November 6, 2019
The Buddha described the mind states of greed, aversion (ill-will) and delusion as the three poisons that lead to unskillful behavior and thus cause suffering. “And what are the roots of what is unskillful? Greed is a root of what is unskillful, aversion is a root of what is unskillful, delusion is a root of what is unskillful. These are called the roots of what is unskillful.”[i] In this talk, we will explore aversion, the precursor of hatred and ill-will.
Our objectives will be to:
- Understand aversion and how it arises.
- Know the stages of anger and disgust
- Experience the bodily sensations of aversion
- Understand how to deal with aversion once it arises.
How do we experience and react to aversion?
We experience life through what the Buddha called the Five Aggregates or what can be called the Five Elements of Experience.: form, consciousness, feeling, perception and mental formations. Aversion is triggered in the mind by an experience such as a thought or sensation being detected by one of your sense organs creating form that we become aware of when detected by our consciousness. The mind then compares this form with the stored memories and beliefs and a feeling arises, a bodily sensation that is either pleasant, unpleasant or neither pleasant nor unpleasant. This leads to a perception (mental impression) which causes mental formations (emotions) to arise. Our subsequent reaction (what we say or do) is based that aversion which arose from our feeling, perception, and mental formations.
For example, let’s say that we are very sensitive to feedback which from the past we perceive as criticism. So, when we are conscious of hearing something that someone is saying to us such as feedback on something we have done, our mind compares this experience (form) to the stored memories of similar feedback and an unpleasant feeling arises. Our perception is we are being unfairly criticized. This causes negative mental formations such anger to arise. In this example, our reaction is a craving to argue with this person. Note that, the mind created the aversion.. Hearing what the other person said was just the trigger, not the cause. If we can’t immediately make it clear to that person that we are being unfairly criticized, we may become attached to repeated efforts to get our point across. In this case, the craving has turned into clinging.
Aversion is ill-will leading to the mind state of pushing away, resisting unpleasantness. This can lead to the arising of a number of mental formations (emotions) including anger: a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.
“The Dalai Lama imagined “a map of our emotions to develop a calm mind.” He asked his longtime friend and renowned emotion scientist Dr. Paul Ekman to realize his idea. Ekman took on the creation of the Atlas alongside his daughter, Eve Ekman, a second-generation emotion researcher and trainer. The Atlas represents what researchers have learned from the psychological study of emotion.”[ii]
Below are two diagrams from the Atlas showing the range of emotions of anger and disgust. The more intense the emotion, the more likelihood of a more unskillful reaction (what you may so or do).:
Anger has many dimensions:
Disgust has many dimensions:
Experience the bodily sensations of aversion
Exercise: Close your eyes and reflect on a recent experience of anger or disgust with someone. What do you feel in your body? Where do you feel it? Is it a pleasant or unpleasant feeling?
Exercise: Close your eyes and reflect on a recent experience of clinging (attachments) to the emotions of anger or disgust. What do you feel in your body? Where do you feel it? Is it a pleasant or unpleasant feeling?
How do we keep our aversion from transforming into craving, clinging and suffering?
The most important step is to be mindful so as to be aware of the aversion at the earliest possible stage, the unpleasant bodily feeling and then to pause.
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space.
In that space lies our freedom and our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our happiness.”[iii]
Viktor Frankl, a noted psychologist, wrote, “This is the idea I am fascinated by—that we need not wait until our response has begun and then somehow catch ourselves because we are responding in a way that is overly forceful, or angry, or violent. If we learn to see that space, to expand it, to live in it, then we can respond in ways of our choosing, rather than simply reacting. The question is then, what can we do to enlarge and inhabit that space more often?”
Other steps include reflections and reading the dharma
- Realize that the mind causes these mental formations and that you can control your reactions.
- Contemplate the downsides of hate
“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”[iv]
- Contemplate the benefits of tolerance
The antidote to aversion in relationships is loving-kindness. Wish others well and reflect on their skillful actions.
- “I sat with my anger long enough until she told me her real name was grief[v](a deep sorrow wanting life to be other than the way it is).
- “Never let a problem to be solved be more important than a person to be loved.”[vi]
Read the Dharma
Below are three suttas:
Chetvā Sutta: Having Killed SN 1.71[vii]
As she was standing to one side, a devata recited this verse
to the Blessed One:
Having killed what
do you sleep in ease?
Having killed what
do you not grieve?
Of the slaying
of what one thing
does Gotama approve?
Having killed anger
you sleep in ease.
Having killed anger
you do not grieve.
The noble ones praise
the slaying of anger
— with its honeyed crest
& poison root —
for having killed it
you do not grieve.
Akkosa Sutta: Insult SN 7.2[viii]
Whence is there anger
for one free from anger,
living in tune —
one released through right knowing,
You make things worse
when you flare up
at someone who’s angry.
Whoever doesn’t flare up
at someone who’s angry
wins a battle
hard to win.
You live for the good of both
— your own, the other’s —
when, knowing the other’s provoked,
you mindfully grow calm.
When you work the cure of both
— your own, the other’s —
those who think you a fool
know nothing of Dhamma.
Lekha Sutta Inscriptions (AN 3:133)[ix]
translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
“Monks, there are these three types of individuals to be found existing in the world. Which three? An individual like an inscription in rock, an individual like an inscription in soil, and an individual like an inscription in water.
“And how is an individual like an inscription in rock? There is the case where a certain individual is often angered, and his anger stays with him a long time. Just as an inscription in rock is not quickly effaced by wind or water and lasts a long time, in the same way a certain individual is often angered, and his anger stays with him a long time. This is called an individual like an inscription in rock.
“And how is an individual like an inscription in soil? There is the case where a certain individual is often angered, but his anger doesn’t stay with him a long time. Just as an inscription in soil is quickly effaced by wind or water and doesn’t last a long time, in the same way a certain individual is often angered, but his anger doesn’t stay with him a long time. This is called an individual like an inscription in soil.
“And how is an individual like an inscription in water? There is the case where a certain individual — when spoken to roughly, spoken to harshly, spoken to in an unpleasing way — is nevertheless congenial, companionable, & courteous. Just as an inscription in water immediately disappears and doesn’t last a long time, in the same way a certain individual — when spoken to roughly, spoken to harshly, spoken to in an unpleasing way — is nevertheless congenial, companionable, & courteous. This is called an individual like an inscription in water.
“These are the three types of individuals to be found
existing in the world.”
[i] Sammādiṭṭhi Sutta (MN 9) Thanissaro Bhikkhu https://www.dhammatalks.org/suttas/MN/MN9.html
[iii] Unknown attribution
[iv] Unknown attribution
[v] Unknown attribution
[vi] Emily Hoffman, How to Avoid Getting Angry
[vii] Chetvā Sutta: Having Killed SN 1.71
[viii] Akkosa Sutta: Insult SN 7.2
[ix] Lekha Sutta Inscriptions (AN 3:133)