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Balance & Blooming

Yesterday evening we covered the RAIN practice in depth to hopefully help everyone to have more insight into the courage needed and the profundity of this practice. And the whole thing about practice is getting familiar with the process so that we can vividly see our own delusions. So I am going to encourage you to keep working with that particularly today in our practice sessions.

So today we are going to investigate the deep qualities of equanimity. It is one of the essential qualities for living a good and beneficial life. Patrul Rinpoche, who was one of the great masters, and I encourage everyone to study his book The Words of My Perfect Teacher, put equanimity first in the order of the four immeasurables. Because really if you don’t have equanimity you can’t have limitless compassion, loving kindness or appreciative joy.  Without equanimity you are limited by preferences, or ego. In order that our capacity for unlimited loving kindness flourishes it is important to have a quiet mind.  And in order for compassion it is important not to be in a clinging, needy or sticky frame of mind. And for us to let our joy emerge and flourish it is important not to have a jealous mind.

Equanimity is not simply devoid of pleasure or pain. Impartiality is perhaps a better translation from the Sanskrit term ‘upeksa’. Let us look for a moment at the near enemy of equanimity or impartiality. And this near enemy is stupid indifference. We have all probably experienced this at times, from others towards us and from us towards others. We probably know people for whom this is a characteristic of their personality.  Alan Wallace gives the example of this type of person watching the news, sees what is happening in the world and just doesn’t care. Or someone who can walk pass an accident, or becoming ill and falling down on a pavement. Only recently this was brought home very vividly to a group of us as a dear friend of ours had a shocking example of this when her son, who has severe allergies which he manages very well, mistakenly ate something that contained a trace of peanuts and ended up on a pavement in Birmingham asking for help and everyone simply passing him by. Fortunately he managed to dial 999 before it got truly life-threatening – for without the swift arrival of the ambulance and its amazing para-medics he would not be with us today. Indifference can be a matter of life and death. The people who passed him by might have been frightened of getting involved and may be using the logic of ‘I am not going to touch him and then get sued’. Maybe equanimity takes more courage than this term first suggests.

How do we relate to equanimity? For example when we looked at cultivating the quality of loving kindness, we saw that we feel this for those near to us, people who smile at us, and greet us kindly. When we smile at them, they smile back!  We are indifferent to those who are less warm, and hostile to those we perceive as being hostile towards us. This division of others into classes one, two and three, is a major source of our suffering. And in our practice of unfolding our innate capacity for unlimited loving kindness we had to meet those barriers and dissolve them. So it is in our practice of equanimity.

The outlook for equanimity requires us dropping or dissolving any sense of pride. Yesterday we revisited RAIN which helps us to play more skilfully with the presence of this pride, our egos. And we know that our ego can be very subtle. Such as the thought ‘I know I am the best’ or ‘I am the worst’ so then you cannot accept or learn anything.  Pride is a defence, a protection against judgement, it is the critical mind, it is a way of having a reference point, and is based on judgment. To really truly have freedom and limitlessness we have to drop the judgement and the critical mind, it requires us to work on the comparisons we engage in all the time, where we are gauging ‘this’ against ‘that’ constantly. We can be feeling superior to everyone or feeling we are the worst person in the room, and both are places of pride. It puts ourself into a reference point of comparison. This is not healthy.  There is a song by a female disciple of the Buddha, where she sang about stopping comparing yourself as superior or inferior to others, then you will be equal. And that is still putting a value and judgement on ourselves, so get off that kind of gauging altogether. Not even being equal!

Non-reference, or no horizon. What does that look like? On our MSc in Mindfulness studies we had a week of retreat each year on Holy Isle and the main teacher was Rob Nairn. On that particular week in May we had had glorious weather, hot and sunny. But on the final, departure day the clouds came in very low, it got colder and there was limited visibility. Holy Isle is reached by two ferries. Some of you are familiar with that. The first is a little open boat that takes about 15 minutes to cross Lamlash Bay. The second ferry is the large CalMac boat, serving the 17 mile crossing over the Firth of Clyde from Brodick on Arran to Ardrossan on the mainland. At the end of the course the first little ferry relayed everyone over to Arran – where we found that the CalMac ferry was still in Ardrossan harbour and was prevented from sailing by a broken-down lorry stuck in its hold. And then when that was sorted, the ferry’s engine gave up. No CalMac, no onward journeys. We were quite a large group wth a variety of connections to make to get to places in the UK and also in Europe: flights and trains etc. So crossing those 17 miles of open sea were crucial. A few phone calls later a RIB (rubber inflatable boat, usually orange) was organised that took 12 of us at a time across the 17 miles. Off we went in that open boat, the clouds were very low, the sky and sea the same grey. They merged into one another. There was no horizon. There was no reference point. Rob had told us a story on the previous day, the last day of our little retreat, about Chogyam Trungpa’s final teaching in the UK: he was quite ill at that stage of his life. It wasn’t long before he died. He had come out to meet the several thousand gathered to hear him. He was very late and in a wheelchair, and said only these words: “There is no reference point”. Nothing else. And left.

To be in a state of non reference is quite scary.  On that unexpected crossing of the Firth of Clyde in an open boat, in grey, horizonless weather we needed a boatman who knew the waters well, who could read a compass, operate a radio and was able to bring us safely to Ardrossan. Anyone without that knowledge at the wheel of that small open rubber boat could have ended up anywhere in the Firth of Clyde, swept hither and thither by the strong tides. We need something other, perhaps, to b