Nibbāna 5: Untangling the Tangle

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“There’s a tangle within, a tangle without, The world is entangled in a tangle. O Gotama, I ask you: Who can disentangle this tangle?” — Jaṭā Sutta (S I 165)

Dhamma is what actually is, as opposed to what only appears to be. According to the Buddha, suffering is not out there in the ‘objective’ world theorized by conventional worldly philosophers. The origin of suffering is found in our subjective conceptual world of name-and-form. As it is said: acchecchi taṇhaṃ idha nāmarūpe: the aim of a meditator is to “cut off the craving in this name-and-form.” (Samiddhi Sutta, S I 12)

Let’s use a simile from the Suttas to clarify: the Buddha is called the ‘incomparable surgeon’, sallakatto anuttaro (Sela Sutta, Sn 56). Also he is sometimes called taṇhāsallassa hantāraṃ, ‘one who removes the dart of craving’ (Pavāraṇā Sutta, S I 192). So the Buddha is the incomparable surgeon who pulls out the poison-tipped arrow of craving.

The poisonous arrow of craving is embedded in the wound of nāma-rūpa. When one is wounded by a poison-tipped arrow, first of all the wound has to be cleaned. Then the bandage has to be applied, not on the archer or on his arrow, but on the wound itself. Similarly, the preliminary step in the treatment of the wound caused by the poison-tipped arrow of craving is clear understanding of name-and-form. Trying to ‘fix saṃsāra’ by improving the external condition of the world will be of absolutely no help in overcoming suffering. Thus humankind is no closer to solving the problem of suffering, even after centuries of plans and schemes, work and struggle.

Thus a meditator, however proficient he may be in conventional worldly usage of words, has to pay special attention to the basic pre-conceptual components of nāma, as defined by Venerable Sāriputta: feeling, perception, intention, contact and attention. This requires a process of deconditioning to awaken from the hypnotic trance induced by family, schooling, media and society. It involves unlearning habitual verbal associations down to childlike simplicity. But of course, the meditative equanimity thus developed is not based on ignorance but on knowledge.


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Dev Jacobsen

Musician, author and yogi, developer of Palingenics.

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