Summary: Sathi talks about different ways to understand equanimity. Although it is often understood as a balance between two things but that is not completely accurate. Equanimity is the wisdom of seeing things without attachment (being excited about something or someone) or detachment (being dissatisfied or frustrated with something or someone). It is the middle way between the two.
The person who has equanimity is always going to be trying their best without seeking an excuse. The person with equanimity thinks, “How can I do my best for other living beings?” But, the most important part is that you will not take on tasks as a burden. While you are helping others you will not do any harm to yourself. You take care of yourself while you are taking care of others. That is the balance. It is about understanding who you are and what you can do and what you need to do.
Sathi closes by explaining how meditation is reshaping each of us. Changing how we respond to the world around us on a day-to-day basis. Helping us understand ourselves with greater clarity.
Bhante: Is there anything for discussion today? Yes?
Student: This is a clarification question regarding the qualities of meditation. Primarily the difference between equanimity and attachment. I was reading last night on both of them and how detachment can have a bit of a negative connotation and even dissociative, like you kind of fall into a pit. I’m wondering how do you avoid that when that’s kind of a word that’s used as something that can be enhanced or can help out meditation. But it seems like equanimity is a more balanced way of going about it and it doesn’t lead to disassociate and kind of being indifferent to the phenomenon. Could you please clarify those?
Bhante: I hope everybody understands the question. The question is about equanimity and detachment. Let me begin explaining what equanimity is. So we have a lot of misunderstandings about equanimity. When you hear this word, equanimity, most first think it’s a balance. It’s a balance. But if we cannot see that kind of scale, and maybe about 30-40 years ago some of you may remember, those of you that are older than 30-35 years (laughter), the scales which have two sides. Then, in order to check the weight on certain things, you have to have the particular thing on one side then on the other side you have to have the known weight. Then, in the middle you have the pointed thing and it goes either left or right. That is the example that comes to our mind when you talk about equanimity. Which is totally wrong. Now, for a human mind, equanimity is a quality for the human mind.
Think, where do we dwell? Where do we dwell? There are two sides with our human mind. You can see happiness or unhappiness. Anger or compassion. Both of those things you can put on two sides. The scale can go in either direction. This question goes around detachment and attachment, it will bring that example. If we focus on equanimity and that. Attachment and detachment. If I ask you, what is good? Which one is a good amount, the attachment or detachment? If you have an answer, keep your answer in your head.
What is good, in between attachment and detachment? If something is good, that particular thing should not bring pain into your mind. Does attachment bring pain? Does detachment bring pain? Yes. Therefore, attachment and detachment are both bad. (Laughter) Neither is good. Let’s go a little beyond. What makes us be attached or what makes us be detached? What is behind the attachments? Most of the time, you can see your desire behind the attachment. Sometimes, your expectations can be behind the attachment. Anger can be part of it. Greed can be part of it. Your fear can be behind the attachment. Then, simply, all emotions can be supported by the attachment.
Detachment. Do you have an attachment to your neighbor’s car? You don’t until you buy that car from your neighbor. (Laughter) Until then, you don’t have any attachment to that car. You don’t have any attachment to the cell phone as long as it is staying in the showcase at the store, but as soon as you own it, you have an attachment. You have concerns for that cell phone. Can you say, “Oh I don’t have an attachment for my neighbor’s car, therefore, I’m detached from my neighbor’s car? Can you say that? You know it’s wrong. (laughter) Of course, you don’t have any attachment, but you don’t have detachment. The attachment does not mean detachment. What is the meaning of detachment there?
When you have a family member who is really giving you a hard time, or difficult time, you might come to a point when you say, “Oh, I don’t really care what that person is doing.” Then, you will stop paying attention to that person. Afterward, what is happening is that person will not bother you for anything else because you don’t care. You don’t pay attention to that family member. But, still, you are connected to that person through your genes. It’s a family. It’s part of the family. So, that time, what is happening is that you choose not to attach or pay attention because you get tired. You are being tired with that person. Now, can you call that particular thing as detachment or that experience as detachment? No.
So, for a day to day ordinary life, we use these terms in the wrong way. That is the reason we are looking for that middle line. Now, when you look for this middle line, if you really pay attention as a meditator, you will see some selfishness. Some selfishness to bring yourself into that middle place. “OK, I’m not attached or I’m not detached, I’m looking for a middle place. Now, as a meditator, as a mindful person, how can we recognize this equanimity?
Equanimity is a rich quality. You develop it in your heart. Equanimity will not make you either excited or frustrated. When you talk about attachment, the next experience would be that you are excited, because in order to maintain those excitements you are maintaining attachments. You think, without being attached, I won’t be able to experience this excitement. I can’t be excited about this. That’s why we are maintaining this attachment. Equanimity will not lead you towards excitement. Neither dissatisfaction or frustration, because that is the opposite of excitement.
Think about something that you are attached to, because of the same thing, you will be frustrated or unhappy. But, if you happen to recognize the reality, you would be able to not lose your peacefulness or serenity in your mind. What is behind it? That’s equanimity. Equanimity allows you to see reality. The one who has equanimity has become a very active person. A practical person. Only a practical person can have this equanimity. The reason is, the person who has equanimity always is seeing the other person like you. Here is an example. Think about how you treat your mother. How do you treat your mother in your mind? How much are your concerns for your mother? Can you have the same concerns for other people around you?
How much are your concerns for your father or for your loved one? Can you share the same concern for other living beings? Now, that is the level of equanimity this person would maintain with other living beings. Think, when your mother happened to do something wrong or have made a mistake. When your kids happen to do something like make a mistake, how do you see that? Would you punish your kids or put your parents in jail? No, you would do your best to help them, protect them, save them. It’s the same equanimity you will have for other living beings. Not because you are attached to them, not because you are detached. You are doing it by knowing how they are thinking, how they feel. You are doing it by thinking, “What can I do for other living beings?” The person who has equanimity is not a lazy one. They are active, always practical and doing things for others. The person who is doing those things with attachment is going to always have a certain expectation.
Detachment has a level of anger, frustration, or some ignorance. Those qualities are not carried by this person who has equanimity. When the time comes to support other living beings, the person who has equanimity is always going to be trying their best without seeking an excuse, because when you have attachment you don’t seek an excuse. When you have detachment, then always you say, “I don’t have time for this now.”
When your parents or your son or your kids or your partner is seeking help, most of the time, you will do it without thinking twice. But, when a neighbor or somebody else asks you a question or is seeking help, “Oh, I have to do something else right now.” What is behind it? You don’t have the same concerns or the same drive to help the neighbor or somebody outside in a way that is equal to your family. That difference is not there for this equanimity person. You would honestly think, “How can I do my best for other living beings? The most important part is that you will not take those as a burden. While you are helping others you will not do any harm to yourself. You are taking care of yourself while you are taking care of others. That is the balance. It is about understanding who you are and what you can do and what you need to do. The wisdom is there.
Wisdom is the power behind this equanimity person. You will not drive yourself to that unhappy place or frustrated place. You will not put yourself into danger while you are helping other living beings. For an outsider, you might think, “Oh, well, you are well-balanced.” It is not about balance. It’s about knowing who you are, what you can do. You are not doing it just to make yourself happy. You are doing it because you see the result, you see the needs, you see the benefit of it. What is behind it? Wisdom.
You are seeing what it is, you are seeing the benefit of it and you are seeing what needs to be done, that is wisdom. But if you are doing it because you enjoy it, because you are interested in it, because you like it, that’s your desire. It comes from attachment. So, equanimity is supported by wisdom. Neither attachment or detachment. I hope I answered your question. Any thoughts or anything you would like to share?
Student: I just got a thought about what a Buddhist Master said, “Use your favorite teacup as though it’s already broken.” As far as the meaning of that, to me, was “You can use it or enjoy it but don’t become attached to it.” Because of the impermanence of everything, there’s a teaching to it right there. That’s moving into knowing I can’t hold onto that cup. So, if it breaks, well, alright. It’s gone.
Student: As my wife lightly says, “It’s just a thing.”
Bhante: So, now think about this. How can you, honestly, with meditation practice and with this discussion, what is happening to us? We are reshaping ourselves. We are supporting us to grow. Then definitely we are applying this wisdom into our day to day lives. Just think about you. How are you responding to the things in your day to day life? How are you building things around you? How are you responding? Then, when you happen to respond to things in the future, when you are choosing things to do/selecting what to do and what not to do, check with your mind. What is behind it? Are we just looking for satisfaction? “Am I just looking for the result? Do I know why I am doing this?” Check with yourself. That will allow you to see what is underneath. What is underneath you? How you do handle yourself.
Then, always just use this guideline as equanimity.
If you are doing something or if something makes you either frustrated or excited, then there may be something wrong behind it. There is something wrong with the way you are doing it. When you are saying no to somebody or no to something, check with yourself, “Why am I saying ‘No’ to this? Am I not seeing the benefit or am I just not enjoying this? What is behind it?” That’s how you can investigate yourself. That’s how you can bring mindfulness into you, to see who you are, to support you to become the person you want to be. Remember, only you can help yourself to become the person who you want to be, not others. Because, others don’t know who you are and who you want to be. Don’t expect others to tell you. You have to find out. That’s what we call wisdom. Wisdom is something you can cultivate.
Thank you very much for being here today. It’s good to see all of you. 🙂 Cultivate equanimity. Thank you.
Recorded on October 14, 2019, at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Mankato, Minnesota.
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Transcription by Heidi Gusts