The Pali word, upekkhā, which is generally translated in English as equanimity does not quite capture the full meaning of this ancient and important word.
Upekkhā is encountered throughout the Pali canon being associated with the four immeasurables or divine abodes of Brahma and as an important element of the fourth jhana which is considered in the scriptures to be the jumping point to Nirvana.
By examining the word’s construction, we can get a better idea of its meaning.
Upekkhā is formed from the prefix upa and the root ikh meaning, “to see.” The prefix upa generally means unto, to, towards, near, with; it has the notion of bringing towards or with.
Putting these two elements together the meaning of upekkhā can be understood as bringing towards what is one seeing, or a type of seeing which is characterized as bringing into one’s vision or bringing with one’s vision. In short, an inclusive sort of seeing that takes in things.
When we contrast this idea with apekkha the meaning of upekkhā becomes a lot clearer. Apekkha which is translated as longing for or desire has the same root as upekkhā (ikh) but with a different prefix, apa. The prefix apa is in some senses opposed to the prefix upa in that the prefix signifies away from, forth, down or on. Apekkha can thus be understood as looking away or a type of seeing that is characterized by looking forth towards something. This can be interpreted as a form of seeing which goes away from what is one currently seeing to the thing looked upon; a form of vision which leaves or excludes all except the thing desired.
Upekkhā being in a sense the opposite of apekkha, can now be undetstood as a form of seeing that gracefully includes whatever comes into the field of vision.
Unlike apekkha that is characterized by the exclusive movement of the mind away to something, upekkhā is characterized by the inclusive movement of the mind that brings in something. While the desire expressed in apekkha is discriminatory in that it distinguishes and focuses on one aspect of reality, upekkhā is nondiscriminatory in that it does not break up reality but includes all in it.
It is important to not get confused at this point and understand upekkhā as indifference. Indifference is not upekkhā because indifference is discriminatory while upekkhā is not. Unlike apekkha that focuses on one thing at the expense of other things, indifference excludes by focusing away from some things (generally things not considered important). As such indifference always involves value judgments unlike upekkhā that does not.
Hopefully at this point, upekkhā can be seen as a far richer word than the English word of equanimity. From this analysis, upekkhā can be better understood as a noncritical quality that embraces reality and the totality of existence.
I am looking for some comments on my interpretation of the word. Do you think it is sound?