This week, we come to the third of the stabilizing factors of mind: Equanimity.
Ajahn Thanissaro employs a useful analogy for this factor of mind:
“There’s a passage in the Canon where the Buddha’s teaching Rahula how to meditate, and he starts out by telling him to meditate with a mind like earth. When people spit on the earth, the earth doesn’t get disgusted. When people put flowers on the earth, the earth doesn’t get delighted or elated. It just stays right there.”
So, after reading that passage, how ‘earth-like’ do you feel? Do you even find the thought of becoming ‘earth-like’ desirable? For me, this teaching brings up conflicting aspirations. I like the resolute imperturbability of the the ‘earth-like’ ideal. But also fear that a wholehearted embrace of this image might push me into a corner of indifference and passivity.
In conversation, many friends and students have shared similar concerns, particularly the fear that if they achieve a state of equanimity that they will then lose their zest for life as everything becomes wrapped in a blanket of anesthetized neutrality. Or even worse, that they should become ‘neutral’ towards all experience as a way to project some degree of spiritual attainment.
If we come back to the Buddha’s image of a mind like the earth, on one hand there is that quality of unshakable steadiness that can be both cultivated and uncovered within oneself. But equal to the earth’s unflappability is it’s open embrace of all conditions. There is an intimate receptivity to all of life that is predicated on it’s steady stability.
Ultimately, as our practice develops and we allow ourselves to be touched by the relentless flow of changing sense phenomena, we discover that the very awareness of that change is, itself, unshakably steady and openly receptive, just like the earth.
So this week, remember the Buddha’s instructions to his son: “meditate with a mind like earth.” And see if that perception attunes you with greater sensitivity to the way things are, neither pulled by the extremes of indulgence or indifference.
For further teachings from Ajahn Thanissaro, here’s a published talk by him called, The Joy of Effort.
Originally published on November 11, 2011