It is a virtue that is like water in its nature, transparent and pure. When someone is extending samānubhūti toward you, you see it, you feel it. And when you extend samānubhūti toward them, they see it, they feel it. Empathy cannot be forced or faked—it is either manifest or it is not.
That being said, the more we explore the deeper essences and meanings of this virtue, the more we discover about the many forms in which samānubhūti manifests. Sometimes its manifestation is vivid; at other times it seems so subtle. Sometimes it is effervescent, light and sparkling; at other times it feels unfathomable. Sometimes it appears to be impressively unique, and at other times it is so simple and accessible. There may be times when this virtue may seem so grand and mystical as to be out of reach. In those moments you may wonder, “Will I ever be able to understand and implement this virtue?” And at yet other times, you may find it to be so clear and obvious that you can immediately see how to implement it in your life. In whatever form you experience it at any given moment, samānubhūti is always pulsing within your being.
In Part I of this commentary, we looked at two aspects of the virtue of samānubhūti in depth and learned that it stems from the cognizance of equality and oneness, the knowledge that everything and everyone come from the same essence, the Self. We also learned that samānubhūti is the recognition of wholeness, the understanding that all beings on this planet are interconnected.
We understood that as the virtue of samānubhūti—the knowledge of oneness and wholeness—permeates the world, each and every person benefits from its goodness. Samānubhūti is pivotal in sustaining and nurturing the circle of life. Everyone who walks the earth deserves to live their own life, and to realize their purpose in life. Each person, each animal, each living being makes this world special and unique. To put it another way: it’s because you exist that there is something extraordinary about this world. When the light of God shines on the prism of this world, it refracts into a rainbow of colors, each of you a distinctively colored ray of light.
At the heart of samānubhūti, or empathy, is deep acceptance for all that is part of this universe. This acceptance arises from recognizing the importance and preciousness of each life—our life and the lives of others—and allowing for the infinite variety of life to flourish.
The Ishavasya Upanishad teaches:
ईशा वास्यमिदं सर्वं यत्किञ्च जगत्यां जगत्।
तेन त्यक्तेन भुञ्जीथा मा गृधः कस्यस्विद्धनम्॥
īśā vāsyamidaṁ sarvaṁ yatkiñca jagatyāṁ jagat ।
tena tyaktena bhuñjīthā mā gṛdhaḥ kasyasviddhanam ৷৷
The supreme Lord dwells within and envelops all that moves and does not move in this universe. Take delight in all this as you remain detached from it and practice letting go. Do not strive after what belongs to others.1
One of the most intriguing parts of this verse is the connection it makes between delight and remaining detached or letting go. So often we think that acquiring things, possessing things, is necessary for our happiness. This verse, however, advises us to think again.
It brings to mind the proverb “Grasp all, lose all.” When you want to have everything, when you try to grab at all you can get, when you demand that everyone and everything conform to your own standards and preferences, you end up losing what you already have. On the other hand, when you let the openness of the heart lead your actions, you hold on to only that which is necessary and beneficial, and you are able to let go of everything else. You are able to let go of your need to control your world.
Letting go has become a part of the common vernacular, a phrase that’s used so often and in so many contexts that its meaning may sometimes feel nebulous. To help you comprehend how the concept of “letting go” can be present in your day-to-day life, here’s a simple analogy. Say you come to learn that some of your favorite foods no longer sit well with you, that they turn to poison in your body and make you ill. You can then make the choice—out of consideration for your body and to heed its limitations—to let go of something you may have once craved. You do this to support your health and longevity.
Similarly, any time you find the idea of “letting go” to be too abstract, think of an analogy that is immediately tangible, that makes the concept concrete for you.
Let’s continue our exploration of the different meanings of samānubhūti. We will now learn about a third aspect of this virtue.
Samānubhūti is the experience of balance and equipoise.
On the one hand, we are all likely to be familiar with the widely known meaning of the word balance, which refers to two or more sides of something being equal or to something or someone holding steady. However, each of us will probably have our own understanding of what balance is in terms of how we apply it to ourselves. We each have our own take on balance based on our study and personal experiences, and on the knowledge and perspectives we’ve acquired as a result.
Each of our viewpoints will have its own merits. The balance that is relevant to our study of samānubhūti, however, is the balance of the mind, the balance in the mind, the balance about the mind. This is, of course, consistent with what we know about the virtues Gurumayi teaches us to cultivate. The source of every virtue is within oneself; it follows that the virtue of samānubhūti will also need to first sprout inside.
For this virtue to blossom and do its work in the world, therefore, each of us must cultivate balance of the mind. It’s a matter of constant fine-tuning. It’s a matter of constant readjustment. It’s a matter of constant recalibration. It’s a matter of constant assessment. It’s a matter of constant decision-making. And here, the word constant should give you inspiration, a boost to go for it—because the more practiced you become in finding a balanced state of mind, the greater your ability will be to maintain this state. You will be more able to act from this place and to rebound from any disturbance, large or small, in your daily life.
For our continued study of samānubhūti, the virtue Gurumayi has given for her birthday, let us now bring our mind to focus on a teaching from Lord Krishna in Shri Bhagavad Gita.
Lord Krishna is speaking to his disciple Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Arjuna needs to fulfill his dharma of being a warrior, of defending righteousness in the world, yet he is extremely agitated by the prospect of fighting his kin. Lord Krishna, who has assumed the role of Arjuna’s charioteer during the war, says to him at one point:
समदु:खसुख: स्वस्थ: समलोष्टाश्मकाञ्चन:।
samaduḥkhasukhaḥ svasthaḥ samaloṣṭāśmakāñcanaḥ ।
tulyapriyāpriyo dhīrastulyanindātmasaṅstutiḥ ৷৷
Established in their own Self, a person remains the same, equipoised in pleasure and pain. They look upon stone, iron, and gold as equal, and see all that which is pleasant and unpleasant as alike. They are steady and wise, unaffected by praise or blame.2
We, Ami and Garima, have read and recited the Bhagavad Gita many times, just like so many of you whose upbringing may have involved learning this scripture, or who have otherwise taken great interest in studying this text. But utilizing this shloka, this verse, for the purpose of this commentary on samānubhūti has opened a new door of knowledge and understanding for us. Looking at this shloka in the context of samānubhūti is like reading it for the very first time. We are fascinated—captivated!—by the teaching that Lord Krishna is imparting to his disciple, Arjuna.
When you first read this shloka, it may seem like a tall order to put Lord Krishna’s teaching into practice—don’t you reckon? If you are not looking at this teaching through the lens of a seeker or a sādhaka, then you may question your capability. You may wonder, “Do I have it in me to attain the state that Lord Krishna is prescribing, the state of seeing everything as sama, equal?” You may be baffled about how to begin to regard stone, iron, and gold as equal. “Aren’t they different?” you may ask. For millennia, people have attached a specific value to each of these elements. As a result, we have come to perceive these elements as being of inherently different worth.
Remember how, in Part I, we mentioned that everyone is a part of the cosmos and the cosmos is a part of us? Let us apply that knowledge here. All things in this solar system and on this earth, including our human bodies, contain the same chemical elements that are part of faraway stars. So, in the most fundamental sense, we are all the same. Adopting this perspective allows us to glimpse the truth of what Lord Krishna is telling Arjuna.
Yet whenever we give disproportionate emphasis and attention to the superficial differences we may see in one another, it affects our ability to see everything as sama. It narrows our worldview and we can start to feel isolated. We become increasingly focused on only our own well-being and that of those with whom we are close. We forget about the interconnectedness and interdependence of everything in this universe. This construct of the mind, of difference, takes us away from our own Self, from the fundamental truth that Lord Shiva has multiplied himself to become this universe and everything in it.
In the shloka from the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna describes the state of one who sees everything as equal, and he says that such a being is established in the Self. So, what does it mean to become established in the Self? To borrow from Shakespeare: “Therein lies the rub.” If we can become established in the Self, we will own this wisdom. A student of music might ask their teacher, “When will I play an instrument the way you do?” And what is the answer the music teacher would give to that student? Yes, that’s right—“Practice, practice, practice.” Abhyāsa, abhyāsa, abhyāsa.
Similarly, to become established in the Self, sādhanā, sādhanā, sādhanā is of the utmost importance. Sādhanā may take different forms for different people, according to what they choose to focus on. For some on the Siddha Yoga path, it is ongoing japa, mantra repetition. For some it is dhyāna, daily meditation. For some it is steadfast study of the scriptures. For some it is svādhyāya, regular recitation of scriptural texts, and for some it is purely sevā, nothing else. Sādhanā. Whichever practice you decide to make your focus, that becomes your sādhanā. And based on our knowledge of the Siddha Yoga teachings, we can say with assurance that when you are persistent in your sādhanā, you will have the experience that Lord Krishna is speaking about to Arjuna. You will experience the state of equipoise.
As we were working on this commentary, we were conversing among ourselves about the word equipoise, about how beautiful and distinctive it is. Although this word appears in all English dictionaries, we observed that it was Gurumayi who brought this word to the forefront of people’s awareness with her Message for 1995. We have selected a teaching to share with you that Gurumayi gave when elaborating on this luminous Message:
What is equipoise?
A balanced state of mind,
evenness of temper,
a state in which
everything is tranquil
although it is in motion;
in which everything moves,
yet remains serene.
Gurumayi’s words read like a dhāranā.
You may picture your balanced state of mind as evenness of temper.
You may picture your balanced state of mind as inner composure.
You may picture your balanced state of mind as UNWAVERING STEADINESS.
You may picture your balanced state of mind as a state in which everything is tranquil, although it is in motion.
You may picture your balanced state of mind as an abode where there is movement in everything, yet everything remains serene.
Think of your balanced state of mind as being as serene as the ocean’s depths, unperturbed by the movement of the waves on the surface.
Think of how, when the ocean is placid, you feel safe to swim, to play, to frolic, to ride its gentle waves on a boat far out to the horizon, or to sit on the beach and gaze at the water, absorbing its calmness into your being. In the same way, when you are in the state of equipoise, when your mind is perfectly balanced and unruffled by the winds of change, you appreciate your own company. And it’s when you value your own company that others value what you have to share with them. Your state of equipoise fosters trust; they feel safe in your company.
When you are in this state, then very naturally, you emanate goodness—and though it is issuing forth from within you, you too relish what your being is expressing. There is authenticity in it. This allows others to open up to you. Your very presence informs others that you have the patience and stamina to be with them in whatever capacity a given situation calls for. You do listen earnestly. You do listen attentively and without judgment. You do listen with maitrī-bhāva, from a stance of being a true friend. You do listen with your heart. Listening is intrinsic to samānubhūti, and this listening is not limited to auditory processing.
In her Message for 2022, Gurumayi teaches us about the import of listening in our sādhanā. Listen is the main word in Gurumayi’s Message. It’s such a small word, isn’t it? It comprises just six letters, just two syllables. We also learned during Sweet Surprise 2022 about how small the physical apparatus for hearing is in humans; it’s made up of several tiny and intricate structures that act in coordination with each other. The process of listening, however, is nothing short of a miracle. The sādhanā of learning to listen is anything but small or tiny. The imprint of anything we listen to is huge and lasting.
Consider, for example, when you are studying for an important exam, or when you are taking a walk in the woods, or when you are apprenticing at a new job. In all these instances you would do well to listen. It is only when you listen fully—by taking in the words of the book you’re reading, or connecting with nature, or being attentive to the teacher you’re learning a trade from—that you can then proceed to understand the information you’re receiving, to examine it, to absorb and implement the knowledge you have gathered.
Listening is also central to practicing and experiencing samānubhūti. It is by listening that we are able to feel what another person is feeling, right? It is by listening that we can be fully present with others at every step of their journey, right? We can’t emphasize enough that in order to practice samānubhūti, listening is key. Listening is the key.
Our practice of the virtue Gurumayi has given for June 24 goes in tandem with our practice of Gurumayi’s Message for 2022. At any given moment, there is so much activity happening in the brain and the mind, in all the organs in the body, in the heart. Much as you might wish it were otherwise, there is always something rattling around in the package of a human being. Listening, and the experience and expression of samānubhūti, require piercing through the filters that may cloud the mind. Listening demands that you transcend and bypass (even if just for the moment) whatever may be feeling off-kilter in your body or with your emotions.
Samānubhūti is experienced by cultivating balance of mind again and again. It is made manifest by creating a state of equipoise within oneself again and again. Cultivating balance and creating equipoise: that is samānubhūti.
It is interesting to note that the prefix equi in equipoise means “equal,” which connotes being in balance. Therefore, equipoise itself encompasses the concept of balance—both inner and outer. When we, Ami and Garima, discovered this, we both felt a spark, an inspiration; we had an Aha! moment. We remembered the images we’d seen and stories we’d read of sādhus, or mendicants, in India who would stand on one leg—in vrikshāsana, or the tree pose—for hours, days, and hundreds of years on end. They would do this while reciting mantras, or doing japa, or meditating. Their bodies would be perfectly balanced and as steady as the trunks of the trees under which they did their tapasyā, or austerities—trees which would, by the force of their tapasyā, come to be considered holy. In recalling their example, we understood that even though the sādhus did tapasyā for their own spiritual attainment, we, too—millennia later—can all benefit from their efforts. From them we can better appreciate the significance of bringing about an outer balance in the physical body as a way to cultivate the inner balance—the balance of the mind—and to create a state of equipoise.
As we were speaking together about the mendicants of India, one thought led to another and we realized how the balance of the mind is also paramount for any exceptional physical accomplishment, like climbing to the summit of Mount Everest. Anyone undertaking such an endeavor must bring one-pointed focus, complete dedication, absolute commitment, and total passion not only to their physical training but also to their inner state, which needs to be as steady, strong, and balanced as their outer state. They cannot succumb to distraction of any kind. This grounding, this balance, is what leads them to such outstanding triumph.
We were also reminded of a Siddha Yogi who is an accomplished magician, and whom we’ve seen perform magic tricks many times in Shree Muktananda Ashram. Of all the tricks we’ve seen him perform, there’s one that stands out to us especially as an apt example of balance. We’re certain that many of you have seen other magicians perform this trick as well.
The trick involves spinning a metal plate on the tip of a stick that is a little over a meter long. Once the magician has succeeded in balancing the plate on one stick, he places another stick of the same length vertically underneath the first stick. In this manner he adds four more sticks, until the spinning plate is almost 20 feet above his eye level. Then, while continuing to balance the plate on this set of conjoined sticks, he transfers the whole setup from his hand to his chin. The plate spins all the while! After a few moments, he shifts the setup back to his hand and gradually removes the sticks one by one until the plate is once more in his hands.
Just imagine: a little loss of balance, a little trip of the feet, a little slip of focus, and the plate would fall to the floor with a crash. The audience might laugh if such a thing were to occur, but it certainly would not be the kind of laughter a magician would be hoping to elicit. However, that does not happen; the plate stays balanced the whole time. The Siddha Yogi magician whom we’ve seen perform this trick says it took him eight years to master. He began by balancing the plate for just one second and then slowly increased the time to about five minutes. He told us, “I am better able to balance outwardly when I am balanced inwardly.”
Both of these examples—the sādhus and the magician—illustrate amazing feats of balance. And what is imperative to note is that neither the sādhus nor the magician acquired the ability to perform these feats overnight. They needed to master their respective techniques of maintaining balance through—what else?—practice!
Shri Gurumayi says:
Sādhanā, blazing the trail in a disciplined manner, gives you access to the state of equipoise, which is not easily understood and not easily attained. Then you continue to develop and draw on this profound equilibrium, this unshakable balance, through all the upheavals of daily life.3
Click here to read Part III