Equanimity as the foundation of Integral Yoga.

The ordinary life undulates between inspired action, drudgery, boredom and leisure.  Our response to the events of the day is shaped by our memory of the past.  Abuse, poverty, illness and betrayal leave their mark on our consciousness making us polarized, disheartened, bitter or hard-charging.  To uplift the abased life, the first goal of the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother is the practice and perfection of equanimity (Samata in the words of the Gita) in every aspect of life.  Instead of renouncing everything and retiring to some cave/ashram/monastery to meditate, the secret is to live in society and absorb the impacts without inducing stress. To be equal in all circumstances is the first step in perfection because it disengages the Spirit (Purusha) from the material consciousness (Prakriti).  It is from the poise of equanimity that we rise into true freedom.  The rest of this article covers various aspects of equanimity.

It is not mere quiescence and indifference, not a withdrawal from experience, but a superiority to the present reactions of the mind and life. It is the spiritual way of replying to life or rather of embracing it and compelling it to become a perfect form of action of the self and spirit. It is the first secret of the soul’s mastery of existence. [1]

(Sri Aurobindo)

Passive Equanimity

True equanimity is attained only after memory of the past is purged, and this occurs when the power of greater consciousness has descended into the body and completely cleansed the subconscient. After that, all action becomes spontaneous and driven by an inner guide, attuned to the Divine Will.  In complete consciousness, stress does not exist and psychological aging ceases.  Until this transformation occurs, one has to undergo a protracted daily ordeal, where one applies the power and calmness gained during meditation to steadily endure the shocks of life.  The intermediate stage of equanimity is necessarily forced and deliberate rather than limpid and instinctive.  In the initial stages, one aspires for Passive Equanimity and in this step, there are three approaches which can be delineated predicated on the temperament of the  spiritual  aspirant.

  1. Karma: For the dynamic person of action, the method of endurance which reposes on the power of will is recommended.  Instead of shrinking in revulsion from unpleasantness, one must suffer and bear with perseverance and fortitude.   Similarly, one must become equal to pleasant reactions and not get carried away by them in exhilaration.
  2. Jnana: For the predominantly intellectual person, the method of indifference which reposes on the power of discrimination is recommended.   It is an attitude which regards the passions of the mind as born of illusion of the outer mentality, partial truths which need to be illumined with the greater power of the Divine Mind.
  3. Bhakti: For those of devotional nature, the method of submission to the Divine Will is recommended which reposes on the power of Love.  This is founded on an unegoistic acceptance (not resignation or apathy) of the workings of manifestation and complete surrender to the Divine.  This also loosens the knot of the ego like the other two approaches.

We discuss next how the practice of equanimity has to permeate all three levels of the being (mental,  vital, physical) and cover all external aspects of life.

Mental Equanimity

The attachment to one’s intellectual judgements, beliefs and imaginations, the inane repetitions of the habitual mind, and the insistences of the dynamic mind must be replaced by the impartiality of an equal vision.  One must function as the witness, standing back from thoughts, accepting all ideas, tracing their source, relating them to each other and seing them in their proper perspective.  One must be able to watch the space between two thoughts.

Vital Equanimity

The turmoil of the emotional being has to be decreased by steadying the breath and increasing the interval between the impulse and the response.   As the Mother Mirra Alfassa pointed out,

Someone comes and insults you or says unpleasant things to you; and if you begin to vibrate in unison with this anger or this ill-will, you feel quite weak and powerless and usually you make a fool of yourself. But if you manage to keep within yourself, especially in your head, a complete immobility which refuses to receive these vibrations, then at the same time you feel a great strength, and the other person cannot disturb you. If you remain very quiet, even physically, and when violence is directed at you, you are able to remain very quiet, very silent, very still, well, that has a power not only over you but over the other person also. If you don’t have all these vibrations of inner response, if you can remain absolutely immobile within yourself, everywhere, this has an almost immediate effect upon the other person. [2]

For more, see Vital immobility.

Physical Equanimity

In the words of Nolini, a disciple of Sri Aurobindo,

Equality of the external being means good health, a solid body, controlled nerves – when you are not shaken by the least shock, when you are calm, quiet, poised, balanced. In that condition you can receive into you a great force in yourself from above (or, from the environing energy around you) and yet not get upset. If one of you at any time had received some such force, he must have known by experience that without a perfectly sound physical health, one could not contain or hold it. You cannot remain still, you are restless, you move about, talk, cry, weep, jump or dance, just to throw out the energy you are unable to hold. You scatter about what it is not possible for you to gather and assimilate. In order to be able to gather and assimilate the force, the body and the nerves must be quiet and strong. [3]

Equanimity towards People

Our reactions to people are driven by personal feelings.  We might (subtly) differentiate between people who are old and young, attractive and unappealing, rich and poor, intelligent and dull, etc.  One must become conscious of such biases and begin to set them aside.    As Sri Aurobindo said, “The first result of the equal mind and spirit is to bring about an increasing charity and inner toleration of all persons, ideas, views, actions, because it is seen that God is in all beings and each acts according to his nature and its present formulations. When there is the positive equal delight, this deepens to a sympathetic understanding and in the end an equal universal love“[9].

At times, one may also have to admonish someone if the need arises but even that is done with the understanding that the frontal personality is transient, that its faults are temporary, while the soul behind that personality is Divine.

Equanimity towards Events

The inner elations or depressions produced by turbulence of outer events has to cease.  The darkness of winter should not make one depressed and radiant sun of the spring is no reason for ebullience.  One must strive to attain the tranquility described in verse 2:69 of the Gita: “That which is day to the many becomes night for the sage; that which is night to the many becomes day for the sage” (see more here).

A similar attitude must be applied to political upheavals and natural disasters.  One must act as required  under trying circumstances but always look beyond these disturbances and realize that such turbulence is part and parcel of human life and will persist even beyond one’s lifetime.

What is not Equanimity

It is important at this point to outline what is not equanimity.   At times, one may also observe within oneself affectations of equanimity which have to be rejected.  These include

  • an equality of disappointed resignation or apathy.  (e.g. “I am going to fail anyway so let me stay out of it”)
  • an equality of pride.  (e.g. “whatever happens, I am still great”)
  • an equality of hardness and indifference.   (e.g. “I dont care.  Do whatever you want.”)

Precise and perpetual self-observation is obligatory to not get carried away by such facades.

Active equanimity

This protracted and patient ordeal brings its fruits in due time, when the perfection of Passive Equanimity and deepening calm of meditation opens into the stage of Active Equanimity.  In this phase, there is an inner joy of the soul is awakened and the senses become indifferent to pleasure and pain.  Life begins to feel lighter and worth living, while the boredom and drudgery which characterized life so far seem to recede.  On becomes, as the Gita says, an Atmarati (one who delights in the joy of the Soul).  Action in the world is increasingly founded on an feeling of inner unity with all beings and all contact with life becomes a meeting of the soul with the Divine itself.   As Sri Aurobindo points out, “Complete equality takes long to establish and it is dependent on three things – the soul’s self-giving to the Divine by an inner surrender, the descent of the spiritual calm and peace from above and the steady, long and persistent rejection of all egoistic, rajasic and other feelings that contradict equality“.[5]

Related Posts

  1. Jnana Yoga : the ego blocks that have to be dissolved
  2. Aspects of Karma Yoga
  3. Transcending the work-leisure cycle
  4. How to cultivate the state of witness consciousness (Saksi Bhava)

References

There is much of value that I have left out in this quick summary which can be read in the references listed below.  See especially the Synthesis of Yoga or the Essays on the Gita.

  1. Sri Aurobindo.  SABCL vol 21, Synthesis of Yoga, p 693.
  2. Collected Works of the Mother, vol 8, Questions and Answers, 22 February 1956, p 67.
  3. Nolini Kanta Gupta, Collected Works, vol 3, Equality of the body, p 373.
  4. Sri Aurobindo. Essays on the Gita, vol 13, Chapter on Equality.
  5. Sri Aurobindo.  SABCL vol 23, Letters on Yoga, Chapter on the Foundation of Sadhana, p 663.
  6. Sri Aurobindo.  SABCL vol 21, Synthesis of Yoga, Chapter on the Way of Equality.
  7. Sri Aurobindo.  Record of Yoga, pp 1457-1459.
  8. Sri Aurobindo.  SABCL vol 21, Synthesis of Yoga, Chapter on the Equality and the Annihilation of Ego.
  9. Sri Aurobindo.  SABCL vol 21, Synthesis of Yoga, p 699.
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20 thoughts on “Equanimity as the foundation of Integral Yoga.

  1. kalpana

    Equanimity is certainly a challenge – we learn a lot about ourselves in the process!
    2 practical approaches maybe useful: cultivating a sense of humour and cultivating ‘metta’[loving-kindness].
    Sri Aurobindo refers to the attitude of ‘all in a day’s work’ and a conversational attitude with Divine, with regards to losing one’s equanimity. [p.276 The Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo.isbn 0-941524-76-0]
    The Buddhist meditation metta bhavana helps us extend the attitude of friendliness towards others, starting with oneself. Helpful stage towards the noble and difficult goal of equanmity.

    Reply
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  3. Sandeep Post author

    The flip side of practicing equanimity is brilliantly exposed in this satirical Onion piece

    “Open-Minded Man Grimly Realizes How Much Life He’s Wasted Listening To Bullshit”

    “CLEVELAND—During an unexpected moment of clarity Tuesday, open-minded man Blake Richman was suddenly struck by the grim realization that he’s squandered a significant portion of his life listening to everyone’s bullshit, the 38-year-old told reporters.

    …. According to Richman, it was just now hitting him how many hours of his life he’s pissed away listening intently to nonsense about celebrity couples, how good or bad certain pens are, and why a particular sports team might have a chance this year. The husband and father of two said that every time he’s felt at all put out or bored by a bullshit conversation—especially a speculative one about how bad allergy season was going to be—he should have just turned around, walked away, and gone rafting or repelling or done any of the millions of other things he’s always wanted to do but never thought he had time for.

    Read the rest @ http://www.theonion.com/articles/openminded-man-grimly-realizes-how-much-life-hes-w,19273/

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Equanimity at home – from the Onion

      Mom Calmly Emptying Dishwasher As If Shrieking Argument Didn’t Happen 10 Minutes Ago

      Kitchen sources reported Wednesday that local mom Tina Reyes is currently emptying the dishwasher with an impressively calm disposition, betraying no sign of the fact that just 10 minutes ago she was engaged in a vicious shouting match with her husband. Putting items into cupboards with a silent and careful efficiency, the 35-year-old mom is reportedly behaving like someone with no memory of the bitter, threat-filled argument that mere moments ago resounded throughout the entire house. Eyewitnesses confirmed the only audible sound now is the soft clink of silverware and plates as the mother of three inspects items to ensure they are dry and then files them with pinpoint accuracy into various slots and drawers. At press time, sources indicated that Reyes’ husband had returned to the kitchen and quietly offered to empty the rest of the dishwasher for her.

      http://www.theonion.com/articles/mom-calmly-emptying-dishwasher-as-if-shrieking-arg,31649/

      Reply
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  6. Sandeep Post author

    Anecdote from the life of Auguste Renoir, the famous French painter:

    Renoir was confined to his home during the last decade of his life. Renoir, almost paralyzed by arthritis, continued to paint in spite of his infirmities. One day his friend Henri Matisse watched the elder painter working in his studio, fighting torturous pain with each brush stroke, he blurted out: “Why do you continue to paint when you are in such agony?”

    Renoir answered simply: “The pain passes but the Beauty remains”

    Reply
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  9. ipi

    M.P. Panditji‘s book How To Begin , on page 47, has said Mother has said “both praise and blame proceed from same level of ignorance”. I read the book after a gap of 15 years or so.

    (Sandeep: the book is available on amazon and sabda )

    Reply
  10. Sandeep Post author

    Being the American President calls for a lot of equanimity, if we go by this article “How To Measure for a President” by John Dickerson. A candidate for the job must be able to compartmentalize, be even-tempered, handle uncertainty well, accept criticism from others, be good in a crisis.

    A president’s temperament is his most important quality and it is the hardest to measure in the candidates who desire the office. It is at the heart of all the other key attributes. A president can’t ignore his critics unless he has a reliable sense of himself. He can’t make durable decisions unless he has strong values in which he roots them. The political game requires patience, and a willingness to ignore one’s emotions. He can’t adapt unless he has the emotional maturity to accept the fallout.

    A president must maintain that delicate balance of mind in one of the world’s most distorted, artificial, and constraining environments. “There are blessed intervals when I forget by one means or another that I am President of the United States,” wrote Woodrow Wilson. Bill Clinton called the White House the nicest facility in the federal penal system. Your time is not your own. You have valets, butlers, aides, and bodyguards watching every lift of your finger, but the things you truly want—quick action in Congress, the agreement of a foreign leader, an ice cream on a summer night—are maddeningly out of your reach.

    Under that kind of pressure, a president is also denied the normal tools of relaxation. He can’t take a stroll through Georgetown. He can’t drink too much or blow off Sunday in sweat pants watching football in his friend’s basement. If a president goes on vacation at the wrong time or in the wrong way, he catches hell. Golf must be in moderation. If you once enjoyed journaling, your lawyers will tell you to cut it out. Journals can be subpoenaed. If you are ever caught whining on a bad day, it will define you more than a hundred good days. “Being president is like being a jackass in a hailstorm,” said LBJ. “There’s nothing to do but stand there and take it.”

    No wonder Nixon wound up talking to the paintings in the hallways. It’s a surprise that more presidents aren’t found mumbling to themselves in their nightclothes. Perhaps that’s why Ann Romney mused recently about her husband being president: “I think my biggest concern obviously would just be for his mental well-being.”

    Read more @ http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/features/2012/how_to_measure_a_president_/how_to_measure_for_a_president_temperament_is_a_president_s_most_important_attribute_and_the_hardest_to_examine_.html

    Reply
  11. mike

    And if your a Psychopath you’ve got a head start.

    “Under that kind of pressure, a president is also denied the normal tools of relaxation. He can’t take a stroll through Georgetown. He can’t drink too much or blow off Sunday in sweat pants watching football in his friend’s basement. If a president goes on vacation at the wrong time or in the wrong way, he catches hell. Golf must be in moderation. If you once enjoyed journaling, your lawyers will tell you to cut it out. Journals can be subpoenaed. If you are ever caught whining on a bad day, it will define you more than a hundred good days. “Being president is like being a jackass in a hailstorm,” said LBJ. “There’s nothing to do but stand there and take it.”

    None of the above applies anymore. They do what they like these days – politicians are out of control.

    Reply
  12. mwb6119

    This quote of SA’s would fit under the heading of “Equanimity towards People”:

    “Equality too there will be with regard to the action of others upon you. Nothing that they can do will alter the inner oneness, love, sympathy which arises from the perception of the one Self in all, the Divine in all beings. But a refined forbearance and submission to them and their deeds, a passive nonresistance, will be no necessary part of the action; it cannot be, since a constant instrumental obedience to the divine and universal Will must mean in the shock of opposite forces that fill the world a conflict with personal wills which seek rather their own egoistic satisfaction. Therefore, Arjuna is bidden to resist, to fight, to conquer; but to fight without hatred or personal desire or personal enmity or antagonism, since to the liberated soul these feelings are impossible.” [Essays on the Gita, Equality and Knowledge, p200]

    Reply
  13. mike

    “Therefore, Arjuna is bidden to resist, to fight, to conquer; but to fight without hatred or personal desire or personal enmity or antagonism, since to the liberated soul these feelings are impossible”

    Yes mark, l believe this too. The ghandian non-resistance approach, always seemed ineffective to me when your faced with some violent psychopath etc..
    This was obvious at the time of hitler, when some jewish ppl tried ghandi’s methods and were slaughtered for their efforts [S A mentioned it l believe]..
    lt’s very similar to the martial arts mindset, especiall aikido and tai chi, l think.

    Reply
    1. mwb6119

      Mike: “always seemed ineffective to me when your faced with some violent psychopath etc..”

      Agreed. I don”t know where the quote is located but it states something to the effect as to how the psychic, when forward, or well developed, will guide us away from, for example, disaster. Since 9/11 and the collapse of the twin towers, I wondered why those specific people died? And why you hear of a person who does not get on an airplane, a flight which inevitably crashes? Etc.

      Also, when we come to the state of oneness, and see the Self in everyone, how will we act then and how will people act towards us. It seems that the whole relational field will change. Perhaps we will no longer attract that element, “the violent psychopath” or there will be some kind of subtle energy exuding from within, from the state of oneness.

      I was on a train once (this was before I met SA & M). And a man came on board. There were three of us sitting fairly close, no one else. He first placed his attention on the woman. The woman got up and left the car. Then he placed his attention onto me. And I sat perfectly still and minded my business, even though I was in potential danger. And he left me alone. He got up with me when I left the train and then went his own way. If I had reacted fearfully, or stood up to him, or fled, that might have caused violence to well up in him and give himself leave for a violent act.

      Reply
  14. Sandeep

    Mark: I don”t know where the quote is located but it states something to the effect as to how the psychic, when forward, or well developed, will guide us away from, for example, disaster. Since 9/11 and the collapse of the twin towers, I wondered why those specific people died? And why you hear of a person who does not get on an airplane, a flight which inevitably crashes? Etc.

    Its at http://auromere.wordpress.com/2010/04/11/aurobindonian-perspective-on-karma/

    Question: “The time and the way of death, are these not always chosen by the soul? In the great destructions of mankind by bombing, flood, earthquake, have all the souls chosen to die together at that moment?”

    Mother Mirra Alfassa: The immense majority of men have a collective destiny. For them the question does not arise at all. One who has an individualised psychic being can survive even in the midst of collective catastrophes, if that is his soul’s choice. (Collected Works of the Mother CWMCE Vol 11, Notes on the way, 11 Jan to 24 May 1967.)

    Reply

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