On Developing Indifference

The quality or bhavana of upeksha is the fourth quality that Patanjali prescribes for the spiritual seeker, in addition to karuna (compassion), maitri (friendship) and mudita (joy).

The literal meaning of upekShA (उपेक्षा) is “overlooking, disregard, negligence, indifference, contempt or abandonment”. At first glance, indifference or negligence seems to imply that we should be insensitive to others.If this were indeed the case, it would conflict with the quality of compassion that Patanjali describes in his famous sutra

maitrī karuṇā mudita-pekṣāṇāṁ
मैत्री करुणा मुदित पेक्षाणां
So why does Patanjali even recommend that we need to develop upeksha or indifference? The key is in the realization that he is asking us to overlook those who have evil tendencies (tamas) and create evil in the world. One would argue that we should fight those who propagate evil instead of overlooking evil – isn’t that what Lord Krishna is asking Arjuna to do in the Bhagavad Gita – to stand up and fight against evil?

As I was researching this article, I came across a beautiful explanation of the concept of upeksha by Osho in one of his discourses.

Be indifferent to evil. Indifference does not mean apathy. Upeksha, the word Patanjali uses, is very beautiful. It is neither apathy nor antagonism nor escape. It is simple indifference without any attitude — remember, without any attitude, because you can be indifferent with an attitude. You can think it is not worth — it is not worthy of me to think about it. No, then you have an attitude, and a subtle condemnation is hidden in it. Indifference means simply, ‘Who are you to decide, to judge?” You think about you, ‘Who are you? How can you say what is evil and what is good? Who knows?” You be more mindful and aware; then an indifference comes to you without any attitude.

It seems like the key is that we have to focus on our own spiritual growth, our own self-realization. Let us be indifferent to their faults – for that is not our concern to begin with.

And indifference or UpekShA is not possible to do that if we are engaged in judgement of others.

I think this is the toughest of the four qualities or bhavanas to develop in our daily lives – what do you think? Should we be indifferent? Or should we speak up and/or fight?

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