November 8, 2013

Equanimity: A Spacious Stillness of Mind. ~ Barry H. Gillespie

Equanimity is infused with loving-kindness, a sense of caring for all living beings.

Equanimity is the last of the 10 paramis, the “perfections” of Therevada Buddhism. It is the culmination of the practice. Sharon Salzberg, in her book Loving-Kindness, defines it beautifully: “Equanimity is a spacious stillness of mind, a radiant calm that allows us to be present fully with all the different changing experiences that constitute our world and our lives.”

I like this definition for several reasons.

To start with, there is the phrase “spacious stillness”. When we are in a state of equanimity our minds are still, yet spacious. There is room for everything that arises; nothing is rejected.

Another definition of equanimity, this one by Rebecca Bradshaw, emphasizes this aspect of mind, and its benefits: “Equanimity is continuous accommodation to the truth of the present moment. An equanimous heart/mind can connect with this world and all its changes with balance, poise, grace, and flexibility. With equanimity, we learn to trust deeply, and relax into, our capacity to flow with the river of change.”

Another aspect of Sharon’s definition is also significant: the phrase “radiant calm.”

Not only are our minds focused and still, but we literally become a source of this wholesome mind state for others around us; we radiate this powerful energy. This is where the practice leads us.

Many people think that the practice of meditation is selfish, that instead of just sitting around we should be “doing something useful.” But what could be more useful then creating an aura of calm and stillness all around us? What does the world need more than this?

Finally there is the phrase “To be fully present with all the different changing experiences.”  This could be a definition for “not suffering.”

We suffer because we cling to things that arise that we find pleasant and try to avoid, or push away things that arise that we find unpleasant. We don’t “flow with the river of change.” We don’t understand or accept that everything is impermanent, constantly changing. If we are equanimous we no longer suffer!

Like loving-kindness, equanimity has a “near enemy,” a mind state that masquerades as equanimity. This is indifference.

Unfortunately, many texts and teachers translate the Pali upeka and the Sanskrit upeksham using this word. These translations are incorrect.

Outwardly indifference may look the same, that appearance of calmness. But indifference is a rejection of the world, a strong sense of “I don’t care.” It isn’t spacious at all. In fact, it is narrow and self-serving. It doesn’t “accommodate the present moment,” it ignores it.

Equanimity is infused with loving-kindness, a sense of caring for all living beings.

There is another teaching in Buddhism that includes equanimity: the Bramha Viharas, the heavenly abodes—-the four inter-related wholesome mind states that the Buddha encouraged his followers to cultivate.

The first of these is loving-kindness which is also the 9th parami. When a heart filled with loving-kindness encounters suffering compassion, the second Brahma Vihara, arises. When that same heart encounters happiness it is filled with sympathetic joy, the third Brahma Vihara.

Equanimity is the balance of the other three. It prevents us from falling into excess, it keeps us steady.  Equanimity binds the other three together.

Equanimity is the end point of the paramis.

We start simply in the world with generosity and virtue. With renunciation we let go of something else to find time in our lives for practice. As we practice wisdom arises and we begin to have insight into the true nature of reality.

This inspires us to apply more energy to the practice, balanced with patience, with the understanding that nothing is instantaneous. We begin to interact out of a place of truthfulness with others, and more importantly with ourselves, honestly looking at our faults and our good points.

We become resolute, determined to put the practice first in our lives. We are filled with loving-kindness for all beings. We reach equanimity, a spacious stillness of mind.


This is the last in a series of 10 articles on the Paramis, the “perfections” of character that Theravada Buddhism encourages us to develop. Links to the other articles can be found below:

The Importance of Sangha

Radiating Kindness Over the Entire World

Resolve: Determined to Achieve the Greater Happiness

Truthfulness: Much More Than Not Telling Lies

Patience: When Practice Seems Difficult

Viryia: Effort in Practice

Wisdom: The Fruit of Practice

Renunciation: The Art of Letting Go

Sila & What It Means to Be Virtuous


Like elephant journal on Facebook.

Assistant Editor: Paige Vignola / Editor: Catherine Monkman

{Photo: Flickr.}

Read 1 Comment and Reply

Read 1 comment and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Barry H. Gillespie