Equanimity in the Buddhist and Christian Traditions

Equanimity in the Buddhist and Christian Traditions

By Kathy Keary

Part 13. Read all the parts of the Jesus and Buddha series here.

The fourth Brahma-Vihara or Divine State, upekkha (equanimity), is defined by Barbara O’Brien as “a mind in balance, free of discrimination and rooted in insight.” She describes this balance as “active mindfulness” as opposed to indifference.

The article, “Four Immeasurables,” describes this state of mind as “an imperturbable composure of heart” elaborating that it is a love that embraces all living beings and circumstances with equality, wisdom and serenity.”

One Mind Dharma advises that equanimity is “a container of balance that helps hold all of the other Brahma-Viaharas (loving-kindness, compassion, and joy).” When equanimity is developed, it leads to acceptance, patience, and stability. It fortifies one’s capacity to accept life as it is. It allows an individual to work with change rather than against it.

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The Buddhist scholar, Terry Cortés-Vega, offers that equanimity allows a person to accept other people and things as they are versus as you would like them to be. She explains:

Embracing all beings, including those who don’t look like us, worship like us, or vote the way we do, is the key to healing our world. It is up to us-to you and me- to heal ourselves so that our society can heal in turn. The best way to do that is to use the four elements of love: joy, loving-kindness, compassion, and equanimity.

Cortés-Vega offers a prayer to nurture equanimity:

1. After settling into stillness, bring your attention to your breathing.

2. Allow your slow, deep breaths to ease the tension and tightness in your body.

3. Rest for several moments in peaceful stillness.

4. Begin and end each line of the prayer with an in-breath and out-breath. Speak each line to yourself or aloud.

  • May I live my life fully connected to whatever is happening around me without rushing toward what is pleasant or resisting what is unpleasant.
  • May I fully connect with all others without judging or labeling, not dividing people into “good” and “bad.”
  • May I offer friendship to all beings without expecting appreciation or even acknowledgement.
  • May I rejoice in the good fortune of everyone without feeling threatened or jealous.
  • May I give up all possessive egoistic thoughts of “mine” and “self.”
  • May I offer compassion to all beings.
  • May I offer compassion to myself.

5. End your prayer with several slow mindful breaths.

Buddhism is not alone in embracing equanimity as a favorable attribute to incorporate into one’s life. Christianity also elevates this way of being in the world as evidenced by St. Paul declaration to the Philippians:

I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (4:11-13).

Rob Giannamore, a Methodist licensed professional counselor, describes equanimity in the Christian tradition as “a manifestation of resting in God’s grace and trusting in His plan.” He points out that this attribute does not mean that we rest in a God who is going to make it all better. To the contrary, we rest in a God who suffers with us.

Giannamore comments: “It is this love, this grace-filled unwarranted belonging between us and God that allows us to rest assured that no matter what happens, it is going to be okay, maybe not the okay we wanted, but okay nonetheless.”

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat of the United Church of Christ uses the image of a mountain to describe equanimity. They explain: “The mountain absorbs the sun in the same way that it takes in the rain, the wind, and the snow. It doesn’t care what the weather is. No matter what is going on around it, the mountain is still the mountain.”

The Brussat’s offer a practice to cultivate this characteristic in our lives. They recommend that we begin each day with words that affirm God as the source of our equanimity: “I can do all things through God who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). The mantra, “Nothing can separate me from God” is ideal to remain calm, balanced, and centered during difficult times. The third affirmation they suggest to promote this state of mind is “God is with me and all is well, no matter what happens.”

This concludes our discussion of the Brahma-Viaharas. Encouraging the practice of loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity can be found in all the major faiths. Perhaps you will implement into your prayer life some of the practices we have referenced that cultivate these desirable states of mind.

New articles in this series are posted to the website every Monday. The full series can be found here: An Invitation to Something New: The Contemplative Life. On Thursday’s we’ll send an email to remind you of the articles.

References

Brussat, Frederic and Mary Ann. “Be Like the Mountain: The practice of equanimity from Eastern religions and Christianity for times of turmoil.” Spirituality and Practice. https://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/practices/features/view/17965/be-like-the-mountain.

Cortes-Vega, Terry. Buddhism for Healing: Practical Meditations, Mantras, and Rituals for Balance and Harmony. Emeryville, California: Rockridge Press, 2020.

“Equanimity (Upekkha).” Four Immeasurable, 2021. https://brahmaviharas.net

Giannamore, Rob. “Equanimity: Resting in God’s Grace.” Western PA Conference, The United Methodist Church. 12/9/20. https://wpaumc.org/blogdetail/equanimity- 14855090.

O’Brien, Barbara. “Brahma-Vihara: The Four Divine States or Four Immeasurables.” Learn Religions, April 16, 2019. https://www.learnreligions.com/brahma-vihara-the-four-divine-states-449717

“The Four Brahma Viharas.” One Mind Dharma. https://oneminddharma.com/brahma-viharas.

[Kathy Keary, a Precious Blood Companion and spiritual director, holds a master’s degree in theological studies and is a graduate of the Atchison Benedictine’s Sophia Center’s Souljourners Program, an intense study of spirituality and spiritual direction. Kathy believes that the divine is present and active in all of life and encourages others to be awakened to the God in all including the divine within. She enjoys accompanying others on their journey to wholeness discovering the person they were created to be.]

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