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Meditation: Finding a common ground with everyone (continued)

Does equanimity imply that you consider others' ways of getting happiness suitable?

Quite the opposite: you become more astute at not affirming them. The fact that the other person wants control is pathetic, isn't it? People have different estimations of what happiness is and quite different estimations about how to achieve it. They use whatever smarts they have to determine the best techniques to bring it about, and often people use some pretty silly means to achieve that end.

She wants happiness and doesn't want suffering but is engaging in the causes of suffering. Isn't it sad?

But in a very important sense, this person is like yourself. She wants happiness and doesn't want suffering. That she may be going about it blindly should make you feel compassion for her, rather than creating a reason to separate yourself further from her. How awful it is that what she wants and what she is doing are at cross-purposes! She wants happiness and doesn't want suffering but is engaging in the causes of suffering. Isn't it sad? The person's blind adherence to a certain way of trying to become fulfilled becomes a reason for feeling closer. Easy to say, isn't it?

When you see someone who is ruining the environment or acting badly on the job, you may feel very aggravated, but when you recall this basic similarity, it can be a shock.

Consider political leaders that you find so easy to dislike. Who are your favorite politicians to hate? Who are some of your worst enemies? Once the experience of equanimity is cultivated, there is no way to separate these individuals from the class of humans by calling them scum.

Without such a perspective, however, that's just what we are prone to do. When we label them scum, it makes it all right to do to them whatever we want. But remember: just as I want happiness and don't want suffering, so do these people, who have their own ideas of what happiness is. Such types of persons are too hard to start with—you might think about equanimity but not feel it. When you've cultivated equanimity with respect to friends and neutral people, then you can work on developing this same sense of closeness to lesser enemies and finally to great enemies.

The basis of love and compassion

Equanimity—recognizing the equality of aspiration to happiness and to get rid of suffering—is the basis for love, compassion, kindness. The appeal of the practice of equanimity and the subsequent exercises is an appeal to feeling—heart—not to abstract principles. The ground to work from is natural feeling. It's merely our nature that we want pleasure and do not want pain; no other validation is needed. It may seem like an abstract principle, but we live from within aspirations to happiness and avoidance of suffering all day long.

It's our nature to want happiness and not want suffering, and thus Buddhists do not ask that we give up the pursuit of happiness but merely suggest that we become more intelligent about how it is pursued.