Many Sangha members have expressed how difficult it is to cope with the changes taking place in our world. Human rights are under assault, children are being separated from parents, and public officials are behaving like bullies. Our temptation is to retreat into self-righteousness and blame ’them.’ But ‘they’ are also suffering. People on all sides of our escalating conflicts feel misunderstood, forgotten, and overrun. We’re all looking for ways to cope with our despair and frustration.
Fortunately, Buddhist practice has helped people find peace within an ever-changing world for more than 26 centuries. It does this, in part, by fostering equanimity. Equanimity is the quality of moving through the world with an open heart. As the Discourse on Happiness says, ‘To live in the world with your heart undisturbed by the world, this is the greatest happiness.’
Equanimity is the opposite of detachment. Equanimity arises when we see deeply into the true nature of who we are and realize that we can turn away from nothing. Equanimity is a love that leaves nothing out.
Equanimity arises when we see the world in a mature way. Rather than manipulating the world with an eye to personal gain, we accept the world with understanding. We understand that all things are impermanent; that nothing is separate; that we already have enough to be happy. We step out of the immature view of ‘I’ and enter the mature view of ‘we.’ Life stops being a zero-sum game in which your loss is my gain and becomes mutual-sum game motivated by love.
Equanimity arises when we stand open-heartedly in the middle of our lives. Our inherited habits urge us to continually pick and choose. ‘I like this!’ and ‘I don’t like that!’ become our mind's constant refrain. But opening our hearts and being with life as it is breaks this cycle and allows equanimity to embrace us. How lovely it is to notice the unfolding of this moment rather than giving all our attention to our wants and aversions. Joshu, the 9th century Chinese Zen Master put it this way: ‘The path is not difficult. It just precludes picking and choosing.’
So how do we taste the freedom of equanimity? Equanimity can’t be directly obtained. It is a by-product of our practice. Returning again and again to this moment strengthens our ability to be present for life as it is and weakens our tendency to pick and choose. Over time, we build trust in the sufficiency of the eternal now. We learn that we have enough. We sense that we are enough. We settle into our unique, precious, fleeting life. Practicing like this, equanimity sneaks up and fills our hearts with love. We find ourselves living in the world with our hearts undisturbed by the world. And we know that this is the greatest happiness.