2022-05-24 Binding and Unbinding (2 of 5) Unwholesome and Wholesome Aversion
3:28PM May 24, 2022
Today I am going to talk about the second of the five bindings – ways that we get bound up, caught, or tied up – and the second of the five untyings – things that loosen and free us. The second binding is hostility. The second of what unbinds us – related to and complementing hostility – is to restrain ourselves. To avoid and turn away from things that are harm-producing.
Both of these can involve turning away from something. Often in English, we think of aversion as being a kind of hostility. But it comes from the word "avert", which means to turn away from. There are two ways of averting. There is a way of doing it with hostility. And there is a way to do it with wisdom, care, and a recognition of what is beneficial here, and what is not. Both movements should be known.
For the hostile one, we should be able to recognize that it is harmful for us. Acts of aversion which are hostile or include ill will are considered to be poisons or ways to burn ourselves. If we put our hand in a fire, we burn ourselves. If we put our hand in the fire of hostility, we get burned.
Sometimes hostility or ill will can feel justified. Sometimes they can feel good. There is power and energy there. Sometimes there is a very strong affirmation of conceit – of self-concern and identity – in creating a strong sense of separation, such as: "That is wrong, that is bad". One form this takes is in racism, where there is hostility towards another race. Having that hostility is an affirmation of my specialness: I am special, I am something good – by creating an identity in opposition to other people.
As much as it burns people, there is confusion about hostility. Some people go towards hostility and ill will because they feel it is justified. They feel a certain kind of pleasure from it at the same time as they are being hurt by it, and hurting others.
To begin to recognize the impact that ill will has on us is one of the great possibilities of meditation. Resentment is a kind of ill will towards others. When you sit and meditate, you feel how much it harms you. In fact, when you are sitting in meditation simmering in resentment, it is clear you are not causing any harm to the person you are resenting. In some ways, if you have been hurt by someone else, you are enabling that hurtful behavior to hurt you even more. Because you are repeating and reinforcing the pain of resentment in a way that continues to hurt.
I do not want to diminish the importance of care and attention to things like resentment. I do not want to diminish the fact that people do things that are wrong, and that can cause us to have ill will, resentment, or hostility towards others.
What I would like to say is – not to justify the wrong – there is a better way than living a life that is motivated by hostility and hatred. One where we can take care of ourselves and the world just fine. One of those ways is to avert ourselves from doing harm – from the internal movements of mind that are self- inflicted harm.
For example, the poison or fire of hostility harms us. Sometimes we direct hostility towards ourselves. We can be very critical towards ourselves. This kind of behavior is something to avert oneself from – to say," No, I do not need to do this. This is not useful, helpful, or healthy. No, thank you."
One way of healthy averting, which Buddhist practice traditionally places a very strong emphasis on, is the practice of restraint. We hold our tongue. We hold our body in such a way that we do not punch anyone out. We do not do anything physically with our body that can harm anybody else.
Restraining ourselves in this way requires mindfulness, and it strengthens the mindfulness muscle. It can require a lot of commitment to track oneself, stay present, and not speak – not blurt out something that is hostile. "No, I am not going to speak. I am not going to say that."
This is the practice of restraint – the practice of avoiding and abstaining. When we feel like we are going to break one of the precepts – if we are going to kill, steal, engage in sexual activities that cause harm to other people, lie, or intoxicate the mind – here is where we can avert and say, "No." Restraint, avoidance, abstaining, averting: "No. I have better things to do. This is not useful. This is not going in a good way."
A lot of inner strength can be built up through restraint, avoiding, and turning away. This can be as simple as avoiding opening up the refrigerator to have a snack when you do not need a snack. You have had plenty of snacks, and you know it is not useful to have more. To develop that capacity to say no, to change direction, and to avoid getting involved in an unhealthy direction. This develops a lot of inner strength – an inner strength that is not meant to be punitive. It is not harsh or critical. Done the right way, it strengthens our love, our goodwill, and our care for ourselves and others.
We have to be a bit careful when using the word "aversion". Because sometimes people believe that any averting – any saying: "No, not this" – is somehow a negative form of aversion that should be avoided. They believe that somehow, in Buddhist practice, we are supposed to just practice mindful acceptance of everything. To be present, accept things and hold them, and somehow not ever say no to anything – just be with things.
Certainly, there is a time and place for acceptance: when the practice of mindfulness is strong and overrides the tendency to get involved with unhealthy states of mind. Here it can be very powerful and significant to just hold our impulses in acceptance and mindfulness. But we do this because we know that we are not going to act on these impulses.
But there is definitely a time to say, "No. Not this – not now." In fact, the practice of mindfulness increases our capacity to recognize what is not useful, and not pick it up – not be involved in it, not go down that road. We do not need to do that.
There are two potentially very powerful movements of averting: one towards hostility, and one is an expression of kindness and goodwill towards oneself and others. There can be power in hostility – that is why some people love it. But there can also be power in this healthy averting. Some people are afraid of that power, that strength. But this is one of the things that we can develop in this practice. It is easier to develop that power and strength if we know what kind of averting is healthy and helpful for ourselves and others. Then we say, "No – I am not doing that."
As we become stronger, it becomes easier to not get involved and not pick up things. Almost as if, as we become stronger, we are not so easily influenced by the our impulses. We still might have them, but they do not land anywhere. They do not get picked up anywhere, because we have something else going: the strength of mindfulness and care.
For this next day, you might look at all your movements that are averting – where you are turning away from one way in order to go another way, or just turning away from one way not to do it. See if you can recognize the distinction between averting done with hostility, frustration, ill will, or irritation, and when it is done with care, love or wisdom – with a clear sense of doing what is helpful and beneficial. Hopefully, you will see the difference between these two forms of averting. You will see that healthy averting feels good – that it is beneficial in and of itself to act on that. I hope you enjoy a day of healthy averting, and the study of how this works for you. Thank you.