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Why we do what we do:The fourth and last immeasurable thought is tangnyom (བཏང་སྙོམས་) or equanimity. It is an attitude or thought to treat everyone without partiality and discrimination and a wish to free all sentient beings from attachment, hatred (ཆགས་སྡང་) and all other forms of bias and prejudice.

Tangnyom – Equanimity

Why we do what we do:The fourth and last immeasurable thought is tangnyom (བཏང་སྙོམས་) or equanimity. It is an attitude or thought to treat everyone without partiality and discrimination and a wish to free all sentient beings from attachment, hatred (ཆགས་སྡང་) and all other forms of bias and prejudice. The practice of equanimity is founded on the Buddhist philosophical view that all sentient beings are equal in their empirical and ontological states of existence. All sentient beings, irrespective of their existential differences, like pleasure and happiness and dislike pain and suffering. Similarly, all sentient beings are ontologically clusters of psychomatic parts which are intricately interconnected and dependent on numerous causes and conditions. They lack any independent self-existence. Thus, all sentient beings are equal and indifferentiable in their nature and it is only concordant with the nature of things to eschew differentiation and partiality in generating benevolent thoughts.

Although equanimity is the last of the four, the Buddhist traditions prevalent in Bhutan often recommend practicing equanimity before the other three so that one’s cultivation of benevolent thoughts do not become limited, partial and one-sided. This is because true altruism and benevolence in the Mahāyāna tradition must extend to all sentient beings without any partiality and difference, not only to some chosen recipients. Thus, a practitioner must first learn to let go of attachment and desires for those one loves, and hatred and jealousy for those one does not. One does this by juxtaposing a person who is much loved and has been extremely kind to oneself such as one’s mother with a person one dislikes. One strives to treat both of them equally without any difference. One wishes to seek happiness for both and dispel suffering for both in equal terms.

This contemplative practice is often substantiated with the Buddhist belief in numerous lifetimes. All sentient beings have become one’s beloved parents, siblings or spouses in the past, just like the ones in this life, and they have all also become enemies many times. Thus, it is irrational to treat some over others and love some more than others. Moreover, depending on one’s priority and purpose in life, sometimes enemies, who we think do us harm, bring about great benefit by posing new challenges and opportunities to grow. Those who are close and deeply loved can unintentionally bring about great harm and suffering. Using such reasoning and examples from real life, the practitioner develops an impartial attitude to all sentient beings in wishing them happiness.

Having developed such emotional and mental equilibrium, the practitioner engages in generating benevolent thoughts including loving kindness, compassion and joy towards all sentient beings, in the many ways we have already discussed. Equanimity can also be cultivated through contemplative meditation and absorptive meditation and classified into three types. According to the tradition passed down from Paltrul Rinpoche of Tibet, equanimity and other immeasurable thoughts can be cultivated in the four modes of a wish (འདུན་པ་), prayer (སྨོན་ལམ་), resolve (དམ་བཅའ་) and supplication (གསོལ་འདེབས་) in the following manner: 1. How I strongly wish that all sentient beings become free from attachment, hatred and all forms of discrimination and abide in great equanimity. 2. May all sentient beings become free from attachment, hatred and all forms of discrimination and abide in great equanimity. 3. I resolve to help all sentient beings become free from attachment, hatred and all forms of discrimination and abide in great equanimity.  4. I beseech the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and powerful beings to help me in helping sentient beings become free from attachment, hatred and all forms discrimination and abide in great equanimity.

In Bhutan, people commonly chant this line to generate equanimity:

མ་ནམ་མཁའ་དང་མཉམ་པའི་སེམས་ཅན་ཐམས་ཅད་ཆགས་སྡང་ཉེ་རིང་དང་བྲལ་བའི་བཏང་སྙོམས་ཆེན་པོ་ལ་ཡུན་རིང་དུ་གནས་པར་གྱུར་ཅིག

May all mother sentient beings as vast as space be free from attachment, hatred and all forms of discrimination, and permanently abide in state of great equanimity.

Dr Karma Phuntsho is the President of the Loden Foundation, director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’ Cultural Documentation and author The History of Bhutan.

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