The concept of Equanimity is an important one in Buddhism. A lot of people, including some monks, have this misconception that Equanimity means sitting around while things happen, escaping from the world, and suppressing one's feelings. In this post, which was an answer to a friend's misconception, I argued that Equanimity is none of the above, but is in fact, a huge source of strength.

A friend wrote: : You can't escape it. If you are an avowed buddhist, you get : to sit by while people are cruel and injust to each other & : you don't get to do anything but perhaps, if your despair is : deep enough, immolate yourself with gasoline. It is all : dreamlike with no consequences, in the buddhist model, and : what matters to the buddhist is "equanimity" - in other : words, inaction and silence in the face of injustice and : cruelty, and the suppression of passion, which is seen as : the great evil.

I replied:
There is a common misconception that Equanimity is about sitting around while things happen. Actually, it's quite the opposite. The Buddha once said, "Those who are at peace are abundant in energy".

Equanimity allows one to do things without consideration for oneself. This is a huge source of energy. Let me give u an example, Gandhi's Passive Resistance. Gandhi's method requires one not to fight back and yet not to yield. The principle is that if u do that, after a while, u inspire respect and shame in the other person. This is identical to the Buddhist ideal of fearlessness, "I am not affected by this fear, I will not yield to you, but I will not hit you back".

Fighting back or running away is easy. They are part of our survival instincts. To stay around, get beaten up, and yet not give up requires a lot of spiritual strength. It requires that one does not get affected by fear or pain, and yet not escaping. This requires Equanimity. One who has not acquired Equanimity will find it extremely difficult to do that.

Many times, our deeds are limited by our feelings. I can give more, but I feel the pinch if I do so. I can stand around and perform Passive Resisstance, but I'm too afraid to do so. I don't want to hurt you, but if I don't, how can I get what I want? etc etc. With Equanimity, one transcend the limitations of self. I'm doing this because it's "right". Fear? That doesn't affect me. The pinch? I feel it, but I don't care. Peace is a source, not a sink, of energy.

Inaction and silence in face of injustice and cruelty is not a sign of Equanimity, but rather a lack of it. It is a sign of cowardice. For the uninitiated (including many monks, quite sadly), the difference may not be clear. But for a practitioner, they are VERY distinct states of mind. Equanimity is based on the feeling of power, cowardice is based on the feeling of powerlessness.

My friend continued:
: Creativity is a passion; you cannot be fully creative : and full of life and excited and alive and at the same time : be indifferent and observational. Try it; they are : mutually exclusive.

I replied:
Actually, I did. No, they are not mutually exclusive. It's really quite the opposite.

When one has a creative mind, one feels the current of non-conventional ideas flowing in one's mind. When one is not a meditator, one flows with the current and one is "creative". When one is a meditator, one observes the current and one may choose to flow with it and be "creative". Or one may choose to observe. When one becames a better observer, one gets a stronger current of ideas, one may choose to be more creative. Take the example of comics, every funny comic strip is built on the foundation of an observation put in a non-conventional way. If a comic artist is more observant, he actually finds more ideas. Observation aids creativity, not supresses it.

My friend continued:
You may think you can have both [creativity & equanimity], but when you try, you find out the terrible secret: your teachers were wrong. The supposed fullness of life that committed buddhism is supposed to bring really turns out to be equanimity and equanimity only. You become very centered and you witness everything around you; you are fully in touch with your breath and your body; your passions lessen down to the level of being objects of attention instead of cascading tidal waves. And you die a little. The price for this serenity is the heart-rending loss of much of your creativity, much of your fire. You go dancing, but it's not the same as before. You eat cheesecake, but it's you watching yourself eat the cheesecake, not you scrumptiously hogging down this incredibly delicious sweet wonderful yumm yummy thing that is WOW in your mouth right now! There is a little yumm, and a lot of, oh, that's my mouth really enjoying the sugar, yes it is.

I replied:
Again, it's the other way round. Again, like all the info I provided above, this is based on first-hand experiences. When one becomes more mindful, one lives a little more, not dies a little more. When the ordinary person eats a cheesecake, hey, that's nice! When a mindful one eats a cheesecake, he fully experiences the taste in the mouth, the feeling of pleasure, etc etc. His mind is not distracted and his experience is more complete. How many times have we eaten our cheesecakes while thinking of something else? Wouldn't it be a much better experience if one fully experiences the cheesecake? This is the experience of the mindful one.

Mindfulness is the basis of Equanimity. The development of Equanimity cames in the full experience of the "cascading tidal waves" of feelings, not its suppression. I think this is perhaps the source of your misconceptions. Only when one is fully able to experience oneself does one start to develop Equanimity. If one suppresses one's feelings, Equanimity does not arise. What arises is the lack of feelings mistaken as equanimity. This, again, is my first-hand experience.