The Concept of Samatvam or Sameness in Hinduism

Sameness or Samatvam

by Jayaram V

This essay is about the practice and importance of samatvam or sameness to the dualities of life, and how to achieve it in spiritual life.


Was there any situation in your life where you remained stoically indifferent to what was going on around you, or you were so numbed by an event that you did not react or respond at all? Sometimes people do it when they are too frightened, shocked or confused, but in normal situations they rarely do it. We are conditioned to respond to situations, not ignore them. However, in spirituality we are expected to cultivate the opposite. We have to practise sameness.

What is sameness?

Sameness (samatvam) means being the same or equal to everything, however troubling or disturbing it may be, or to the dualities of life such as heat and cold, pleasure and pain, or happiness and sorrow. It is not to feel disturbed by anything, fear anything, desire anything, fight anything, oppose or support anything, avoid anything or escape from anything but embrace life in its totality and let things be as they are. It is to be free from desires, attachment, attraction and aversion, craving and clinging. You can see that it requires super human effort to be so.

A person of equanimity remains calm amidst turbulence, praises nothing, nor criticizes anything and remains equal to friends and foes. He accepts what is given, refuses nothing and remains content with whatever happens. He is happy wherever he is and in whatever condition he may find himself, and lets life happen rather than control it or alter it.

Sameness is considered the highest virtue. It arises in a yogi as the culmination of years of spiritual effort and self-transformation, with the predominance of sattva and absence of the triple impurities namely egoism, attachments and delusion. It is an aspect of nonviolence too because like a truly nonviolent person, a yogi who is equal to the dualities of life neither disturbs the world nor is disturbed by the world. He embraces everything and accepts everything without judgment and reaction.

Sameness is the hallmark of a self-realized yogi who has become one with his true Self or with God. Having stabilized his mind in the contemplation of God, he not only sees God everywhere and within himself but also sees himself in everyone and everyone within himself. Thus, knowing that God pervades all and is hidden in all, he does not discriminate against people or things according to his desires, likes and dislikes. He renounces all desires, cravings and attachments and remains free from all, with his mind stabilized in the contemplation of the Self or God.

Tolerance, unconditional love, nonjudgment, peace, equanimity, self-restraint, suppression of the modes of Nature, purity of the mind and body, and silence are aspects of sameness only. They arise from sameness, and in turn strengthen sameness. Because of past karmas and the gunas, some people are more inclined to cultivate sameness. If you are a reactive person, which is the case with many, it is difficult to be equal to the dualities of life. You make choices according to your likes and dislikes, and by that choosing you become involved with the world and its distractions

How to achieve sameness?

It is difficult for worldly people to achieve sameness. As long as you have desires, preferences, cravings, goals and aspirations, it is difficult not to react to the happenings in you or around you. We are either happy or unhappy, angry or peaceful, afraid or calm. We experience myriad emotions and feel for things and people. We cannot shut down our mental chatter or view the world without judgment, opinion, reaction and emotion. At the most, we can exercise a limited control over our emotions and learn to tolerate things, or we may show some restraint towards what we like or dislike.

It is also difficult to live in this world without showing your emotions. If you do not react or do not show your emotions, people will misunderstand you or dislike you, unless they know you for long or your spiritual nature. It is not an exaggeration to say that worldly people find it difficult to cope with those who do not show any emotions or who remain indifferent or disinterested in them. They would rather prefer someone who hates them or says something about them than those who remain indifferent or do not show any interest in them at all. The following are a few well known approaches to cultivate sameness according to our scriptures.

1. Living in seclusion: It is difficult to stay emotionally free from the influence of worldly life. Hence, one of the requirements of practicing sameness is to live in isolation or in secluded places and avoid the company of worldly people.

2. Detachment: A yogi practices detachment to overcome his desires and attachments. They are chiefly responsible for the duality of attraction and aversion. Hence, he cultivates detachment and indifference and performs his actions without desires and expectations to stabilize his mind.

3. Renunciation: True renunciation (sanyasa) is giving up preference for the presence or absence of anything and live without effort, seeking and striving. It is to embrace what happens by chance and live freely, without the need to control, regulate or direct anything or anyone.

4. Self-discipline: The practice of virtue is part of austerity and self-discipline. We practise it by refraining from certain actions such as stealing, injuring or hurting, lying, illegal sex and hoarding as well as by following certain rules to cultivate purity, contentment, austerity, study and devotion.

5. Contemplative practices: Concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana) are useful to restrain the mind and its habits, understand the hidden motives behind our behaviors and emotions and how we respond and react. Mindful observation is another important helpful practice.

6. Changing the perspective: We tend to see the world from an egoistic perspective as the sum of parts and diverse things. A yogi sees the same as an extension of himself or of God, whereby he sees its underlying unity and develops oneness. It helps us overcome egoism, envy, anger, etc.

7. Silence: The practice of silence is a simple but powerful technique to control the mind and senses. Many spiritual people practise it regularly to energize themselves. Silence makes us more attentive, thoughtful and peaceful and see the world with greater clarity, tolerance and control.

Sameness also means seeing oneness everywhere. In that state of yoga, you do not see things as this or that but as one. You accept the dualities of life with tolerance and understanding, knowing that their ultimate source is the same. However, it takes years of effort to cultivate it. Many spiritual people, including several contemporary gurus, do not have it. In moments of weakness they betray their likes and dislikes or their preferences and prejudices and react like normal people, which show that they still have a long way to go on the path of liberation. A true yogi, who has transcended the dualities of life, unconditionally accepts life as it happens. By that choiceless attitude he reaches the culminating point in the practice of sanyasa. Hence, he is known as a stable person with sharp intelligence (sthitha-prajna).

Sameness as a divine quality

God exemplifies samatvam. Many people wonder why he does not always respond to the injustices, cruelties and inequalities that happen in the world. They question why he would let so much injustice, poverty, hunger, suffering and evil to prevail. How can God be so heartless and indifferent? The fact is, God exemplifies the virtue of samatvam. He is equal to all. He is not easily disturbed or moved by the events in the world or elsewhere. He interferes only when things are totally out of control and when the whole creation is endangered by the acts of a few.

You might have seen Hindu gods uncontrolably weeping and shedding tears in many television serials. Sometimes it is so difficult to watch them since no one seems to be happy in the world of gods who symbolize the pleasure principle. They radiate so much misery and negativity you wonder whether they are good examples to follow. In controlling their emotions or their reactions, the gods seem to be worse than even ordinary humans. It is one of those contradictions of Hinduism which are difficult to reconcile or rationalize. In theory, the gods are NOT supposed to weep and cry or be emotionally unstable, but when you see the Puranas describing them as such, you do not know what to say. Probably they are meant to represent certain emotions or emotional states and they dutifully do so as part of their role in creation.

Sameness in worldly life

As stated already, we cannot practise sameness in worldly life. Life is such that we are bound to react and respond to the dualities of life, and to the emotional situations which arise from them. When we have desires and expectations, we will have duality. However, we can strengthen our will and practice self-discipline to control our emotions and think rationally. We can also cultivate positive qualities and attitudes such as tolerance, silence, understanding, patience, compassion, empathy, forgiveness and openness. They stretch our minds and help us deal with the dualities of life, keeping our emotions under control, and show restraint in our behavior and responses.

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