Verses from the Dhammapada
How is aversion just another type of clinging?
‘The wise who is free from hatred and is controlled will approach Nirvana and be freed from sorrow.’
Hatred is the extreme form of aversion. Aversion is one of the hindrances to following the Buddha’s way. It manifests as resistance to "what is".
Recently the foxes in our garden left a large dead rat on the lawn. My husband was unable to deal with it as he has had back problems. It couldn't be left. There was a feeling of deep nausea as I approached it, picked it up with a spade and buried it. We are probably programmed to dislike rats. Historically they spread the plague. However, running away from what disturbs us only creates further suffering not only for ourselves but for those around us. "I can't bear", "I hate", "it's not fair" begin many of the stories we tell ourselves. These stories create "me".
In the beginning of Hans Christian Andersen's story, The Snow Queen, the cold, judgemental nature of “me” is symbolised by a magic mirror made by a demon. The mirror has special powers. When beautiful things are reflected in it, they become ugly. When ugly things are reflected, they become hideous. The demon’s followers take the mirror around the world. Every human being is harmed by it. The followers then attempt to fly up to heaven. However, the mirror shakes so violently that it crashes down to earth. It's splinters into trillions of tiny pieces. Some fly into people’s eyes. This causes everything to be seen negatively. Some pieces pierce people’s hearts. They become as cold as ice. Aversion is like those splinters; it creates a barrier in relationships which drains away all warm and empathy.
‘The wise who is free from hatred…’
The Zen training helps us to recognise aversion. One useful way of meeting it throughout the day is to keep a store of paperclips in one pocket. Every time a feeling of resistance or an internal "no!" flares up in the heart a paperclip can be transferred to the other pocket. At the end of the day, we may be surprised how often aversion has arisen. Sometimes pain provokes it.
This is seen very clearly when we first sit zazen. Our knees may start to hurt. Our back aches. Rather than resisting the pain, we allow it just to be as it is. We acknowledge the desire to escape it. We invite the hot churning and burning to burn me away. Eventually it is transmuted into "choiceless awareness” as the feeling of "I" drops off. There is just the discomfort - no-one to name it or resist it.
Sometimes we feel aversion when someone belittles us, verbally attacks us or disagrees with us. When the "I" feels threatened, it goes onto the defensive. We may retaliate through harmful speech or action.
In such circumstances we create conflict. However, if we wholeheartedly meet the flames of anger and resentment, the compulsion towards self-protection fades away. All harmful intentions are transformed into empathy and compassion.
‘… and is controlled will approach Nirvana and be freed from sorrow.’
In the following training story, Eka is an example of what it means to be "controlled". To be controlled is to give ourselves away unreservedly. The importance of wholeheartedness is symbolised by Eka’s amputation of his own arm. Rather than self-torture it points to the willingness to give one’s life for the Way. Seeking guidance from Bodhidharma, Eka set off in the depths of winter for the mountains. He discovered Bodhidharma sitting facing a wall in a cave. Eka was completely ignored. Undeterred, Eka stood waiting in the snow all night. By dawn, he was up to his knees in it. Bodhidharma then asked him what he wanted. Frozen to the marrow, Eka pleaded for guidance. Bodhidharma refused. In desperation Eka cut off his left arm. In great agony he presented it to Bodhidharma. When Eka was asked what he was looking for, he asked that his heart should be put at ease. Bodhidharma said that if Eka brought his heart to him he would put it at ease. Eka said he couldn’t find it. Bodhidharma replied “There, I have put your heart at ease.”
In compassion, Bodhidharma led Eka to empty out the thoughts of ‘my heart’ and wanting to set it at ease. Release from such thoughts is freedom from ‘me’ and all its sorrow and aversion. This is Nirvana. In that freedom, there is a wholehearted ‘Yes’ to everything coming to be and ceasing to be.
Verses from the Dhammapada
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