Understanding The Fourth Kind of Love
Suffering. It is an inherent part of life and none of us can deny the reality of its existence. In Buddhism, suffering has a cause and an end.
Most core principles in Buddhism are based on the existence of suffering and how we can free ourselves from it. There are many ways mentioned by Gautama Buddha that can allow us to accept and end suffering. And one of them is equanimity, the fourth kind of love.
Equanimity in Buddhism allows you to connect with and accept suffering without getting attached or consumed by it. It is based on the experience of acceptance and letting go.
“Equanimity is the hallmark of spirituality. It is neither chasing nor avoiding but just being in the middle.” – Amit Ray
Our world is changing constantly. We never know when and how our lives may flip upside down. We don’t know when we might lose a loved one, develop a terminal illness, lose our jobs, experience an accident or some random mishap. Likewise, we cannot predict whether we will overcome an unpredictable setback and how we will get our life back on track. But we always seem to find a way. Most of us overcome even the worst times and manage to rebuild our lives once again.
So it is crucial that we keep our mind, heart and spirit strong and not react instinctively. That we don’t get attached to the suffering. That we don’t cling to the pain. Instead, what we need to do is practice love, kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity or even-mindedness to face the various waves of change without getting drowned.
What is equanimity?
“Equanimity is a perfect, unshakable balance of mind.” – Nyanaponika Thera
According to Buddhism, there are 4 kinds of love. These four sublime states and the accompanying meditation practices to cultivate them are known as Brahma-vihara in Pali language. These four forms of love, known as ‘Appamaññā’ in Pali, are identified as the four immeasurables or four infinite minds.
According to Buddha, these 4 sublime states of mind are:
- Loving-kindness or Love (metta)
- Compassion (karuna)
- Sympathetic Joy (mudita)
- Equanimity (upekkha)
Although the fourth kind of love may not invoke feelings of affection in your heart, it is perhaps the most profound and deep set virtue of the four which binds the other three immeasurables. Equanimity, or disinterestedness or even-mindedness, provides us the necessary stability of mind which enables us to be aware of the present and accept the conditions with an open mind and heart, regardless of how difficult or pleasing it is. The boundless virtues of loving-kindness, compassion, and sympathetic joy are firmly based on the boundlessness of equanimity. The interdependent traits of the four immeasurables form a solid foundation for effectively liberating yourself from suffering.
Equanimity enables you to experience inner peace, calm and trust which gives you the strength to accept, and simultaneously let go of, the world. It is the consciousness of observing without getting attached to the outcome. You are able to see without clinging on to what you see.
Equanimity in Buddhism
Equanimity, one of the 4 sublime virtues, can be translated into two different words in Pali, a language used by Gautama Buddha –
- Upekkhā or Upekṣā
Upekkha, in the most common sense, means “to look over” and is a mental state that should be cultivated to achieve ‘nirvāna’. Equanimity should arise from our ability for observation and our capacity to stay detached from what we see.
Bhikkhu Bodhi, American Theravada Buddhist monk, author and president of the Buddhist Publication Society, said:
“The real meaning of upekkha is equanimity, not indifference in the sense of unconcern for others. As a spiritual virtue, upekkha means stability in the face of the fluctuations of worldly fortune. It is evenness of mind, unshakeable freedom of mind, a state of inner equipoise that cannot be upset by gain and loss, honor and dishonor, praise and blame, pleasure and pain. Upekkha is freedom from all points of self-reference; it is indifference only to the demands of the ego-self with its craving for pleasure and position, not to the well-being of one’s fellow human beings. True equanimity is the pinnacle of the four social attitudes that the Buddhist texts call the ‘divine abodes’: boundless loving-kindness, compassion, altruistic joy, and equanimity. The last does not override and negate the preceding three, but perfects and consummates them.”
The word ‘Tatramajjhattata’ can be broken into different Pali words that can help us gain a better understanding of equanimity. ‘Tatra’ can refer to ‘all things’ or ‘there’. ‘Majjha’ means ‘middle’; while ‘Ttata’ refers to pose or ‘to stand’. In this sense, equanimity means “being in the middle”. It refers to maintaining balance even in chaos and conflict. It means finding your center in the midst of whatever is going around you.