Mindfulness of Dhammas: The Hindrances: Aversion

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (pp.125-134)

Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening (pp. 131-139) 

“And how does he in regard to dhammas abide contemplating dhammas in terms of the five hindrances?  “If aversion is present in him, he knows ‘There is aversion in me’; if aversion is not present in him, he knows ‘There is no aversion in me’; and he knows how unarisen aversion can arise, how arisen aversion can be removed, and how a future arising of the removed aversion can be prevented.

The Hindrances

The hindrances have an unwholesome effect on our minds.  It is necessary to abandon them before moving on to the next dhammas.  “He (the Buddha) said that when attended to carelessly, “these five hindrances are makers of blindness, causing lack of vision, causing lack of knowledge, detrimental to wisdom, tending to vexation, leading away from nibbāna.” But when we attend to these states carefully, we learn to see into their empty, transparent nature and no longer get so caught up in their seductive power. They then become the focus of our mindfulness and the very vehicle of our awakening.”  Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening

The hindrances are phenomena that obscure our perception.  The Buddha used the following simile to describe how each hindrance obscures the mind:

There is a pool of clear water that reflects our image.

When sense desire is present in the mind, it is as if the pool were suffused with a colored dye.

Desires color our perceptions.

When aversion is present, it is like boiling water. We can’t see clearly.

When we’re heated up by anger, we’re in a state of turbulence.

Sloth and torpor are like the pool overgrown with algae.

There is a stagnation of mind that prevents us from seeing clearly.

Restlessness and worry are like water when it is stirred up by the wind.

The mind is tossed about by agitation.

And doubt is like muddy water, where we can’t see to the bottom,

and everything is obscured.

–SN 46.55 Sangaravo Sutta

As the Buddha noted, there are three contemplations for each hindrance:

  • Know when a hindrance is present or absent,
  • Know the conditions leading to the arising and removal of a hindrance, and
  • Know the conditions that prevent future arisings of a hindrance.

Aversion

The Pali word for aversion Is patigha which means “striking against”  Bhikkhu Bodhi notes it as the attitude of resistance, rejection or destruction.  These condemning states can include violent rage and hatred, anger, ill will, animosity, annoyance, irritation, fear, sorrow and grief.

“The Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung expressed both the potential and difficulty of this process: “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.”  Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening

Conditions that lead to the arising of aversion

Physical Pain

There is a saying, “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.”  When physical pain occurs, rather than just be with it, we add our conditioned reactions of dislike, fear, discouragement, contraction, frustration, impatience and so on.  And we suffer.

Unpleasant thoughts

“As with pain, when an unpleasant thought arises, we add our conditioned reactions often in the form of emotions (fear, anger, and so on).  It is revealing to notice the intimate relationship of thought and emotion. One often sparks the other, causing a chain reaction of mental proliferation. A certain thought arises, and if we’re not mindful of it as a thought, an emotion might quickly follow. The reverse can be true as well, with various emotions, including the hindrances, sometimes causing a flood of thoughts. But seeing this conditioned interrelationship over and over again helps to weaken our identification with what is arising, and we understand on deeper levels the conditioned nature of the hindrances and other mind states. We no longer take them so personally. The Buddha gave some specific examples of this conditioning. In one sutta, he talked of how ill will and malice are stirred by thinking that someone in the past (or present or future) has done us an injury, or has injured a loved one, or has done favors for an enemy (someone we don’t like). We should examine our own minds to see if, indeed, these are the types of thoughts that lead to ill will.”  Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening

Unpleasant Situations

We have reactions when we get into situations we dislike.  This triggers unpleasant thoughts and emotions, just as with pain.

Personalizing Difficulties

When difficulties arise that are out of our control, such as getting caught in traffic or being delayed on an airplane flight, we often personalize the situation and see ourselves as the victim as it if were a personal affront.  We lose perspective on the reality (what is) that the difficulty just happened and is affecting others as well.

What do all of these conditions have in common?  The Buddha noted that aversion arises because we don’t get what we want or we do get what we don’t want.  Or we fear that we won’t get what we want in the future or that we will get what we don’t want in the future.  We want life to be other than it is.

Conditions that lead to the removal of aversion

Practicing mindfulness

As with all of the hindrances, being aware that the hindrance is present is the first and most direct approach.  Analayo states, “By turning a hindrance into an object of meditation, the mere presence of awareness can often lead to dispelling the hindrance in question.”  (Analayo, p. 193)  Persistence is required in “paying attention moment to moment.”  Being mindful also includes the realization that all phenomena are impermanent, unable to provide lasting satisfaction and of selfless nature.  If bare awareness does not work, then other methods as noted below should be tried.

When the aversion is of our “self”, practicing self-compassion can be beneficial.  The four step process includes mindfulness, investigation, loving kindness and connectedness (realizing that this is a common experience).

Knowing the relationship of mind to emotion

When aversion arises, we need to make sure that we are being mindful of it rather than allowing mental proliferation to increase its intensity.  This means being mindful to see if we are adding judgements and commentary to our bare awareness.  If the aversion intensifies, look to see what is feeding it.  Are you being caught in the trance of aversion?

De-personalizing aversion

As with desire, we can fall into the trap of thinking that the aversion is ours and that we are justified in holding on to it.  What we don’t realize in the heat of the moment is that that our aversion is only causing us suffering and not to those with whom we are angry.  We have created a “self” that feels justified and right.  Realizing that aversion is just another selfless phenomenon that arises and falls away can be beneficial in removing it.

Thinking about something else

If the above methods aren’t working, it is time to try thinking about something else.  This will give a brief respite.  The aversion may weaken enough that another application of mindfulness will succeed in removal.

Conditions preventing aversion

The ultimate preventative measure for aversion is practicing loving kindness (metta in Pali).  This practice of generosity wishes that all beings be happy and peaceful.  This act focuses on the potential good rather than the faults.

“It’s important to realize that all aversion does not fall away with our first loving wish. The Bodhisattva spent years, and whole lifetimes, cultivating and purifying this quality. But as we practice it, recognize it, and become more familiar with it, mettā begins to arise more and more spontaneously in our lives. It becomes the way we are, rather than something we do. As lovingkindness grows stronger, both for ourselves and others, we feel more tolerance, are a little less judgmental, and slowly and gradually start to live in a growing field of benevolence and goodwill. Here is where mettā as a dissolver of aversion also becomes the ground for wisdom. The more loving and patient we are with difficulties and disturbances, the less lost we are in reactivity. Our choices and actions become wiser, which in turn leads to more happiness, more mettā, and greater freedom.”  Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening

Reflection

  • Reread this talk and reflect on it.
  • Observe the arising of aversion in your life, when it is present or absent, the conditions that cause it to arise and the conditions that cause it to fall away. Practice mindful prevention. Can you experience when strong aversion hinders your present mindfulness?

Meditation

  • Meditate using the mindfulness of the breath technique and focus your insight meditation on states of mind.

Next: MIndfulness of Dhammas: The Hindrances: Sloth and Torpor
Previous: Mindfulness of Dhammas: The Hindrances: Introduction