the worldly conditions of gain and loss, praise and blame, honour and dishonour, well-being and misery.
To us the sixfold equanimity of the arahat seems to be far off, we should remember that this equanimity can only be achieved by understanding, panna, which has been developed stage by stage.
It is useless to have wishful thinking about this perfect equanimity.
It cannot be realized by longing for it. The fact that this equanimity is sixfold can remind us that only when understanding of what appears through the six doors has been developed there can be equanimity towards all objects.
Understanding can be developed now, when there is an object presenting itself through one of the six doors. Sometimes the object is pleasant, sometimes unpleasant. When understanding has not been developed it is difficult to be "balanced", to "stay in the middle", without attachment, without aversion. we may tell ourselves time and again that life is only nama and rupa, conditioned realities which are beyond control, but we are still impatient and we are still disturbed by the events of life.
However, when there is mindfulness, for example, of visible object, understanding can realize it as a rupa which appears through the eye-door, not a thing, not a person.
When there is mindfulness of seeing, understanding can realize it as only an experience, a type of nama, no self who sees. When realities are clearly known as not a thing, not a person, thus, as anatta, there will be more even-mindedness and impartiality towards them. However, this cannot be realized in the beginning. The arahat has eradicated all defilements and thus he can have equanimity which has reached perfection. He is undisturbed, patient and always contented.
We read in the Kindred Sayings (II, Nidana-vagga, Chapter XVI, Kindred Sayings on Kassapa, 1, Contented) about the arahat Kassapa who was always contented. We read that the Buddha, while he was staying at Savatthi, said to the monks:
Contented, monks, is this Kassapa with no matter what robe. He commends contentment will no matter what robe, nor because of a robe does he commit anything that is unseemly or unfit. If he has gotten no robe, he is not perturbed: if he has gotten a robe, he enjoys it without clinging or infatuation, committing no fault. Discerning danger. wise as to escape.
Even so is this Kassapa contented with no matter what alms, will no matter what lodging, with no matter what equipment in medicines.
We then read that the Buddha exhorted the monks to train themselves likewise. We can train ourselves by being mindful of whatever nama or rupa appears now. Kassapa had developed the right conditions leading to perfect equanimity.
- Why is it difficult to know the characteristic of equanimity?
- When there is neither like nor dislike h there always equanimity?
- When we are generous there is equanimity with the kusala citta. What is its function?
- When one begins to be mindful of nama and rupa which appear, is there equanimity with the kusala citta?
- What is sixfold equanimity and why is it sixfold?
- In what way can sixfold equanimity be developed?
Footnotes and references:
The Visuddhimagga uses in this section the term "upekkha" for equanimity, instead of tatramajjhattata. Upekkha can stand for indifferent feeling as well as for equanimity, depending on the context. See also the Atthasalini, Book I, Part IV, Chapter III, 172, for the different types of equanimity.
With this meditation subject the highest stage of rupa-jhana can he attained, but not the lower stages. 1f someone wants to attain jhana with this subject he should first develop the divine abidings of loving kindness, compassion and sympathetic joy, by means of which the first, second and third stage of jhana of the fourfold system (and the fourth stage of the fivefold system) Can be attained, but not the highest stage. if he then develops the diving abiding of equanimity he can attain the highest stage of rupa-jhana (Vis. IX 88, 111, 11 8)
See Chapter 8 for the fourfold system and the fivefold system of jhana.
Seed Vis, 177. In this stage of jhana the grosser jhana-factors of applied thinking (vitakka), sustained thinking (vicara) and rapture (piti) have been abandoned (see Chapter 8 and 11)
In this stage also the jhana-factor of happy feeling has been abandoned; there is indifferent feeling and "purity of mindfulness due to equanimity (Book of Analysis, Chapter 12, Analysis of Jhana, 597, and Vis, IV, 194)
Relinquishment is twofold: it is the giving up of all defilements and also the inclination to or "entering into" nibbana (Vis. XXI, 18)
He enjoys it as sufficing against cold (the commentary to this sutta, the "Saratthappakasini")