Equanimity Of Doctor, Hunter, Warrior

Thanissaro Bhikkhu
1000 words, 8K views, 10 comments

There are three types of equanimity.

First is the equanimity that realizes how even though you may have goodwill for all beings and compassion and empathetic joy, it’s not the case that everybody’s going to be happy or that they will be as happy as quickly as you might like. And there are times when no matter how much goodwill you have for somebody, there’s still going to be some suffering. That’s when you have to develop equanimity, to realize that certain things simply will not go in line with your wishes. You want things to go well, both for yourself and for others, but you run up against a brick wall. This doesn’t mean that you give up. It means that you look instead for the areas where you can make a difference. So the basic motivation for this kind of equanimity is the desire for happiness coupled with the realization that it’s not going to happen all the time, or as quickly as you like, or in the areas where you might want.

This is like the equanimity of a doctor. A person with an illness comes to the doctor. The doctor wants to help. He does his best. But then he’ll run into areas where he can’t make any difference for the patient. So instead of getting upset about the areas where he can’t make a difference, he focuses on the areas where he can.

Another kind of equanimity occurs in the context of concentration practice. It's related to the Buddha’s instructions to Rahula when he first started meditating. He said, “Make your mind like earth. Nice things and disgusting things are thrown on the earth, but the earth doesn’t react.” When you’re meditating, you really are trying to get the mind under your control. You are trying to make a difference. Mindfulness is a governing principle that underlies concentration practice, and it has a task that it keeps in mind: to try to give rise to skillful qualities and try to maintain them. In other words, you don’t just watch them coming and going. You try to make them come, and then prevent them from going, but to be a good meditator you have to have a certain evenness of mind so that you don’t force things unskillfully, and so that when things do go well, you don’t just jump at them.

You might say it’s like the equanimity of a hunter. The hunter has to go out and wait for the rabbit. If he gets excited when the rabbit comes, then the rabbit will sense his presence and will run away. Or if he shoots the rabbit and misses and gets upset about that, he’s not going to have a second chance.

Then there’s equanimity in the context of determination. You’ve made up your mind you’ve got a goal, and you do everything you can to go for that goal, which involves developing all the other perfections. This will entail doing certain things you don’t like doing, and giving up certain things that you’d prefer to hold on to. In addition, there will be long fallow periods when things are not going well, and you have to maintain your good spirits and not get upset by your setbacks. You have to be able to maintain a strong sense of the direction you want to go in without giving up. This is the equanimity of a warrior, who realizes there are going to be some battles you’re going to lose, but you can’t get upset about those. You take them in stride and learn whatever lessons you can from your defeats so that you can win the war.

Ajaan Lee talks a lot about this in the context of what they call the worldly affairs: gain, loss, status, loss of status, praise, criticism, pleasure, pain. As he points out, we’d always like the good side—the gain, the status, the praise, and the pleasure—but the good side is not always good for us. Status can go to our heads. Praise can go to our heads. People tend to forget themselves when the “good side” comes up. At the same time, there are lots of good lessons you can learn when things are not so good. When there’s material loss and loss of status, you learn who your true friends are. When there’s criticism, you have an opportunity to learn. If the criticism is true, it’s helping you because it’s pointing out an area where you may have become complacent. As for praise, you have to watch out for that, because sometimes you have to wonder why are people praising you: What do they want out of you? You have to be a little bit leery of what you think is a good side and not so quick to get upset about the bad side. This is what keeps you going, realizing that not every setback is permanent. There are ways around it. So you keep coming back, coming back. 

That’s the equanimity of a warrior.

So equanimity is the opposite of apathy and indifference. It’s equanimity that allows you to attain your goals wisely and to not suffer in the process. It’s the grounding quality that keeps the mind on an even keel, enabling it to see things clearly that it otherwise might miss if it was getting excited or upset about things going or not going the way you wanted them to.


Excerpted from here.