This month I will be presenting the final installment of my introduction to the four immeasurable states of mind, the four divine abodes, which are loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. We will conclude with a discussion of equanimity.
Equanimity is the final term of the four divine abodes, and could also be called the finale. Each of the four divine abodes can be considered different modes of loving-kindness, the wish that all beings may be well and happy. When one regards beings who are afflicted with suffering, loving-kindness becomes compassion. When one regards beings who are enjoying the rewards of meritorious action, loving-kindness becomes sympathetic joy. Equanimity, however, is the feeling of even-mindedness in the face of both suffering and joy. It is the ability to be equal minded in all circumstances and towards both friend and foe. It is the ability to regard all beings with loving-kindness without any trace of partiality or bias. This is loving-kindness developed to point where all boundaries are transcended. It is also the divine abode where loving-kindness becomes more than just a feeling of well wishing but the way to an unshakeable peace and serenity.
The Lotus Sutra stresses joy and compassion, but equanimity is also unmistakably present. In chapter two the Buddha announces that the one great purpose for which the buddhas appear in the world is open the gate to the insight of the buddhas for all beings, to show the insight of all buddhas to all beings, to cause all living beings to obtain the insight of the buddhas, and to cause all beings to enter the way to the insight of all buddhas. (see The Lotus Sutra p. 32) In this declaration no being is left out. Furthermore, the Buddha declares that he teaches only bodhisattvas and that in fact the One Buddha Vehicle is for all beings and not just some. This is the impartiality of the Buddha. Chapter 16 ends with a powerful reiteration of the Buddhas constant care for all beings without any partiality or bias:
I know who is practicing the Way and who is not.
Other noteworthy chapters which stress the equal regard which the Buddha and the bodhisattvas have for all beings are chapter 14, Peaceful Practices, and chapter 20, Bodhisattva Never Despise. However, the value of equanimity and impartial regard for all beings can be found throughout the Lotus Sutra.
Therefore, I expound various teachings
To all living beings
According to their capacities.
I am always thinking
How shall I cause all living beings
To enter into the unsurpassed Way
And quickly become Buddha?
(The Lotus Sutra, p. 249)
Equanimity also describes the attitude we should cultivate towards causes and conditions themselves. Prior to the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha used the formula of the eight winds to describe different circumstances both good and bad which can sway the minds of deluded beings and cause them to lose their equanimity. Nichiren himself referred to the eight winds in his writings:
Worthy persons deserve to be called so because they are not carried away by the eight winds: prosperity, decline, disgrace, honor, praise, censure, suffering, and pleasure. They are neither elated by prosperity nor grieved by decline. The heavenly gods will surely protect one who is unbending before the eight winds. (WND, p. 794)
In a letter attributed to Nichiren, it is made clear that equanimity and faith in Namu Myoho Renge Kyo go hand in hand:
Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there it to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life, and continue chanting Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, no matter what happens. How could this be anything other than the boundless joy of the Dharma? Strengthen your power of faith more than ever. (WND, p. 681)
The Lotus Sutra itself teaches that all things are insubstantial, empty, and exist only by virtue of causes and conditions. When viewed in this way, we can see that both good and bad circumstances are impermanent and conditioned and therefore nothing to lose our equanimity over in the ultimate perspective. In fact, because things have no fixed nature or substance they can even be viewed as peaceful to the core because they bring no permanent disturbance or mark. Taking this view, chapter 2 of the Lotus Sutra states: All things are from the outset in the state of tranquil extinction. (The Lotus Sutra, p. 39)
Peace and serenity are the results of such a view, and actions based on love, serenity and an impartial love and kindness for all beings is what the divine abode of equanimity is all about. It should never be mistaken for indifference or aloofness. It is the nothing less than the mind which motivates the Buddha to embrace all beings in all circumstances with innumerable expedients in order to lead them all to the One Buddha Vehicle so that they too can experience this peace and serenity for themselves.
So how can we cultivate equanimity? Just as with loving-kindness, compassion, and sympathetic joy we can cultivate it through a series of traditional excercises which can be combined with Shodaigyo meditation so as to bring them within the context of the Odaimoku.
1. Take a few moments to just sit with yourself and breathe. Maybe do a cycle of ten breaths or more counting the breaths if necessary. Non-judgementally take notice of your physical and mental state. Then begin to cultivate equanimity for yourself by considering the both the good and bad things that you have experienced and how all these things are passing manifestations of causes and conditions which are not fixed and have no substance. You may even want to repeat to yourself, No matter what conditions arise, may I dwell forever in the limitless realm of the everpresent peaceful heart and serene mind. Do this for a few minutes at least.
Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,
2. Now take a few moments to extend equanimity to a stranger or to someone about whom one does not have any particularly strong feelings one way or another. Unlike the other three divine abodes, we begin with the neutral person here because it is easier to get in touch with the feeling of impartiality and non-bias. Consider how this person also experiences good and bad things due to causes and conditions. Extend the thought of equanimity to them by repeating to yourself, May this person dwell forever in the limitless realm of the everpresent peaceful heart and serene mind.
3. Now take a few minutes to extend equanimity to a person who is a benefactor or friend, but preferably not someone we have or would like to have an intimate relationship with as this would generate strong feelings of attachment. Wish that they may dwell forever in the limitless realm of the everpresent peaceful heart and serene mind.
4. Now imagine someone that one has a problem liking or getting along with and extend to them the wish that they may dwell forever in the limitless realm of the everpresent peaceful heart and serene mind. If we can maintain this wish with as much conviction and strength for those we have difficulty with as we had for the friend or benefactor, then we will know that we are truly beginning to develop a mind of equanimity which is impartial and unbiased.
5. Now spend some time extending equanimity simultaneously to oneself, a neutral person, a friend or benefactor, and to the person who is hard to get along with. This is the true test of equanimity, impartiality, nonbias. This can be extremely difficult to do as it takes a universal perspective and not the perspective of our own sentiment or self-interest.
7. Finally one should spend some time imagining that all beings in all directions may dwell forever in the limitless realm of the everpresent peaceful heart and serene mind, thereby extending the feelings generated in the previous exercises. This part is more abstract but its point is to enable us to cultivate or at least imagine a truly universal equanimity which looks with equal favor and loving-kindness upon all beings.