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.
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga – II: The Action of Equality
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
The Mother, Questions and Answers (1956): 22 February 1956
For more, see Vital immobility.
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. 
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“.The Synthesis of Yoga – II: The Action of Equality
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.
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“.Letters on Yoga – II: The Foundation of Sadhana – IV
- Jnana Yoga : the ego blocks that have to be dissolved
- Aspects of Karma Yoga
- Transcending the work-leisure cycle
- How to cultivate the state of witness consciousness (Saksi Bhava)
- Nolini Kanta Gupta, Collected Works, vol 3, Equality of the body, p 373.