The Taoists speak of 10,000 sorrows and 10,000 joys, with the joys turning to sorrows and sorrows turning to joys without breaking a sweat. In fact, Buddhists talk of four sets of contrasting conditions that most of us will go through at various times in our lifetime, namely, praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and pain, and fame and disrepute, a set called ‘Dhammas’. The response called for in these events, even according to our scriptures, is a balanced one, because we must be able to see their insubstantiality, impermanence and tangible nature.
Leo Tolstoy said in War and Peace that “pure and complete sorrow is as impossible as pure and complete joy”. The more we get attached with our successes and the more we gloat in their palliative warmth, the worse will be the retribution when we fail. William Wordsworth in Resolution and Independence said, “As high as we have mounted in delight, in our dejection do we sink as low.”
When the Indian cricket team won the World Cup this year, there was an overwhelming outpouring of national joy and enthusiasm. During all the hype and celebration, few would have remembered the retribution and stone-throwing that cricketers faced after their losing a game in 2007. It, therefore, behoves the players, authorities and the public to take victory in its stride and though they may enjoy and savour the moment, they should not build sandcastles so high today that they find themselves in the adjoining trenches of their own doing tomorrow. Moments of joy will breed an equal and opposite reaction of sorrow in times to come and more often than not sorrow creeps up on one like a bad habit, sooner than one would expect.
As a society, are we mature enough to handle happiness? The way we react to disaster, tragedies and miseries in life is much more measured than our response to happiness, as was demonstrated by our much calmer, cool, calculated and measured response to tsunamis, earthquakes and other disasters; but it appears that such is not the case with happiness. Osho said, “But when happiness comes, it is as if the heavens are open for you and it is raining cats and dogs, and your small hut is just in a flood…all boundaries are lost. It is maddening.”
The extreme reaction to art and culture is also a reflection of the same mindset, and the intolerance that abounds also comes from a similar attitude. It, therefore, is important that we do not go overboard but treat victory in the right spirit.
To remain unmoved by achievement and failure is a sign of balance and stability. The most significant aspect of progressing on the spiritual path is maintaining equanimity, a term which is central to every religious theme in the world. In Buddhism, we call it Upeksha; in Patanjali’s Yogasutra it is mentioned as one of the four sublime attitudes; in Judaism as Menuhat Ha-Nefesh or Yashuv HaHa Ha-Da’at. In Christianity, Islam and in Hinduism, there is talk of equanimity of response as being necessary for upward evolution and graduation to a higher form. “Equanimity is not a dry neutrality or cool aloofness, but mature equanimity produces a radiance and warmth of being.”
So let us learn to be equanimous in both our achievements and failures,