Attachment: Dealing with Disturbing Emotions
Dr. Alexander Berzin
The disturbing emotion of attachment to someone causes us to lose peace of mind and self-control. With it, we exaggerate the good qualities of someone, such as their looks, and making the person into an object, we cling to them and do not want to let go. But with various meditation methods, we can overcome our attachment and develop a healthy relationship with the person.
Unawareness lies at the root of all our disturbing emotions and attitudes as their deepest cause. And unawareness can be about cause and effect – the effect of our behavior – or unawareness about reality. Unawareness about behavioral cause and effect is usually described as being responsible for acting destructively and doing the wrong thing. Unawareness about reality, about situations, however, could underlie any samsaric type of behavior, constructive or destructive. So, if we want to see how unawareness is underlying our disturbing emotions and disturbing attitudes, we need to look more in terms of unawareness about situations, unawareness about reality.
Now, the word “reality” is a funny word. It can have lots of different connotations. The word that is usually used is “truth,” the truth about something. There are two truths about anything. There’s the relative, conventional or superficial truth of what something appears to be and the deepest truth about how something exists. It’s not that one truth is truer than the others, as the word “levels” of truth might imply. They’re both true. I don’t like to use the term “absolute” in relation to the second of these two truths, since absolute sounds like it is more true than the other; “deepest” is the word I prefer. The two truths, then, are just the superficial truth of what something appears to be, and the deepest, how it exists.
Let’s look at the two truths in relation to the disturbing emotions; then perhaps it will be a little bit clearer. What is attachment or longing desire? It is the disturbing state of mind that exaggerates the positive qualities of something and manifests in two main varieties. Longing desire is aimed at something we don’t have and the emotion is “I’ve got to get it, I have to have it!” Attachment is aimed at something we already have and feels “I don’t want to let go!” Both are based on an exaggeration of the positive qualities of something, or what we think are the positive qualities of something. A third variety is greed, which is also aimed at something we have and, being never satisfied, always wants to have more.
With all these variants, we are unaware of the actual reality, the actual truth about what something is. In other words, we don’t just see the positive qualities or the good points of something, but we also exaggerate them or add good qualities that are not even there. What usually goes together with this is that we downplay or totally ignore the shortcomings or the negative aspects. So, we’re unaware of what really are the actual good points and what really are the actual weak points of something. That “something” might be, for instance, a person, someone we know and find so attractive and wonderful, or it could be an object, such as ice cream.
Consider the case of someone that we have longing desire for and attachment. We exaggerate, for instance, how good looking they are or whatever quality it is that we find so attractive. We exaggerate that they are the most beautiful person we’ve ever met, and so on. And we really tend to ignore the person’s shortcomings; we don’t really want to think about them too much, for instance that they can be nagging or they eat in a funny way or they snore. Now, they may be relatively good-looking and we might indeed find them very good looking. We’re not denying that, but exaggerating that feature is what causes the longing desire and attachment, and entails ignoring or downplaying the shortcomings of the person. Such a state of mind is going to lead to trouble eventually, because eventually that infatuation is going to wear off. Then our love, our attachment can easily turn to real annoyance and anger at the person when their shortcomings begin to stand out.
Anger or annoyance is just the reverse of that. We exaggerate the negative qualities, the shortcomings of someone or something, and ignore the good points. For instance, we make a big thing out of the fact that they don’t keep their room neat, they are sloppy, or they don’t help enough with the dishes or whatever it might be. We make a big thing out of it; we exaggerate it completely out of proportion and get angry and upset. At the same time, we tend to ignore or lose sight of the person’s good points, that they’re very kind, very responsible, very steady and so on. The only thing that stands out is “I can’t stand that they leave their dirty socks on the floor.” And so we get angry.
Like these examples, our unawareness of the relative, superficial truth about somebody – what their positive and negative, or strong and weak points are – is behind our attachment and our anger. Either we don’t know them or we ignore them or we exaggerate them or we get them incorrect. But also underlying our attachment and anger, on a deeper level, is our unawareness of the deepest truth about them, how they exist.
Although we could discuss this on a very complicated, subtle level, for our purpose this evening let’s just discuss this on an easier level. It seems to us that this person exists as some sort of entity out there with a solid, big line around them. It seems as if they were encased in plastic or something like that, and there they are in front of us, existing just as they appear, frozen like in a still photograph. It’s on the basis of that misconception that we think of them as some concrete entity, established all by itself, independent of causes, conditions, influences and so on, and never changing, permanent. That’s very confused; that’s incorrect because, in fact, their mood is constantly changing; their body is constantly changing; their emotional state is constantly changing. There’s nothing solid out there, as if it were encased in plastic, permanently, forever.
Based on misconceiving “you” as some concrete, permanent entity, we think, for instance, “You’re always like this; you’re always leaving your socks on the floor!” This misconception and our unawareness that it is doesn't correspond to reality is the basis underlying our exaggerating the negative qualities of this “thing” that’s on the other side of the bed, annoying us. Our unawareness of how they exist also causes us to exaggerate the good qualities of this person as a seemingly solid wonderful “thing.” Our confusion then causes us compulsively to touch the person. We can’t keep our hands off, because they’re so attractive. We are so attached, we don't want to let go and let the person go to sleep.
So if we can get rid of these two aspects of unawareness with which we think that someone is concrete and permanent, then the disturbing emotions wouldn’t arise. We would realize that the person is constantly changing, open to change, not at all some sort of concrete thing encased in plastic. When we understand that, then we don’t think this thing in plastic over there has this permanent set of good qualities, which we might exaggerate or even make up. We would become open to seeing their actual good and bad qualities and we would understand that everyone has positive points and negative points. We would neither exaggerate them nor deny them. On that basis, we can relate in a mature, kind and loving way, with tolerance, patience, understanding and so on. We would neither be clinging nor would we become annoyed.
It’s the same thing with the tape recorder, exactly the same thing. What’s underlying either being attached to it or getting angry at it? First of all, it’s that we make a big solid thing out of it, thinking, “I spent a lot of money on it” and there it is, this thing over there, with a big, solid line around it. And then we could exaggerate its good qualities, “It is completely reliable for recording the teachings,” and so we become dependent on it. We don’t even really pay attention to a lecture or take notes, because we think the recorder is infallible and permanent, and will always work. And if it doesn’t work, we get very, very angry at it.
But after all, it is only a machine. It’s made of parts and parts wear out; nothing is forever. True, it could record nicely, but sometimes it fails. It’s only a machine – the batteries can run out and so on. If we understand that, then we don’t make a big deal out of the batteries running out, if that happens. We act in a responsible way before using it and check to make sure that the machine is working properly, the batteries are charged, and so on. But if somehow it happens that it doesn’t work, we don’t get upset. And we take notes: we don’t become totally dependent on this recording device.
It’s quite amazing how we can have such disturbing emotions over machines, such as this tape recorder, and particularly in our present age, over computers. We get so angry when the thing won’t do what we want it to do. “It has a mind of its own,” we think. Come on, that’s ridiculous. We think, “There it is and it should work,” after all, it's supposed to be perfect. But it’s only a machine and it’s made up of parts; and it’s made by people who make mistakes and who don’t know how to do things perfectly. That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t use the computer or tape recorder. We use it, because it can be very helpful, but we don’t get attached, if it’s working okay; and we don’t get angry when it is not doing what we want it to. In this way, we have a balanced, healthy attitude toward it. That’s not easy, especially if the machine is expensive.
There are two levels of methods used in Buddhism for dealing with our disturbing emotions. There are temporary, provisional methods, which basically help us to see correctly the relative truth about things, and there are the ultimate or deepest methods, which entail understanding the deepest truth about the object toward which the disturbing emotion is directed. The deepest methods require quite a lot of study and thought, but since the temporary, provisional methods are easier to understand and apply, these are what we train in and apply first. Let's look at some examples of these provisional methods.
If we have attachment or longing desire for someone and particularly if we are very infatuated and exaggerate the qualities of the beauty of the person’s body, or even if we’re attached to our own body, then what we meditate on is what is often called “the ugliness of the body.” Well, using that word “ugly” already turns us off a bit. It’s not a comfortable word. So I think that we can do without the word “ugliness” here, even without the word “dirtiness,” which is sometimes also used. Both have too much of an unhealthy connotation in our present-day societies in which low self-esteem is so prevalent. Instead, let's just look at the human body, someone else’s or our own, simply from the point of view of what we’ve been discussing, the relative truth of what something is.
We can use an analogy, here, of a package. A package has wrapping, let’s say a present that has gift-wrapping on the outside. And then there are the contents of what’s inside it. Similarly, our body, or the body of somebody else, is wrapped in skin on the outside, which is what we normally only see. The skin, then, is like very beautiful packaging. And just like a gift package can be wrapped with fancy, expensive paper and ribbons, so too the body could be wrapped in beautiful, expensive clothing to make it look more attractive. But clothes are also just packaging. To attract even more attention to a product in the store, manufacturers take great pains on designing the package it comes in and add eye-catching advertisement. Similarly, many people often try to make the package of their skin look even more attractive with makeup, fancy hair styles and perfume, or more eye-catching with elaborate tattoos, body piercing and so on.
But a package is not just the wrapper; there are also the contents. What are inside the package of a body are a skeleton, muscles, organs and so on. If the contents of the stomach came back out, they would be vomit. Inside the intestines is excrement and inside the bladder is urine, and there’s blood throughout the arteries and veins. That’s reality; that’s the truth of what’s inside the package of this skin. We can’t really deny that. And if we took out all the vomit from the stomach and all the spit from the mouth and all the mucus from the nose and all the excrement from the intestines, all the urine from the bladder and all the blood from the veins and arteries and just have the skin by itself, well, that wouldn’t quite be our loved one, would it? The reality of the loved one is that he or she is the whole package. We don’t just want the skin of our loved one stuffed with cotton or something like that, like from a museum of natural history. We want the person to be alive, and so this is the reality of what’s inside the package, whether we like it or not.
So, now it becomes very interesting. What do we find beautiful and what do we find ugly? What do we find clean and what do we find dirty? Some people might find the skin very beautiful and the skeleton ugly, but what’s ugly about a skeleton? It’s just a skeleton. And if we were to watch an operation in a hospital and see everything that’s inside the body, well, what’s ugly or repulsive about that? It’s our attitude, isn’t it? Certainly, the doctors performing the surgery don’t find it ugly and repulsive. It’s just what’s inside the body.
The point is not to exaggerate the good qualities, and even the good qualities are relative and subjective. For instance, someone I find very beautiful, you might not find beautiful at all. Or somebody I find ugly, you might find very beautiful. It’s completely subjective. So if we find the skin of the person and the shape of the body attractive, okay, it’s beautiful to us, there’s nothing wrong with that. The point is not to exaggerate it. There’s nothing wrong with the fact that it gives us pleasure to see the person. We like what they look like; it makes us happy to see them. The troublemaker is when we exaggerate that, and then we feel, “I have to touch their body all the time; I have to hug it every time I see it; I have to have it next to me all the time.” That’s the problem. If anybody else looks at this person with desire, then we get very upset: “This person and their body is mine.” There are many very beautiful people that we see on the street. It only is disturbing, when we compulsively think, “I wish I could touch this person, or do this or that with this person.” This makes us emotionally very disturbed.
If we start to really exaggerate the packaging – what the person looks like – then it’s very helpful to develop something like x-ray vision and imagine the person’s skeleton. It’s not so difficult to do, especially if we know what a skeleton looks like. It’s not an anatomy lesson; it doesn’t have to be perfect. But we can sort of imagine the skull that’s underneath the skin of the face and head. That helps to sober us down. Or if we’re caressing somebody’s abdomen and think, “This is so wonderful,” try to be a little bit mindful what we would be caressing if we went three or four centimeters underneath the skin. It doesn’t mean that then we’re repulsed. What it means is that we do not make a big deal out of any enjoyment we derive from caressing someone’s body. Applying these methods gives us more emotional balance.
These previous methods are only provisional; they don’t rid us of longing desire or attachment. But, temporarily, they tone down these disturbing emotions when they arise in certain situations. To actually rid ourselves of them, we need to really understand how does a person actually exist and not make a “thing” out of the person. But this is very difficult and advanced. Therefore, first we apply these temporary, provisional methods. To be able to do that requires the three-step process of listening, thinking and meditating.
Listening to the Method and Thinking about It
First, we need to listen to what the method would be. If we’re so attached to somebody because of their body and what they look like, that method would be to also be aware of what’s underneath the skin, such as the skeleton and what’s inside the stomach. After hearing about this method, we need to think about it in order to understand it and be convinced that if we could be aware of not just the packaging, but what’s inside the packaging, we wouldn’t be so disturbed with longing desire and clinging to this person. We’d have less problems with this person and less problems in our own emotional make-up.
Applying the Four Axioms
With the first axiom, we examine the teachings to see if they are reasonable and logical. In this case, it’s fairly obvious that people are not just their skin. We don't really need to prove that. But, if we want to examine this point with logic, then of course an empty bag of skin cannot stand up if it did not have a skeleton inside it. If we eat, then there must be something inside our stomachs and intestines. So it is perfectly logical that a person’s body is not just their skin, because there must be something inside the skin.
The Axiom of Functionality
Next we examine how a particular teaching would function to produce its intended result. For example, if we were equally aware of both what’s on the outside and inside of this person’s body, that understanding would cause us not to exaggerate one and ignore the other.
We could also analyze, if someone were so beautiful and attractive, why do we only find their skin so beautiful? Why shouldn’t we also find the vomit in their stomach beautiful? Obviously, we don’t. So being aware of the two aspects of their body, the outside and inside, doesn't have to function to prevent us from finding the outside beautiful or to destroy our enjoyment of their beauty. It just keeps our enjoyment in perspective. Okay, this person’s body may be beautiful on the outside, but there’s also what’s inside and this is the way everybody is.
It’s very interesting when we work with these points, thinking about them and trying to become convinced, because very often what happens is we really don’t want to believe them. There’s an emotional resistance to thinking about what’s inside this person’s stomach and intestines. It’s very interesting to watch. The point, however, is that this is the reality; this is the truth. Tibetans like very graphic, earthy images. They would say that if you had a large pile of excrement and carved out of it a magnificent statue of a naked body and painted it skin color, no matter how beautiful it was, it would still be a piece of shit!
The functionality of this understanding is also that if I’m aware of both the outside and the inside of someone’s body, it functions to not to have longing desire and attachment for that body. This is because I’m not just denying one or exaggerating the other. So, this understanding is incompatible with infatuation. What the understanding is compatible with is having a stable, long-term commitment to the person, with an attitude of sincere love and patience with what happens to any body as it ages. If we exaggerate their present beauty, then when they start to get older or become sick and lose that beauty, we might look around for somebody else that we find more attractive. But if we understand and accept the reality that both the outside and inside are equally going to change, then that insight would be compatible with having a stable, loving relation with the person.
Why is it that some people can be pretty on the outside, but still they have skeletons, excrement and vomit on the inside? Well, that’s just the nature of things; we are living beings and that’s what makes up the body. We have no choice but to accept that that’s reality. That’s how the body works. The Axiom of Dependency
Finally, we examine what developing this state of mind, this understanding, depends on in order for us to be able to have it. Most importantly, we need some self-control. When we see the person, we need to control the compulsive urge to have our hands all over their body. We need the self-control to step back a moment and apply analysis and introspection. This self-control will allow us to be able to see more clearly and deeply.
Moreover, we need to have the willingness and openness to do that and not be afraid of that we’re going to be so repulsed by the person that we can’t deal with them. To apply the method properly depends on all these factors. If we understand this in advance, we know what we need to prepare.
Once we have gone through this process of thinking, which means understanding the teaching and becoming convinced that it is helpful to develop and that it is something that we want to develop, then we actually do what’s called “meditation” on it. Meditation is a method to integrate into our lives the teaching we have understood and become convinced of. We integrate it by building it up as a beneficial habit through repeatedly thinking and acting in accord with what it instructs us to do.
This is a twofold process. First we do discerning meditation, sometimes called “analytical meditation.” In a controlled situation, in other words, sitting by ourselves, not with the person in front of us, we work with somebody that we do have that attachment toward, for instance with clinging desire to what they look like. We work with a picture of the person or just thinking of the person, and then we investigate, “Yes, they do have a skeleton. Yes, they do have something in their stomach.” We imagine their bodies as being transparent and, by imagining their skeleton, the contents of their stomach, and so on inside their skin, we try to discern their bodies as containing them. In this way, we impress on ourselves that this vision is true. It is like having x-ray vision, but without losing sight of the person’s external appearance, which may in fact be pretty. Seeing the insides of their bodies does not invalidate their conventional beauty on the outside.
After a period of this discerning meditation, during which our mental energy was going out, in a sense, toward our object of focus, the person’s body, we switch to stabilizing meditation. During this second phase, our mental energy is directed more inwards, as we try to let what we have actively discerned sink in. We try to really feel, “Yes, this is the reality; this is the truth of what this person’s body is, from its outside to its inside. Yes, this is true.” And if we have been identifying the person exclusively with their body, we remind ourselves that the person also has a mind, emotions, and so on. But that is a further topic for meditation.
Applying the Method in Daily Life
Once we have built up some familiarity with this way of dealing with longing desire and attachment, once it’s started to become ingrained as a habit, we then begin applying these methods in actual, real life situations. We apply them when we need them, which is when we get this strong feeling of attachment, this strong feeling of longing desire to fondle them. Examining our motives, we realize, for instance, that we don’t just want to put our hands on the person because they need some comfort or to massage them or something like that, but we recognize that we feel we have to touch them because we’re so clinging. At that point, we actually apply the same way of discerning their body as we practiced in meditation. We discern that having a skeleton and having vomit in their stomachs is the way they actually are, and we try to feel that this is a fact.
As a result, we experience that we have more clarity of mind to be able to see what is appropriate and inappropriate in this situation. Nevertheless, after all we’re still just working with a temporary, provisional method here. So even if we still feel we want to touch the person, hold their hand or whatever, we realize that we’re doing that really because it would make us feel better. It’s not that the person actually needs it from their side. But, by applying this meditation at that time, we won’t exaggerate what we’re doing. It also allows us to check out, is it going to make the other person feel comfortable, is it okay with them that we do this? And if it's not okay, we are better able to exercise self-control to refrain from touching them.
Eventually, it will become natural and spontaneous that we act in this balanced, considerate way: we’re not exaggerating, not clinging, and so on. Consequently, the other person will feel this if they have any sensitivity toward us. This is because if we’re always taking their hand because actually we ourselves are insecure and lonely, and we think that somehow holding their hand is going to make us feel better, that it’s going to solve our problems, then there is this disturbing vibration about us and this clinging. It’s not comfortable for the other person. If the person has any level of sensitivity, they can sense that. But if we don’t exaggerate the pleasure of physical contact, then we feel, “Okay, it’s holding someone’s hand; it’s nice feeling contact; I know what’s inside their hand, the bones and so on,” so it’s not “Oooohhh! This is something so fantastic!” Instead, if we realize, “It is nice and it does make me feel a little bit better, but it’s not going to solve all my problems in the world,” then we’re relaxed about it. It’s spontaneous, it’s natural and the other person doesn’t find it artificial; they also feel much more at ease with it. That’s what we’re aiming for. We’re not aiming for “Don’t touch anybody and everybody is just a bag of excrement,” that’s not what we’re aiming for. We’re aiming for balance here, so that we can really, then, work to benefit others.
When we read about such methods as these in some of the great Buddhist texts, like Shantideva’s Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, we need to appreciate and understand the context in which Shantideva, for example, is discussing this topic. It’s in the context of gaining mental stability and concentration. One of the biggest distractions in meditation is to constantly think about someone that we have longing desire and attachment for. That’s a very, very big distraction. So, in order to be able to gain stability of mind and concentration, particularly in any meditation practice, we need to apply this method, even when we’re not with the person for whom we feel such attraction. That’s the context in which these methods are explained in the text.
But these methods obviously have a big application outside of situations in which we’re trying to meditate and gain concentration. They have a big application in our ordinary relationships with others. So when we read about these methods for dealing with longing desire and attachment in the texts, we need to think of a wider context for using them than merely applying them as counter-forces to distraction in concentration meditations.
The texts also contain detailed analyses and presentations of various methods for countering other disturbing emotions, such as anger, jealousy and so on, but we don’t really have time to go into them here. But I think this example of how we deal with attachment and longing desire for someone based on what they look like gives us a good idea of the methodology involved.
Dealing with Insecurity
If we look deeper, we discover that underlying our attachment and longing desire for someone is our insecurity. Longing for security, we hope to find it in a relationship with this person. Insecurity, as one of the deepest disturbing emotions, is fed by fear, loneliness and so on. How do we get rid of that?
For this we need to really understand the deepest truth, the deepest reality about “me” – namely, that there is no solid “me,” wrapped in plastic, isolated from everything and everyone, that could be made secure. There’s nothing like that that could be made secure. We’re trying to make something secure that is an exaggeration of how we actually exist. The reality is that we are constantly changing: our mental state is constantly changing, our body is constantly changing, our emotions are constantly changing. Conventionally, all of that is labeled as “me,” but there’s no solid “me” that’s there, existing separately from all that, and which has to be made secure. It’s all changing all the time.
If everything that “me” is conventionally labeled upon is changing all the time, then all we can try to do is to have a clear direction, a safe direction – which is what refuge means –that we’re going in. That safe direction is realistically to work on developing more positive attitudes, on improving ourselves, and so on. But there’s nothing to be made secure; there’s nothing to defend. Nothing exists cut off and isolated from being affected by everything else. If we deeply understand and are convinced of that, then the problems of insecurity and loneliness slowly and gradually fade and vanish. In a sense, there’s nothing to be afraid of. But it’s important in deconstructing the sense of a solid, permanent “me” not to fall to the nihilist extreme of thinking we don't exist at all and so we don't take responsibility for our actions. We might not be sure of the results of our actions, but we still act and try our best.
Now, this of course is dealing primarily with emotional insecurity, and there are other aspects of insecurity – financial insecurity and so on. In these areas we also need to recognize the relative truth about “me” and my responsibilities. We certainly need to try to take care of the economic side or whatever other aspects that are there that would give us a certain conventional sense of security. But in doing so, as in the emotional sphere, we also need to not exaggerate the reality of the situation. The reality of our economic situation is that it’s not completely under our control. The economic situation of the entire world is going to affect our own financial security, the social system, and so on. If communism falls, for instance, and there’s a new form of government and social system, things are going to change. And so the only thing that gives us stability and security is having a safe direction that we’re going in and picking up more and more of the tools to be able to deal with whatever comes up, with whatever happens. Only if life were absolutely static and never changed could we then be secure, because we would know what’s going to happen. But that’s impossible.
Also, we need to have contentment, to know when enough is enough. I know people who have a million dollars and yet feel insecure, because they say, “I don’t have ten million dollars. If I had ten million dollars, then I’d feel secure.” Try not to be like that. It's a very unhappy state of mind.
Is It Hopeless to Try to Rid Ourselves of Unawareness?
You might object and say, “We’re limited; we’re not Buddhas, so we can’t see or know all the consequences of our actions and we can’t see the reality of ourselves or others. So, are we doomed to suffer and be unhappy? Can we ever rid ourselves of our unawareness and confusion?”
No, we’re certainly not doomed, because it is possible to get rid of that unawareness. It’s not going to be easy and it’s a long process, but the mind has the ability to understand things and it has the scope to be able to put everything together. And so, what we do is try to broaden our understanding. We try to get more and more insight and to understand more and more things, so that although we don’t know exactly what the effect of our behavior will be, because we don’t know all the variables that are involved, we know more and more and more. On that basis, we can make an educated guess of how best to deal with any situation, based on probability and experience, and then continue to work on improving ourselves.
To improve our abilities in dealing with others, we try to take in as much information as we can, about the other person, about the circumstances, and so on. We try to see the patterns of what usually happens: what’s the pattern of how this person reacts and so on, and also take into account the individuality of the situation and the individuality of the person. Based on this, we have some idea of at least what to try in terms of how to relate to this person and what to do.
All of us have all of these abilities, because that’s how the mind works. Naturally we take in all the sense information around us. We may not pay attention to it all, we may not be interested, but all that sense information is there; it’s coming in. And we are perfectly capable of seeing patterns. We can see, for instance, what these 3 people is that they are all women, and so we can see the pattern of how things fit together. We can put information together into patterns and make sense out of it. We can recognize that my right hand is not my left hand and so we’re aware of the individuality of things. We also have the ability to relate to different things differently. We know how to speak to the baby and how to speak to an adult, and we don’t speak to the two in exactly the same way. Unless we’re really insensitive, we have that flexibility. So, all the basic materials are there.
These different ways in which our minds work, by the way, are some of the features known as “Buddha-nature.” All of us have these Buddha-nature qualities that will enable us to become enlightened Buddhas. It’s just a matter of recognizing and training them.
In short, this is how we deal with the disturbing emotions, by training to be able to apply skillful methods. There are many methods for dealing with each type of disturbing emotion and it’s very helpful to learn, practice and be able to apply a wide variety of them. This is because in some situations one method might not be so effective or we’re not really able to apply it so well. But, if we have some other alternative methods, they might be more effective in that particular situation. Or sometimes like with an illness, we need to apply a combination of medicines, similarly we may need to apply a combination of methods to deal with an especially strong disturbing emotion. So, the more things we learn and train ourselves in, the more able we are to deal with and avoid difficult, problematic situations.
For this, reading and studying Shantideva’s text, Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, is really so helpful, because his whole presentation is oriented toward examining, “Why am I letting these disturbing emotions rule me? Why do I make it so comfortable for them in my mind? This is the real enemy and they really have no force. Once I get rid of them, get them out of my mind, where are they going to go? They can’t just stand somewhere out there and attack me again like an ordinary enemy; there’s nothing solid about them.” Thinking like this and becoming convinced that it is true, is very helpful. It gives us a firm basis for working on ridding ourselves of these disturbing emotions. Not coming under their control will enable us to take better responsibility for the quality of our lives.