Antidotes to afflictions
Antidotes to afflictions
While direct perception of the emptiness of inherent existence—the nature of reality—is the ultimate antidote that has the power to eliminate the mental afflictions from their root, it takes time to cultivate the correct view of emptiness. In the meantime, we can benefit from knowing and applying the antidotes specific for each affliction.
To apply an antidote, we must first be able to recognize the affliction when it is present in our mind. Then we reflect on the disadvantages of that affliction, which motivates us to seek an antidote to it.
One day a particular antidote to an affliction may easily enable you to let it go, while a month later another antidote may work more effectively. Time is needed to become deeply familiar with each antidote. In the heat of anger, don’t expect your mind to become pacified simply by reading the list of antidotes to anger. Thus it’s wise to become familiar with all the antidotes to that affliction by meditating on them when your mind is not overwhelmed by that affliction.
Don’t expect an affliction to vanish because you successfully applied the antidote once. Until we have realized emptiness directly and nonconceptually, afflictions will continue to arise in our mind. Don’t be discouraged. Keep practicing. Making effort to transform our mind produces benefit for ourselves and others.
What is attachment?
Attachment is a mental factor that, based on overestimating or exaggerating the attractiveness of an object (a person, thing, idea, feeling, one’s reputation, etc.), takes a strong interest in it and wishes to possess it. It sees the desired object as permanent, providing pleasure, pure, and self-existent (existing in and of itself, with an independent nature).
Detachment is an attitude that counteracts attachment. It withdraws our mind from its compulsive involvement with the object by understanding its nature and eliminates grasping to possess it.
What are the disadvantages of attachment?
- It breeds dissatisfaction. We can’t enjoy what we have and are continually dissatisfied, wanting more and better.
- We go up and down emotionally.
- We have many unrealistic expectations of other people and do not accept them for what they are.
- We connive and plot to get what we want. We act hypocritically with ulterior motivations.
- Even if we exert great effort over a long time to get the objects of attachment, we’re not assured success.
- We waste our life: we don’t practice Dharma because we are distracted or obsessed by objects of attachment. Even if we try to practice Dharma, attachment continually interferes, distracting us from the practices to cultivate constructive qualities.
- Our Dharma practice may become impure, because we give the appearance of practicing, but are really looking for reputation, offerings, or power.
- Attachment is one of the principal obstacles to developing concentration.
- We create much negative karma through stealing, coveting, and so forth.
- It causes worry, anxiety, and frustration.
- It causes us to have an unfortunate rebirth in the future and is the chief cause for samsara in general.
- It causes us to have attachment in future lives.
- It prevents us from having realizations and gaining liberation or enlightenment.
- When we’re parted from dear ones, our minds are tormented by sadness and grief. When we’re with them, there’s still no satisfaction.
- We measure our success or failure as a person according to superficial factors such as material success and societal prestige.
- We become confused because we don’t know what to choose in our struggle to eke out the most happiness from every situation.
- Attachment is involved in codependency and causes us to feel powerless because we give our power to those who have control over what we’re attached to.
- Attachment is closely related to and is a cause of fear. We fear not getting what we crave. We fear being separated from the people and objects we desire.
What are the antidotes to attachment?
- Remember the disadvantages of attachment and the advantages of abandoning it.
- Consider the ugly or impure aspect of the object.
- Remember the impermanence of the object. Since it changes moment by moment and we’ll eventually have to separate from it, what is the use of clinging to it now?
- Think of our death and remember how objects of attachment are of no benefit to us at that time and may even be harmful.
- Ask yourself, “Even if I get what I like, will it bring me ultimate and lasting happiness?”
- Remember that we have had similar pleasures infinite times in past lives and it hasn’t gotten us anywhere.
- Mentally dissect the object or person into its parts and try to find what it is that seems so desirable about it.
- Consider how our mind creates the beautiful object by interpreting it a certain way and giving it the label “beautiful.” Then we confuse our concept of the object with the object itself.
Antidotes to attachment to praise and approval
- When someone praises you, think the words are directed to a person behind you or to your spiritual master visualized in your heart.
- Think, “Someone torturing me doesn’t cause me to take unfortunate rebirths, but attachment to praise does.”
- Recall that other people are difficult to please. They may praise us now, but later may be jealous or competitive. They get angry when we don’t agree with them. Therefore, what’s the use of being attached to their praise and approval?
- Praise can lead to arrogance, which is a huge obstacle to Dharma practice.
- Praise doesn’t bring us positive potential for future lives, long life, strength, good health, or comfort. It doesn’t increase our love and compassion or help our Dharma practice. So what use is it?
- When their sand castles collapse, children howl in despair. Similarly, we despair and complain when the praise and reputation we receive decrease.
- Someone praising us doesn’t mean we possess the qualities they say we have. A more reliable way to develop self-confidence is by understanding our potential to become a fully enlightened being.
- Attached to praise, we allow other people to manipulate us. We abandon the discriminating wisdom that can discern who is trustworthy and who is not.
- Praise does not benefit us; it helps the person who gives it. For example, when we praise Buddhas and great practitioners, do they benefit from it? No, we do.
- When we have the quality that is being praised, remember that it is not ours. We have that good quality due to the kindness of those who raised us and taught us.
- The person who praises us could criticize us five minutes later.
- We can’t take the praise with us when we die.
- Sweet words are like an echo. Just as an echo depends on rocks, wind, vibration, and so on, the words praising me depend on many factors.
- Analyze each word to see if happiness can be found within it. The pleasure we feel from being praised does not exist in the words, in the person who said them, or in us. It arises dependent on many conditions.
Antidotes to sexual attachment
It is important to note that the body and sex are not considered evil in Buddhism. The body is simply what it is, a collection of physical substances. Sexual intercourse is a biological function. However, when sexual attachment is rampant in the mind, engaging in stabilizing and analytical meditation becomes difficult. To increase our ability to concentrate on the object of meditation, applying any of the following antidotes is helpful.
- Recall the difficulties that accompany romantic attachment. For example, we easily get involved in arrangements, games, and hassles in the process of establishing a relationship. Once we are in a relationship, quarrels, jealousy, possessiveness, and demands ensue. The other person is never totally satisfied with us and we are never completely satisfied with him or her.
- Relationships must always end. It is impossible always to be together. As soon as there is coming together, then there must be separation.
- Imagine the person when he or she was a baby or imagine what he or she will look like at age eighty. Alternatively, think of him or her as a brother or sister.
- The body is like a factory producing impure substances and odors. Everything that comes out of the body—excrement, ear wax, mucus, and so forth—is unattractive. What is attractive about that?
- Examine the insides of the body. If we don’t desire it when the skin has been stripped away, why desire it when it’s covered with skin?
- Food is clean, but when it’s chewed, it becomes unclean. The body is filled with partially digested food and excrement.
- Why decorate a body which, if left in its natural state, would have bad breath, body odor, and wild hair?
- Imagine the person’s dead body. We have no desire to fondle that body then.
- If we’re frightened by a skeleton, shouldn’t we be equally frightened by a walking corpse?
- Our own bodies are sacks of unclean substances. What is the use, then, of being obsessed about touching and possessing another’s body which is also made of such substances?
- If we like to hug someone because his or her body is soft, why not hug a pillow?
- If we say we love someone’s mind, that cannot be touched.
- If we don’t like to touch excrement, why do we want to touch the body that produces it?
- There may be some temporary pleasure from sexual relations, but it ends quickly and we’re back where we began.
What is anger?
Anger (hostility) is a mental factor which, in reference to one of three objects, agitates the mind through being unable to bear the object or through intending to cause it harm. The three objects are the person or object that harms us, the suffering we receive, or the reason we are harmed. The word “anger” here includes a spectrum of emotions, including irritation, annoyance, resentment, grudge holding, spite, vengeance, rage, and so forth.
Patience is a mental state that counteracts anger. It is the ability to remain steadfast and calm in the face of suffering or harm. There are three types of patience: 1) the patience that refrains from retaliation, 2) the patience that is able to endure suffering, and 3) the patience to practice the Dharma and challenge our misconceptions.
What are the disadvantages of anger and hostility?
- One moment of anger destroys a great amount of the positive potential that we have created with so much effort.
- We become disagreeable and bad-tempered and are often in a bad mood.
- Anger ruins friendships, generates tension with colleagues, and is the main cause for wars and conflicts.
- Anger makes us unhappy, and we say and do things that make others—especially the people we care about the most—unhappy.
- It robs us of our reason and good sense and makes us act outrageously, saying and doing things that later cause us to feel ashamed.
- Under its influence, we harm others, physically and mentally.
- Because we act so poorly, others do not like us and may even wish us ill.
- We’ll be quick to lose our temper again in future lives.
- We create much negative karma, causing us to be reborn in a place with much animosity, violence, and fear.
- It impedes our spiritual advancement, and we are unable to attain realizations. In particular, it harms our cultivation of love and compassion and prevents us from becoming a bodhisattva.
- Others may do what we want out of fear, but they neither love nor respect us. Is that what we want?
What are antidotes to it?
- Remember the disadvantages of anger and the advantages of abandoning it.
- Why be unhappy and angry if we can change a situation? Why be unhappy and angry if the situation cannot be remedied?
The patience of refraining from retaliation: antidotes to anger arising when we have been harmed or threatened
- We have problems and are harmed by another person because we created the cause in the past by harming others. Therefore, why be angry with the other person? It is only our own selfish mind and afflictions that are to blame. If we had exerted effort in the past to attain liberation or enlightenment, we would not be in this predicament now.
- The other person is unhappy and that is why he is harming us. Recognize his suffering. Unhappy people should be objects of our compassion, not of our anger.
- The person harming us is under the control of his afflictions, so why be angry with him?
- If harmfulness were the nature of the other person, why be angry with her? We are not angry at fire for burning, because that is its nature. If harmfulness is not the nature of the other person, why be angry? We are not angry at the sky when it rains because storm clouds are not its nature.
- Remember our faults. Our careless or inconsiderate actions in this life may have stimulated the problem.
- If we give up the attachment to material possessions, friends and relatives, and our body, we will not be angry when they are harmed.
- When people accurately mention our faults, they are saying what is true and what many other people have observed, so why be angry with them? It’s like someone stating a fact, such as, “There is a nose on your face.” Everyone sees it, so why try to deny it? Besides, they are giving us a chance to correct our faults and to improve ourselves.
- If we are blamed unjustly, there is no reason to be angry because the other person is misinformed. We do not get angry if someone says we have a horn on our head because we know it is not true.
- By retaliating, we create more negative karma to experience more problems in the future. Bearing the difficulty consumes our previously created negative karma.
- The other person is creating negative karma by harming us and will reap the results of his actions. Therefore, he should be the object of compassion, not anger.
- Mentally dissect the person or situation into parts and search for exactly what it is that is so distasteful.
- See how our own mind creates the enemy by interpreting the situation in a certain way and giving the labels “bad” and “enemy.”
- The mental state that wants to retaliate and inflict pain on others is dreadful. There already is enough suffering in the world. Why create more?
- Harming others and taking delight in causing them pain crushes our own self-respect.
- There is no reason to get angry with someone who criticizes the Triple Gem or our Dharma teacher. She is only doing so out of ignorance. Her criticism does not harm the Triple Gem at all.
- Remember the kindness of the enemy for giving us the opportunity to practice patience, for without it, we cannot attain enlightenment. Patience can only be practiced with an enemy. We cannot practice patience with the Buddha or our friends; therefore the enemy is rare and special.
- If we are Dharma practitioners, there is no sense in relying upon the Buddha yet continuing to harm sentient beings. We not only become hypocrites, but also harm sentient beings whom the Buddha cherishes more than himself.
- If we are kind to others, they will like and help us even now. In the end, the practice of patience will lead us to attain enlightenment.
- Think, “Both this person I find so disagreeable and I are impermanent and empty of inherent existence.”
- Remember the person’s kindness to you in past lives and think, “I must care for him with love now.”
The patience of voluntarily enduring suffering: antidotes to anger arising when we are suffering
- Remember that the nature of cyclic existence is unsatisfactory. Pain and problems come naturally. There is nothing surprising about, for example, getting sick.
- Reflect on the advantages of experiencing pain (e.g., when you are sick):
- Our arrogance decreases and we become more humble, appreciative, and receptive to others.
- We see the unsatisfactory nature of cyclic existence more clearly. This helps us to generate the determination to be free from cyclic existence and to attain liberation.
- Our compassion for others who are in pain increases because we understand their experience.
- Do the taking and giving meditation.
- Worldly people voluntarily endure many difficulties for worldly gain and reputation. Why can’t we endure the difficulties and inconveniences involved in practicing Dharma, which will bring us ultimate peace and happiness?
- If we train to be patient with small sufferings, then by the power of familiarity, we will later be able to endure big sufferings easily.
What is jealousy?
Jealousy is a mental factor that, out of attachment to respect and material gain, is unable to bear the good things that others have.
Joy is a mental state in which we rejoice when others have good qualities, opportunities, talents, material possessions, respect, love, and so on.
What are the disadvantages of jealousy?
- We are unhappy and in turmoil and may not be able to sleep well.
- Our own good qualities are exhausted.
- We become fearful because someone else may get what we want.
- Jealousy destroys cherished friendships.
- It makes us look foolish in the eyes of those we respect.
- Under its influence, we plot how to destroy others’ happiness and, in the process, lose our own self-respect.
- We slander, gossip, and speak badly of others.
- We harm others and hurt their feelings.
- We create negative karma, bringing more problems in future lives.
- Jealousy destroys our virtue, thereby preventing us from receiving worldly and Dharma happiness.
What are its antidotes?
- Remember the disadvantages of jealousy and the advantages of abandoning it. Jealousy only harms us.
- Rejoice at the good fortune and qualities of others. By doing so, our mind becomes happy and we create great positive potential.
- If the things we are jealous about are worldly objects (money, possessions, beauty, worldly knowledge, power, reputation, strength, talents, etc.), remember they bring us no ultimate happiness anyway. If they are Dharma qualities and virtues in others, remember that by others having them, we will benefit because these people will help us and all others.
- Recall that we often say, “How wonderful it would be if others had happiness. I will work for the benefit of others.” Now someone else is happy and we didn’t even have to lift a finger to bring it about. So why begrudge him this happiness? This is especially true if it is only temporary, worldly happiness.
- Jealousy does not give us what we desire. For example, whether our rival gets some money or not, it does not change the fact that we do not have it.
- If we were the best and most talented, the world would be in sad shape because we are ignorant of so many things. Thus, it’s good that others are more knowledgeable and capable than we are because we can benefit from what they do and can learn from them.
What is arrogance?
Arrogance is a mental factor that grasps strongly at the wrong conception of “I” and “mine” and inflates their importance, making us feel superior to others. We become puffed up and conceited.
Self-confidence and humility are mental states in which the mind is relaxed, receptive to learning, confident in our abilities, and content with our situation. We no longer feel the stress of needing to prove ourselves or to be recognized.
What are the disadvantages of arrogance?
- We are condescending to those inferior to us, competitive with those of equal ability, and jealous of those who are better.
- We look ridiculous and pathetic by showing off and bragging about ourselves.
- Our mind is filled with stress from trying to prove ourselves.
- We are easily offended.
- Arrogance prevents us from learning and therefore is a big hindrance to spiritual progress.
- We create negative karma that results in lower rebirth. Even when we are again reborn human, we will be poor, devoid of happiness, born in a lowly position, and have a bad reputation.
What are the antidotes to arrogance?
- Remember its disadvantages and the advantages of abandoning it.
- All of our good qualities, wealth, talent, physical beauty, strength, and so forth come due to the kindness of others. If others did not give us this body, if they did not teach us, give us a job, and so forth, we would have nothing and would lack knowledge and good qualities. How can we think of ourselves as superior when none of these things originated solely from us?
- Think about the twelve links, the twelve sources, eighteen constituents, and other difficult subjects. We will quickly see that we do not know much at all.
- Remember our faults.
- Recognize that arrogance is a thinly disguised, but ineffective, way to feel good about ourselves. Focus instead on developing genuine self-confidence based on having Buddha potential.
- As long as we are still under the control of afflictions and karma and are obliged to take rebirth uncontrollably, what is there to be proud of?
- The independent “I” that is grasped at as being so important does not exist at all.
- Contemplate the good qualities of others, especially the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. We quickly see our qualities pale in comparison. It is more suitable for us to work hard to cultivate good qualities and to aspire to become like the Buddhas and bodhisattvas.
- Confess our destructive actions. What is there to be proud of when we have so many negative karmic seeds on our mindstream?
- Do prostrations in order to lessen our arrogance and to develop respect for those with good qualities.
Please see Guided Meditations on the Stages of the Path by Thubten Chodron (Snow Lion Publications) for more information and help on this topic.
Venerable Thubten Chodron
Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.