A man established in virtue, wise,
Developing the mind and wisdom
A bhikkhu ardent and discreet
He can disentangle the tangle. (Bhikkhu Bodhi)
In the above stanza, the Buddha proceeds to explain the formula, which, if properly followed and practiced will answer the query: “Who can untangle the tangle?”
Those for whom lust and hatred
Along with ignorance has been expunged,
The arahants with taints destroyed:
For them the tangle is disentangled. (Bhikkhu Bodhi)
This needs some explaining:
Let’s start on the level of “lust” and “hatred” and then work our way through to the process of mental development leading toward “virtue” and “wisdom,” because this is the way it works in practice for those who become pure and wise—for those who can see the way things really are; “those with little dust in their eyes.”
The reason the mind gets all entangled, initially, is when one sees phenomena delusively, as other than they actually are, and then becomes attached to one’s own conceptions and views in a way that leads to mental distress and suffering.
A bhikkhu, whose mind is trained, will not fall into the trap of mind-body attachments. He will not become attached to senses and views. He will not give in to urges and impulses because he knows they will lead to frustration, anxiety, and pain. Life within the conventional world of samsara, is fraught with difficulty.
The word “lust” means just what one might imagine it to be. Lust in the text means, firstly, full-blown sensual desire. Once we come of age and begin giving in to sensual inclinations, there is no knowing where the mind will stop in attempting to fulfill its desires and fantasies.
A Shakyan prince would have known from life experience about sensual pleasures, so let’s leave it at that and ask, rather, why those who came for acceptance as bhikkhus were able to leave a world of such sensual desires behind.
The answer is that one eventually becomes wise to the shortcoming of physical sensuality because it doesn’t bring lasting happiness. On the contrary, after bodily satisfaction rises, peaks, and ceases, the mind-body continues grasping after new sensations; to fill empty moments with fresh pleasurable sensations; to replace those that have passed and ceased.
The mind will not be satisfied until such new desires have been fulfilled, again and again, and so the vicious cycle turns. One either sees the emptiness of it all or finally runs out of energy and, in one way or another, is left hanging in a dissatisfied state.
Today’s generation needs no introduction to sexual lust. So let’s go on to other forms of lust that cause dissatisfaction. We can start with seemingly little things, like cravings for tastes or smells or sounds or sights, of sensations of touch or lustful yearnings in the mind. People get hooked on such cravings and will go to great expense and lengths to obtain the things they want and desire.
This has always been so, since people have lived in towns, cities, and communities that were able to supply such needs. Then, just as now, there were always merchants and vendors, and workers who lived from feeding those mental-sensual desires, using every means and trick in the book to keep arousing and feeding new desires, so that they could continue to earn more and more of our money.
Indeed, this generation may be seen as floating along in a stream of self-centered desires and illusory hopes. Most people’s minds are filled with unsatisfied wants and needs, and very few would ever seriously think of trying to empty the mind of such coveted cravings because the everyday mind doesn’t work that way; people don’t think like that—some do, but not many.
This generation is entangled in a tangle.
In addition, everybody nowadays seems to have big dreams about getting an impressive education, earning a lot of money, buying land, building an expensive house, and being “somebody” in the world. But who is this “somebody” really? Just a consumer of services and goods who is nourishing his need for self-satisfaction.
He’s the fool that the world wants to fool into expending all his energies into feeding his imaginary needs, often having to borrow money based on a vision of supposed satisfaction to come. This is a familiar picture. We see it everywhere. We are prisoners of our desires and we don’t want it any other way.
The irony is that the undeveloped, untrained mind (due to ignorance) only sees what it wants to see. Moreover, just as we don’t notice when we’re being selfish and greedy, so we don’t notice or care when others are suffering and needy.
We neglect to focus our attention on aspects of life that are unattractive, such as the prevalence of poverty for masses of people, or the anxiety of students uncertain about the future, or other people under stress for fear of losing their jobs, with a lot of others living carelessly beyond their means, buying things they cannot afford and being totally dependent on moneylenders and networks of so-called friends, allies, and supporters who will only be there as long as there is mutual dependence.
The outside world fools us, but we also fool ourselves. There is a part if the mind that wants to trick and there is a part of the mind that likes to be tricked. The untrained mind is like a wild tusker, difficult to bring under control. It runs wild through the jungle, trampling everything in its way, and it doesn’t even know there is another way.
When the mind is free to go anywhere it wants, it becomes a danger unto itself, and when it is hindered in its single-minded pursuit, it may growl like a wild animal protective of its food. At moments like this we exhibit aggressive feelings that others feel and fear as anger. Indeed, if we allow the mind to follow its very basic instincts to an inevitable end, we could become much like mad dogs. This is not a pretty picture of human nature.
Normally, we wouldn’t want this to happen so, just as a mahout trains a wild elephant, so do we try to bring the mind under control, slowly but surely. While the mind may feel indifferent to what it doesn’t know or notice or care about, the mind is also attracted and attached to both what it likes and to what it does not like.
Whatever gets in the way of what the mind wants is disliked, and if the mind continues to be thwarted, this dislike can develop from irritation into anger and outright hate—a hate that is totally irrational and based on ignorance of the nature of the elemental mind-body process as a reaction to the frustration, to what is actually going on within our own mental-sensual energy-vibrations.
This is an ignorance that must be expunged; in other words, removed, destroyed, eradicated.
Bhikkhu Bodhi, editor. The Connected Discourses of the Buddha, Samuttya Nikaya, Chapter IV, 625, in the Brahmanasamyutta, (p. 259).