Those for whom lust and hatred,
Along with ignorance has been expunged,
The arahants with taints destroyed:
For them the tangle is disentangled. (Samyuttya Nikaya)
Hate is the evil sister of lust and the two are resolutely to be avoided. We feel resentment and aversion when others hinder us from indulging our feelings and desires, which may, initially, be little things but which can become magnified into much larger things.
When the hindrances that prevent pleasure are not just momentary but continuing, our aversion may grow into a hatred for those who thwart our will and, conversely, adversaries who feel our hate may develop an equal or stronger sense of hatred toward us too. Hate begets hate. It’s a cause-and-effect process always leading back to an original unwholesome intention, but the mundane mind does not fully comprehend that.
We also develop negative, aggressive feelings toward people who oppose or oppress us in our education, our work, and our attempts to accumulate money. We experience stressful emotions if we encounter opposition when trying to gain and maintain acquisitions and/or attempting to live in indulgent and luxurious circumstances.
Among our strongest irrational feelings, however, may be our reaction toward people who oppose us in our attempts to become “somebody”—a big, important person in this world. It is perhaps within this idea of self-importance that we feel the greatest outbursts of aggressive energy. This need to be “somebody” can become an obsession for some people. But this is the wrong way of seeing things. If people were able to see themselves as they actually are, they would realize how all their lusts, desires, and hatreds are delusional and based on the idea of a “self” having certain rights to enjoyment and power in the world—and usually without considering the rights of others.
Seen rightly, everybody, including even the greedy and the needy, deserves our empathy, whatever the cause of their suffering may be. A devotee, with Right View will feel compassion for them, rather than despising and looking down on them. One who can untangle the tangle is one who unravels the knotted network of false views that could potentially drive the untrained mind to distraction and the verge of madness.
Right View entails understanding that the way conventional people see the world is delusional, and the way things really are is the opposite: not a burning-selfish . . . burning, burning, but rather, a detached, cooling . . . calming . . . stilling . . . of energy, until the last remaining ember or taint of self and craving is extinguished.
While not everybody understands this, there will be some who realize that if there is an opposite to burning in the “stilling of energy,” this could be an approach worth trying—following the example of the Noble Ones, “with little dust in their eyes,” who saw things “the way they really are.”
The word “taints” means impurities or imperfections, and Right Understanding implies that we see taints in ourselves and in the world and renounce wrong views and develop the mind so that lust and hate eventually become replaced by virtue and wisdom. This is a gradual training. It doesn’t happen in a flash of insight. The mind must be incrementally refined of impurities through ardent mindfulness training, always focused in the moment, in order to catch wayward impulses or inclinations—to stop the tricks of the trickster mind as it tries to lead the mind astray.
When the mind is entangled, the thing to do is to begin cutting away embedded entanglements as we come to recognize and understand them. This way we can create a mental environment in which the mind is “under the microscope,” so to speak, and gross impurities will stand out clearly. This is called the mind watching the mind. Developing the mind is an essential part of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, in which mental cultivation leads, through ardent practice, to the extinguishment of mental fires.
Through Right Mindfulness, we observe ourselves and catch the unwholesome impulses leading to inappropriate thoughts, words, and deeds. When we observe an unhealthy impulse as it is arising, we see it for what it is and its just being recognized is often enough to make it go away.
In everything we do—in our work, to earn our livelihood—the part of the mind called “the one who knows” observes and analyzes if there is any impurity in “the intention observed” and, when there is an inclination toward unwholesomeness, we catch it like an intruder and stop it from committing an unsavory action. To be able to do this is, however, not easy. One of the hardest things to do is to establish and maintain control over the mind. While on the other hand, the easiest thing in the world to do is to let the mind wander and follow it, like a dog its master, wherever it goes.
When the Buddha says that “a bhikkhu who is ardent and discreet can disentangle the tangle,” he is referring to bhikkhus who practice the threefold training of virtue, meditation and wisdom on the path to deliverance. Few can arouse and maintain the energy necessary to put out the fires within themselves. The word ardent means “constant untiring, resolute effort,” sometimes translated as “unrelenting diligence” and “sustained energy.”
Energy is the best word to use here because it means we must arouse an effort that is so strong it can counteract and extinguish the burning energy that is the driving force behind unwholesome, worldly urges within the mind. It can subdue the fires of the mind into a coolness in which lust and hate are extinguished without a trace. People who say that a monk’s life is easy have no idea about the energy and ardency required for the noble practice.
The word “discreet” is subtle. At first glance, it seems to connote shy, secluded, retiring, prudent, tactful, judicious. It means all these things, but in terms of mental cultivation it has another meaning. Discreet implies developing an ability to discern between motivations and intentions in such a way that we not only distinguish generally between good and bad intentions, but we can even discern subtle differences in perception which would be hidden to practitioners with less-cultivated minds.
Discernment indicates an ability to keep refining . . . refining . . . refining . . . until eventually the mind becomes entirely free of impurities—with no residue remaining.
Bhikkhu Bodhi (editor). The Connected Discourses of the Buddha, Samyuttya Nikaya, Chapter IV, 625, in the Brahmana Samyutta. (p.259).