Ideals and Values/Equanimity, Calmness and Steadiness

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia


What is Equanimity, Calmness and Steadiness?

Equanimity or being Level-Headed means to:

  • Treat enemy and friend alike; not hate an enemy or discriminate against him and not be partial towards a friend.
  • Treat criticism and praise alike; not get puffed up with praise or a punctured balloon when criticized.
  • Treat happiness and sorrow alike; not become too dejected when sad and too excited when happy.
  • Treat cold and heat alike; not become too irritable when it is very hot and uncomfortable and not get too scared and frigid when it is too cold.
  • Treat success and failure alike: not get too elated when you succeed or become depressed when you fail.
  • Have faith in Bhagavān.
  • Not keep worrying all the time.
The characteristic of a wise man who has knowledge and wisdom in the right measure is that he does not become despondent in adversity and does not become arrogant in times of prosperity.[1]
Whether men proficient in worldly wisdom praise him or criticize him, whether he gains wealth or loses it, whether he knows that he will live for several years or whether he will die soon, a person who is steadfast on the path of justice and virtue is never swayed by all these considerations.[2]

Why should we practice Equanimity and keep a Steady Mind?

Reason 1

We do it for keeping our Mental Sanity because these ups and downs in life are really temporary. A contemporary spiritual leader gives the important reasons for keeping a steady state of mind in the following beautiful words: "All human beings face the ups and downs of life. They are part of the human existence and cannot be avoided. The question is, are we going to lose our peace of mind and become unstable as we face these highs and lows on the roadway of life? If we let ourselves become affected by everything that comes our way in life, we will feel as if we are on a perpetual roller coaster. We will move from the heights of ecstasy to the depths of despair and back to ecstasy again from one moment to the next. These constant variations often lead to a sense of fear, anxiety and panic because we never know what will happen next. Over time, this state of fear and anxiety becomes a part of our nature and we are not able to relax."

Reason 2

These changing situations do not really affect the real "Me". So, there is a practical reason for practicing equanimity. But in addition there is also a spiritual reason ? and this reason is that all these changing situations really touch only our body, which is temporary anyway. These changes can never affect our soul, the eternally glowing light inside us.

He further explains with an example that many a times, our car breaks down and we have to take it to a mechanic for repairs. The car starts running again. We do not break down mentally when our car breaks down, because we know that the car is not meant to last forever. Moreover, the car merely takes us around from one place to another. It is not the end of life if the car breaks down. We should have exactly the same attitude towards our own bodies. The body is merely a vehicle to take the soul forward in its journey towards Bhagavān. If our body falls sick or if we start suffering from some other mental disability, we must not become disheartened and depressed because no disease or illness can touch the soul. It can affect only the body, which is merely a temporary vehicle to seat our soul.

Bhagavān Kṛṣṇa, for this very spiritual reason, starts his message of the Bhagavad Gitā to Arjuna with these very words:

"Cold and Heat, Happiness and Sorrow: these are all result from a temporary contact of material objects with our sense organs and mind. They are never permanent. Therefore, we should endure them patiently.[3]

Story: This too shall Pass A king called together all his wise counselors and advisors. He posed to them a question: "O advisors, I wish that my inner self were filled with stability. I find that I am always subject to the ups and downs of life and they throw me off balance. Can you find something that will help me feel joyful when in a state of unhappiness and something that will remind me of sadness when I am in a state of happiness? Find me something that I can keep with me to help me stay in a calm, stable mood despite whatever is happening around me."

The advisors put their heads together and thought long and hard about what the king requested. Finally, they came up with a solution. They went back to the king. The king saw them approaching with a small box. "We found a solution for you, O King," the advisors said. "Open the box." When the king opened it, he found within a small ring. "Look at the inscription" they told him. The inscription in the ring said, "This too shall pass."

The moral of the story is explained in this way:

"These four simple words [This too shall pass] helped the king and can help us maintain a sense of balance when we face the highs and lows of life. When we become to ecstatic and happy, we need to remember that things will not always be that way, and we should not be disappointed and depressed when the happy times pass. When we become too depressed or unhappy, these four words can serve as a reminder to us that the pain is only temporary and happy days will come again."

We can stay at an even keel through the storms and sunny days of life by finding a calm center. We can reach this still point through meditation and prayer. Within us are all the riches of divinity. We are not just the body and the mind, but the soul [Ātmā]. The soul is filled with Light, love and joy. Why? It is connected all the time with the source of divinity, the creative Power, which is all Light, love, and joy. The creative Power and the soul are made of the same essence. If we spend some time daily within the silence of our soul, we will be connected with a place of bliss. Then the outer circumstances of our life will not affect us. We will not be troubled by the temporary phases of life. We can learn to find a still center, filled with peace and balance, which will provide us with permanent happiness despite the outer variations of life.

Story: Sant Lalleshwari's Two Pieces of Cloth Lalleshwari[4] was a great devotee of Śiva who lived in Kashmir at a time when the Hindu rule in the region was replaced by Islamic rule. She was married off at the age of 12. Unfortunately, in her husband's home, she was ill-treated by her mother in law, who did not even give her enough food to eat. She just hoped that Lalleshwari would die, but it didn't happen. When Lalleshwari turned 26, her mother in law and her husband alleged that she was a woman of bad character. She was dragged by her cruel husband to the market place and humiliated in front of everyone. Now Lalleshwari could not take it any more. No one in the entire society had come to defend her when she was ill-treated all these years. Therefore, she decided to turn her back to the society and turn towards Bhagavān Śiva.

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Lalleshwari began roaming from pace to place, singing her beautiful words on true Bhakti to Śiva and related spiritual matters. People were not used to seeing a woman Sadhu in those days and therefore, most people abused her as she went down the streets begging for food. One day, someone threw a clod of mud on her, but she just did not respond, as usual. She just continued to sing the praises of Śiva.

A devotee of hers, a cloth-merchant, pulled her into his shop before she got more abuses from the people collected on the street. He reasoned with her, "Why don't you live like other women. Or if you do not want to live like other wives, why don't you live far away from everyone in cave. What do you get from all these abuses and attacks when you come to the towns, singing about Śiva?"

Lalleshwari just smiled and asked him to get two pieces of cloth that were equal in weight. The shopkeeper cut and weighed two pieces of cloth and gave them to her. She threw one over her left shoulder, and the other over her right shoulder. She said, "Today, I will walk through the town again. Every time someone abuses me, I will tie a knot on the left piece of cloth. And when someone praises me or blesses me, I will tie a knot on the right piece of cloth." When she returned that evening, it was clear that there were more knots on the left cloth, because many more people abused her compared to those who recognized her true spiritual worth. The shopkeeper said, "See, I told you so." Lalleshwari asked him to bring the weighing balance and weight the two pieces again.

As expected, the two pieces again weight exactly equal to each other. Lalleshwari smiled at the shop-keeper and said, "Look, although one cloth had more knots than the other, the two pieces still weigh the same. This shows that their difference is only external and superficial. In reality, both the pieces still have the same amount of yarn, the same amount of color. In the same way, things like praise and criticism, sorrow and happiness, pleasure and pain are all superficial like the knots on the cloth. They cannot change the nature or the worth of the soul, which is eternal and unchangeable. I have given my life to Śiva, and my soul is one with Him now. Therefore, whether I get more praise or more criticism, it does not bother me because I know that these all are like superficial knots, which cannot affect my soul."

The sayings of Lalleshwari are collected in verses called "Lalla-vakhs". Although 95% of Kashmiris were converted to Islam in the subsequent centuries, often by force and persecution, her sayings are still the source of almost 30% of the proverbs in the Kashmiri language.

Reason 3

Only a person with Equanimity is fit for Spiritual Progress. An unstable minded person can never grow spiritually. The following is a story from the Hindu scripture named "Yoga-Vasiṣṭha".

Story: The Focus and Concentration of Śukadeva Vyasa was the greatest Ṛṣi of his times. He lived in Kurukshetra northern India and in Badarikāshrama in the Himalayas. He had a son named Śukadeva, who showed great spiritual advancement even as a child and a teenager. Once, Vyāsa sent his son to study under King Janaka of Videha, who was renowned for his spiritual wisdom and knowledge. Śukadeva traveled almost 1000 km by foot from his father's home to listen to the sermons in Videha. King Janaka, through his spiritual powers, learned beforehand that Vyasa's son is coming to study under him and he made preparations accordingly.

When Śukadeva reached the palace, the guards (as instructed) hardly paid any attention to him. They allowed him in to the assembly of the King, where he was offered a seat. For three days, King Janaka gave a sermon on Hindu spirituality. Śukadeva also listened intently, but no one paid attention to him even though he was the son of a great Ṛṣi.

From the fourth day onwards however, things changed completely. The royal courtiers and officials gave Śukadeva a grand reception and welcomed him with pricey clothing, jewels and requested him to a lavish room for his stay. The teenager Śukadeva lived in his new lavish surroundings for 8 days. Janaka had asked his servants to keep a watch on Śukadeva during all of the 11 days. The servants reported, "King, Śukadeva remained calm and composed throughout the time. He never showed any anger or frustration the first three days when no one gave any attention towards him. And in the following 8 days, he showed no joy or excitement when we showered him with presents and attention and catered to each one of his needs."

King Janaka then sent a request to Śukadeva to come to the royal court for a meeting. When Śukadeva appeared, the king was seated on his magnificent throne. Beautiful girls danced all around to keep everyone entertained. Janaka said to Śukadeva, "I am offering you a bowl of milk filled to the brim. I want you to place this bowl on your head and make seven rounds inside the room around all of us. If you do not spill a single drop, then alone I will offer to teach you my wisdom."

Śukadeva placed the bowl on his head cheerfully. While he walked around the room, the dancing girls continued with their song and dance. The crowd gathered in the room was talking loudly and paying attention to what the boy was doing. But Śukadeva did not get distracted by anything and successfully walked around the room 7 times without getting distracted by the dancing girls, the music, the richly dressed courtiers, the comments of other onlookers or by the worry that he will not succeed.

When the King saw Śukadeva finish this feat remarkably, he said, "Dear boy, there is nothing that I need to teach you. You do not feel insulted or frustrated when people ignore you or give you no importance. You do not feel excited when you are surrounded by beautiful clothes, jewels, music, dance etc. This is the main quality that a person needs to have to advance spiritually. And in fact, only a spiritually advanced person can show this kind of equipoise and concentration.  You have renounced mentally all attachments, attractions and aversions. Therefore, you do not need to study under me."

Janaka was correct indeed, because Śukadeva became renowned as a great Ṛṣi in his own right and became the narrator of Śrimad Bhāgavata Purāṇa to King Pareekshit later. Śukadeva attained Mokṣa in his father Vyāsa's own lifetime.

Reason 4

Everything in the world is not under our control. Heat, cold, success, failure, praise, insult etc. often come to us due to factors that we cannot control. E.g., can you control when it will rain or when it will stop snowing? Therefore, if we cannot control some things, then why get upset over them? Our getting upset over these things will not change them. It will only make our mind more depressed. Instead, we should think that these are only temporary situations and there is always light at the end of the tunnel.

Likewise, as we learned in the lesson on pride, there are many factors that lead to our success and all of these factors were not under our command. Therefore, success and praise should not make us arrogant and proud. Instead, we should accept them with grace and equanimity and understand that tomorrow the opposite might happen and we could face poverty, failure, rejection or sorrow. This reason is also so well exemplified in the life of Sant Lalleshwari.

Reason 5

A lack of equanimity on our part forces us to go for short term gains and therefore we run losses in the long term. Equanimity is necessary to show qualities of Fortitude and Commitment. It takes years of hard work and overcoming numerous set-backs to make anything that is magnificent and enduring. For example, Mt Rushmore sculptures were not carved in a single day. They took decades. The gentleman who created this enduring monument faced many problems and even opposition from the government. But he did not get dejected with all the hurdles that he had faced. Instead, he practiced equanimity and remained committed to his cause. After several decades of hard work, he and his helpful supporters left us with a world famous monument.

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A great example in the Hindu tradition is the multi-generation effort of 3 kings one after the other to bring the waters of Gangā to the earth. If they had lost hope and given up due to temporary setbacks, the river would not have flown in its present channel and Hindu civilization would not have flourished in northern India.  You will read this story in the next chapter.

Equanimity for Students: Discussion

Equanimity is a very useful Hindu ideal for students. Here are some situations in which you can apply this value. Discuss how you will reason in your mind and practice equanimity in these scenarios:

  1. You perform miserably in a test and your grade gets lowered.
  2. You lose a sporting competition and do not make it to your school team.
  3. You are not selected to join the cheerleader squad.
  4. Your girlfriend or your boyfriend breaks up with you.
  5. Your best friend humiliates you by back-biting.
  6. Due to some illness you gain a lot of weight and get weird looking marks on your face. A nasty classmate sends a nasty text message to all your classmates alleging falsely that you have a contagious and a dangerous disease.
  7. You are locked in an intense tennis competition for the finals game. Your opponent is also someone that bullies you in the classroom. You win the game and the championship. You get tempted to go up to him and get even with him now for all his bullying.

A practical technique for overcoming Worrying

We all worry about something or the other. However, too much worry has a negative effect on our mental and physical health. Moreover, a person who worries all the time tends to lose focus on the task that needs to be done now. As a result, he fails again leading to more worries. A practical method of keeping our worries under control is to fix a time during the day, say 30 minutes in the evening. Whenever your minds starts worrying, say to yourself, "I will worry in those 30 minutes in the evening." Discipline yourself, so that you worry only in that time period of 30 minutes. This is an effective method of controlling your worries to a balanced level which eventually helps in overcoming the habit of compulsive anxiety and worrying also.

Further Topics for Discussion:

  1. The lives of child actors, who got great fame and wealth at an early age, become very sad and tragic when they become adults who are no longer famous. Why do you think this happens? How do you think these child celebrities lead happy lives through their old age?
  2. We are used to seeing images of famous athletes and rock stars on TV, smiling and laughing and loving the attention they get. But very often, we read that one of them committed suicide. What do you think is the cause of these apparently happy people committing suicide because their life became so unbearable? What values should these celebrities have practiced so that they were not driven to ending their lives? Do you think that they were as happy as they looked on the TV screen?

Sources

  1. Rajinder Singh, p. 2
  2. Rajinder Singh, p. 7
  3. Rajinder Singh, p. 4
  4. Rajinder Singh, p. 4-5

Notes & References

  1. Nītidvishashtikā of Sundara Pandya, verse 85
  2. Nātishatakā of Ṛṣi Bhartihari, verse 83
  3. Gitā 2.14
  4. She lived in 1320 -1389 CE.