Buddha statue quiet lake
Transforming Afflicted Emotions: 4. Indifference
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Cornell Kinderknecht - Transforming Afflicted Emotions: 4. Indifference (20 min.)
Transcript of a talk delivered by Cornell Kinderknecht
October 23, 2016 - Dallas, Texas

Bobbie: Well, we've come to the ending, the conclusion, of our study of unwholesome roots—afflicted emotions—and the antidotes for those emotions. And we've taken a look at aversion, sometimes referred to as repulsing, or denying, repressing; we've taken a look at attachment, or craving and clinging; and tonight, Cornell is going to lead us in a discussion, an understanding, some sharing, about the one that's called indifference or sometimes delusion. They're all deluded perceptions, but this one is, for some people, the most difficult to overcome, to transform.

Cornell: Thanks, Bobbie. Thank you, everyone. Very happy to be here tonight. As Bobbie has said, these come by different names. You know, they're afflicted emotions, the Three Poisons; there are some other names for them as well. And in some teachings, there are three of them; in some teachings, there are five; and in some of them, seven; and I read somewhere, I can't remember the huge number, like eighty-four thousand of them, or something like that. And it's like, "Well, good thing they aren't doing those one per week!" When we look at these three roots, they can be viewed as the three reasons for suffering, the three causes of suffering. Most of our emotions we that we might have troubles with, if we look at closely, they probably boil down to one of these three: either aversion, attachment, or indifference. And I will sometimes refer to these by the other names, too, that Bobbie had mentioned: sometimes aversion is "repulse" or "push away"; attachment is sometimes called "craving," sometimes called "greed"; and then indifference is sometimes called "delusion," sometimes called "ignorance" (I don't quite like the word "ignorance" for it—just that it sometimes means a willful denial. Although that might be the case sometimes, I do like that term "indifference"). But at some times in my talk tonight, I'll use some of those other terms meaning the same thing.

So just to begin, I will read a poem from Thich Nhat Hanh called "Non-duality."

The bell tolls at four in the morning.
I stand by the window,
barefoot on the cool floor.
The garden is still dark.
I wait for the mountains and rivers to reclaim their shapes.
There is no light in the deepest hours of the night.
Yet, I know you are there
in the depth of the night,
the immeasurable world of the mind.
You, the known, have been there
ever since the knower has been.

The dawn will come soon,
and you will see
that you and the rosy horizon
are within my two eyes.
It is for me that the horizon is rosy
and the sky blue.

Looking at your image in the clear stream,
you answer the question by your very presence.
Life is humming the song of the non-dual marvel.
I suddenly find myself smiling
in the presence of this immaculate night.
I know because I am here that you are there,
and your being has returned to show itself
in the wonder of tonight's smile.

In the quiet stream,
I swim gently.
The murmur of the water lulls my heart.
A wave serves as a pillow.
I look up and see
a white cloud against the blue sky,
the sound of Autumn leaves,
the fragrance of hay—
each one a sign of eternity.
A bright star helps me find my way back to myself.

I know because you are there that I am here.
The stretching arm of cognition
in a lightning flash,
joining together a million eons of distance,
joining together birth and death,
joining together the knower and the known.

In the depth of the night,
as in the immeasurable realm of consciousness,
the garden of life and I
remain each other's objects.
The flower of being is singing the song of emptiness.

The night is still immaculate,
but sounds and images from you
have returned and fill the pure night.
I feel their presence.
By the window, with my bare feet on the cool floor,
I know I am here
for you to be. 

So as I was reading, these past few weeks, on this topic, and something had come up and I was chatting with Bobbie about it, and she had pointed out quite an interesting point for indifference. What I was talking about was watching television, reading the news, listening to the news, reading Internet the past three or four weeks, or maybe more—because it's election season, here in the U.S.—and just kind of thinking of some of the kind of things we hear and we read. So it might be presidential debates, it might be candidates' remarks in the news… But some of the more troubling to me being the personal attacks that we view as everyday things, just ‘cause they're constantly now in the news, or on TV, or wherever, whatever media we're looking at. So a question that I might pose is, "So, regarding what I was talking about, election season being in the news, who are those that absolutely refuse to read or listen to it?" Any hands? Okay, we've got—ah, we've got two. Any of you who can't wait to see what's in the news tomorrow to see what someone said? Very good. And any of you who it doesn't mean a thing to? Ah. Okay. So we have aversion, attachment, and indifference. So, anyway, it was just something that I was pondering, and… Interesting that no one answered, "It has nothing to do with me." Are we indifferent? Do we push it away—"I don't want to hear any of that"? Or do we say, "Hey, let's see what they say tomorrow"? Or have we made some informed decisions about whether we pay attention or not, or how it affects us? And the reason I was talking about this to Bobbie was just, um, talking about the things that we might see on television, the personal attacks in particular, how that behavior may appear to be the norm if you are indifferent to what's going on, or if you don't know any different to that. Because I was looking at the times, say, when I was twelve years old, for example, and if there were the U.S. elections going on, what we saw on TV and news is very, very different than what you would see today. And that we have twenty-four hour news streams constantly updating us is very different than that. I was thinking, "How would I be different today if that's what I saw as the norm when I was twelve years old? That it's okay to call someone a certain name? to speak objectively of people in a certain way?" And how different that would be, and how that is proposed as the norm now. We were discussing this education now, that this is the way that adults behave. It's kind of a troubling thing, and that's what Bobbie and I were talking about, how that really ties into awareness, and pushing things away, or attachment to it. So anyway, just something to ponder, and a current topic that, maybe, you can start looking at that and other things in your life and how these three emotions might come into play.

So indifference, also known as delusion, or ignorance, or foolishness: it's a lack of awareness about the connectedness of beings and actions, a lack of knowledge of how interbeing and interdependence play a part in our lives. This poison, or this afflicted emotion, is sometimes thought to be the most fundamental, or perhaps the most dangerous. For one reason, one is not aware that there could be a problem. If someone is totally unaware, they don't know what they are unaware of, that we don't know what we don't know. Not aware that each of us is a vital component of life itself, and how life around us is impacted by our own decisions and actions. It also obscures the reality of the immense possibilities of our own life and happiness. So this poison, or this afflicted emotion, is sometimes referred to as a "fundamental darkness." And then the other is the blindness, that the blindness to our interconnectedness leads us to the other poisons of greed and aversion.

There are three fundamental things that we are deluded about, according to Theravada Buddhism, and those three things are: we are deluded about impermanence, deluded about non-self, and deluded about the nature of suffering.

So looking a little bit at impermanence: because we are deluded about the nature of impermanence, it sometimes causes us suffering when we act in a way that causes friction between ourselves and the way things truly are. We may think to ourselves that we want to live to be two hundred years old, but that's not really a reality. Some people might live to be a hundred, maybe a little bit more; many of us live to be a little bit less, or even significantly less. We don't really know. So in that regard, we know that life is impermanent. That one's easy to see. But there are other things in our lives that are impermanent, some things that we wish would be more permanent, like maybe our house, our car, our marriage or relationships, our children, you know… But things change. Things do not stay the same. Sometimes things change for the better, but then they start changing for the worse, and things just continue to change, and change, and change. But change is the way of the physical universe, and the sooner that we can learn to accept it and that emotionally we can be able to be in harmony with that, the sooner we're able to find happiness and find less suffering around us. We can have so much fear around not having something that when we do have it we're afraid to lose it. Resistance to change is a symptom of attachment and craving: hanging onto or accumulating that which we think will make us happy. At the same time, we can be so attached to the things that our resistance to change becomes a symptom of aversion: pushing away and rejecting anything that might cause things to change. Craving and aversion are two sides of the same coin.

Impermanence is not such a bad thing, though. Like Thich Nhat Hanh says: because of impermanence, your baby can grow up. Because of impermanence, your depression can change to something better. So there is a positive side to impermanence, because impermanence actually makes everything possible. Everything in existence is possible because of impermanence and because of change and because of evolution.

And so if we now look at non-self, it's a little bit deeper concept to comprehend. Some of you may have had one of those moments where you feel, just, very connected to the world around you: connected to others, connected with nature. Maybe some of you have had one of those fleeting glimpses at enlightenment that make you feel really, very connected—no longer just this lonesome self. But for us, fortunately, there are some easier ways to look at this. One simple way of understanding non-self is to think of interbeing: that we ourselves are made up of other elements and that we are all made up of those same elements. We are interconnected and interrelated. So when you think that this self is not just this, not just me, and not just the flesh, but we are made up of the air that we breathe, the sunshine and the earth and water and the food that we eat and everything that we drink, we are made up of our education, our upbringing, our parents' beliefs, and their friends' beliefs, and their culture, and their religion. All these separate things make up what we call our "selves." But we don't ever have one solid separate self that is separate from all of those other things. What we call a self is really made up of all those other things. It's not just a simple, one thing. It is all permeable. Our self is much more permeable and ever-flowing and ever-changing and ever-evolving because everything is part of who we are. So that is one very basic, simple understanding of non-self. And that particular statement that I used was the way Brother ChiSing had described it in one of his talks.

So this delusion of non-self: this too can lead us to craving and aversion. If we see ourselves as totally separate, we may feel that we are in this for ourselves, becoming narcissistic, selfish, and having a need to accumulate everything for ourselves. And on the other hand, or the other side of that same coin, we may push away other people and ideas to protect what we view as "me" or "ours" or "myself."

And finally, turning to the third thing that we are deluded about, the nature of suffering. This brings us back to the Four Noble Truths, and we've talked about those many times: the first one, that there is suffering; the second one, that there are causes of suffering; the third one, that there can be a cessation or relief from suffering; and the fourth one, that there is a path to relieving suffering, and that path being the Eightfold Path. Being unaware of the causal patterns of things and making different choices to relieve our problems can lead to a life of repeating negative habits: bad eating habits, hopping from one failed relationship to the next… So we know that there's true happiness available and possible, even in this moment. If we don't believe that, then basically it totally takes us away from our motivation for practicing and our motivation for finding happiness. But if we believe that happiness is possible for us, if we believe that we need to just not create more suffering and that the message of the Noble Truths is there, then there's something more to our lives. There's something that we can work for. So again, relating to craving and aversion: without an awareness of the nature of our lives and the nature of our suffering, we may end up being drawn to those things that are not good for us and push away those things that might be helpful to us.

So as we learned with the other afflicted emotions, that there are antidotes. And I think the antidotes for indifference, the antidotes for delusion and ignorance, well… Wisdom. Right view. Interbeing. And really very simply, just mindfulness. Paying attention. Understanding. Deep looking at everything that we do each day. That mindfulness brings us wisdom. It brings us more knowledge of those things around us. It increases our compassion for other beings. It increases our compassion for nature and those things that are around us. A simple way to approach indifference that I look at is looking deeply into our craving and aversion, and the antidotes for those two poisons. And by looking at those more closely, then we start healing this afflicted emotion of indifference, or delusion. And if we remember those antidotes for craving and aversion, they were generosity and loving-kindness…were two of the simple ones. There's several other ones, but really those two. So one of the things that I like to think about is looking at those things in my life that might cause emotional discomfort, and maybe the things that I don't have strong emotions about, and look at how they relate to craving and aversion. And then I tend to those items of craving and aversion by offering gratitude or by expressing generosity and through practice of loving-kindness. And by tending to those things, I gain wisdom, insightfulness, and a better understanding of our—and my—human life.

Another poem of Thich Nhat Hanh's that I would like to read. This is called, "You Are Me."

You are me, and I am you.
It is obvious that we "inter-are."
You cultivate the flower in yourself,
so that I will be beautiful.
I transform the garbage in myself,
so that you do not have to suffer.

I support you;
you support me.
I am here to bring you peace;
you are here to bring me joy.
Transcribed by Meghan Horton

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