“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and the karmic seeds which you have planted. It was never between you and them anyway.”
~ His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama ~
His Holiness the fourteenth Dalai Lama has tapped into a collective wish and knowledge. Most of us have had moments when we have been on intimate terms with life…..moments when we live our lives from the inside, in thoughts about how we’re doing in the race of life or how others see us.
Sometimes a door swings open in the midst of our ordinary life, and we walk out of the cramped room of the “known” into the real world. The moment we do this, we may wonder why we have accepted to live as we have for so long, asleep, lost to life and our own true self and life’s true dimension and possibilities. How does this happen? We all know from life and literature that exquisite happiness can be shattered in a moment. Yet it’s important to remember that the reverse can happen as well. The trance of unhappiness and unworthiness can be dispelled and we can connect. How can we make ourselves available to such a moment of grace?
The answer is that we can’t seek to escape the limitations of our lives, but turn to face them without blinking, even to sink into the mess. The light from the larger world shines through the gaps like starlight through a roof full of holes. We have to seek to be in the midst of it all…..not just in outer life, but in ourselves as well. We need to cultivate an attention that embraces body, heart, and mind…..and the gaps between. Balance, Humility and Equanimity, regarded as of the most sublime emotions in Buddhist practice and far from a state of bland indifference, are held to be the groundwork for true wisdom and freedom.
Balance comes when we are grounded, literally in touch with the ground of our own being, humble. The Middle. What does it mean to find the Middle Way in ourselves and in our lives? There is always a draw to act, a restless wish to move, to create, to do something. And there is also a wish to submit, to bear witness to greater life. This is the Middle Path: it is that vibrant attention that can be medium…..that can stay between those opposite pulls, that can unite our thoughts and feelings and sensations…..parts that have so little in common they haven’t spoken to each other in years. Being in the middle or taking the “Middle Path” or “Middle Way” refers to balance, to remaining centered in the middle of whatever is happening. This balance comes from inner strength or stability.
The potential for liberation dwells in the gap between what we dream and what we see we really are in any given moment. It is humbling, every time life reminds us that we are not that swift at any number of practical things. The root of the word humble is from the Latin “humilis,” meaning low, from “humus” or ground, earth. It is also related to the Latin word for human and humane or kind, and this connection between down-to-earth-ness and kindness. Humble, or humility connects us to the basic nature of ourselves and teaches us balance.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi) said, “If you are humble, nothing can touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know who you are.” I often think of the Buddha touching the earth before his enlightenment, asking the earth to bear witness, to sit with him. Humility or touching the earth, as Buddha knew, is the best way to open the mind and heart and to find our balance in this shifting world. It is the best way the keep the big picture in view.
Humility can give rise to equanimity (eventually). This quality is held to be a very fine attainment in the Buddhist practice. It is a state of mind that is grounded, yet wide and free, lowly, but not low. The Buddha described a mind filled with equanimity as “abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill-will.”
The English word “equanimity” translates into two separate Pali words. Each represents a different aspect of equanimity. The most common Pali word translated as “equanimity” is upekkha, meaning “to look over.” It refers to the equanimity that arises from taking in the big picture and not being caught by what we see. This form of equanimity is sometimes compared to a grandmotherly patience.
The second word often translated as equanimity is tatramajjhattata, a compound made of simple Pali words. Tatra, meaning “there,” sometimes refers to “all these things.” Majjha means “middle,” and tata means “to stand or to pose.” Put together, the word becomes “to stand in the middle of all this.” As a form of equanimity, “being in the middle” refers to finding our balance, remaining centered in the middle of whatever is happening. How can we find such a posture? It often requires accepting exactly what is without the electrified wire of our reactions. Equanimity is the kind of inner strength that comes from acceptance and humility.
Equanimity in the Buddhist tradition is held to be a protection from the “eight worldly winds”: praise and blame, success and failure, pleasure and pain, fame and disrepute. It all somehow melds together to create a sense of awareness about oneself and the world around. We all have moments of concentration and letting go, of forgetting all about ourselves and what other people think of us…..moments when we seek to do what is good for its own sake. The two slightly differently forms of equanimity, seeing the big picture and finding our balance in the midst of it all, come together at moments……often, these are moments of humility. Balance, or stability comes with humility, with touching the earth. It is hard to fall off the earth. There are moments in life that are so humbling that the mind and heart open completely to the truth of the impermanence of our lives and all the qualities we usually cling to. Letting go of our usual defensive reactions can bring an extraordinary sense of equanimity…..of calmly and humbly opening to the mystery of life.
My dear teacher Sudharma once told me that the Pali word “metta,” which means loving kindness or friendliness (a quality of the heart that supports the cultivation mindfulness, balance, humility and equanimity) also refers to the sun and to sunshine. The sun shines evenly on all things; it is not responsible for the clouds that drift by like thoughts passing through the mind; it is balanced and equanimous. The sun is naturally radiant; it refuses nothing and demands nothing. “Medium” or “Middle Path” awareness is just like that. And not only is this awareness capable of embracing the disparate parts of ourselves–not passively submitting but humbly humming with quiet interest. It is also not separate from compassionate and friendly acceptance–and not separate from wisdom. We discover in such moments that wisdom is not about words and thoughts but about connecting with a special energy that is inside and outside, an energy that brings acceptance, letting go, reconciliation.
In the sunlight of such awareness, we don’t care anymore (for a second) about what the ego cares about, about being right or looking good. We are in balance. We are humble. We have found equanimity. In that beautiful place of being radiantly medium, we would agree with the Bhagavad-Gita statement: “It is the nature of life that all beings will face difficulties; through enlightened truthful living one can transcend these difficulties, ultimately becoming fulfilled, liberated and free. Man is made by his belief. As he believes in the Middle, so he is.”