. . . when it is really complacency. It’s sometimes difficult to tell them apart, which is why we need to look carefully at all mind states all the time, inside and outside of formal practice. I was reminded of this need to be vigilant as I was reading this month’s Full Moon Insight Journal from the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. IJ interviews Thanissaro Bhikkhu about the influence the Romantic and Transcendentalist movements had on how we Westerners interpret Buddhism and how we may be straying from what the Buddha actually taught as a result. One of Thanissaro’s points really caught my attention:
If you think that a non-reactive state of mind is in touch with the true nature of things as they are–which is how mindfulness is often portrayed–you’re basically making equanimity your ultimate meditative tool. But as the Buddha said (MN 101), equanimity can handle only some of the causes of suffering. There are many other causes that require the effort of analysis and thought–what he termed “the exertion of fabrication.” If you limit yourself to equanimity, there will be many causes of suffering that will simply hide out, without getting uprooted. And, in fact, equanimity can be an object of clinging. If you don’t see that, you shut the door to total release.
This made an impression on me because I have a tendency towards equanimity when it may not be appropriate. My mother taught me that there is great strength in bearing the conditions of one’s life, an “it is as it is” attitude that is genuinely helpful in curbing reactivity and fostering an ability to be present for one’s experience. But like all mental states, it must be balanced in its application.
When my mother changed residences some years ago, my brother (who was helping her move) saw what looked like some glassware headed for the trash. He salvaged a piece and took it home. Some years later, Mother was visiting him and asked, “Where did you get my grandmother’s antique butter dish?” Although she didn’t say so at the time, she has often expressed a wish to me and my husband that she had it back and implied that she resented my brother’s taking it. Recently, she and my brother came to dinner at my house and my husband mentioned the butter dish to my brother. My brother replied, “I didn’t know she wanted it–of course, I’ll bring it with me.”
My mother and the butter dish were re-united and she was thrilled. The reunion would have happened sooner if she could have brought herself to tell my brother what she was really feeling and thinking.
We must beware complacency masquerading as equanimity . Vigilance and unwavering examination of mind states is necessary so that we can see what is actually present and take appropriate action.