Equanimity — calmness in a difficult situation — is central to Buddhist practice, and this is one reason Buddha is often depicted sitting on a lotus or wearing a lotus crown. Although the lotus grows in the mud, no mud can cling to its delicate leaves when they are open. Buddhists compare this to mindful and enlightened living in the midst of the chaos of the world. Buddha used two words to refer to equanimity, and each has a different meaning.
The Buddha urged his disciples to cultivate the ability to perceive conditions clearly without being caught in them. The word he used to describe this practice was "uppekha," a Pali word that means "to look over." The word also carries the connotation of seeing with understanding and patience. It is a skill that allows one to remain involved in the world while maintaining a sense of detachment and peace. Anyone who practices it with compassion, cultivates peace and serenity, which are both higher emotions that can lead to the dawning of wisdom and universal love.
Besides recommending the cultivation of insight and compassion through upekkha, the Buddha also taught his disciples to remain centered in the midst of the storm of conditions that exists in the world. The Pali word he used is tatramajjhattata, which is a composite of simpler words and refers to standing in the middle of all this — the world and all its suffering — while maintaining composure. In order to maintain stability, one must develop a sense of inner strength to maintain balance, like a ship in a storm. Such balance will lead, in time, to equanimity.
The Middle Way
The path that leads to equanimity is known as the Middle Way, and it central to Buddhist practice. Buddha became enlightened when he adopted the middle path between a life of riches and comfort and one of and severe asceticism and denial. It is the path between the polar opposites of pleasure and pain, praise and blame, success and failure and fame and notoriety, which Buddhists call the Eight Worldly Winds. In the Middle Way, the ego, which thrives on conflict and duality, loses its power and gradually fades, leaving behind a sense of awareness and presence.
Qualities that Support Equanimity
The seven qualities of the mind that support the development of equanimity are integrity, faith, mental capacity, wisdom, a sense of well-being, insight and freedom. The Buddhist practitioner strives to be open to existence and to compassionately participate in it while remaining aloof. The aloofness is not a symptom of denial, however, but one of acceptance of the way things are. In New Age-speak — much of which is inspired by Eastern religions, including Buddhism — it is a process of letting go and flowing with the current. When equanimity becomes established, awareness shines like the full moon over a still pond.
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