Aversion: the far enemy of joyful appreciation (Day 59)

100 Days of LovingkindnessI’m sure you can think of days when you’ve been driven crazy by someone else’s good mood. They’re happy, and smiling, and bopping around with a spring in their step, and you’re inwardly grumbling; “What’s he so happy about!” That’s what Buddhism calls arati.

Sometimes we’re resentful of others’ good fortune. I remember to my shame being with some friends when I was in my twenties, when they won the main prize in a raffle — a flight to Paris for the weekend, plus hotel accommodation. Susie, who was one of the people who won the prize, came dancing up to me with her eyes sparkling and a huge smile on her face. “I won a weekend in Paris!” she said, almost exploding with joy. I was so jealous and resentful I couldn’t even smile back. That’s also what Buddhism calls arati.

And there’s the old saying, “No good deed goes unpunished.” It seems there’s always someone willing to criticize when you volunteer to do something that benefits others. That’s arati too.

Arati is what’s called the “far enemy” of mudita, or joyful appreciation. The “far enemy” is a term meaning “the quality that is the direct opposite of the quality being considered.”

I’ve been referring to from time to time to a first century meditation manual called the Path of Liberation (the Vimuttimagga) as we explore lovingkindness (metta), compassion (karuna), and joyful appreciation (mudita) — the first three of the so-called “immeasurables” or “divine abodes” (the fourth being equanimity, which we haven’t reached yet).

The Path of Liberation, which may be Buddhism’s most ancient meditation manual, says that the manifestation of joyful appreciation is “destruction of dislike.” So dislike (arati) is the opposite of joyful appreciation.

A later commentarial text, the Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga) says something similar, namely that aversion (arati) is joyful appreciation’s far enemy. Aversion is an enemy in that it destroys joyful appreciation. And therefore joyful appreciation destroys aversion.

Arati is a Pāli word with a gramatically negative construction: it combines the negative prefix a- (not, or un-, or dis-) with the word “rati” which means love, attachment, pleasure, liking for, fondness, or even delight. (The Pāli expression “ratiṃ karoti” means “to make love”!) So we’re talking about the lack of all those qualities.

The far enemy of joyful appreciation isn’t as strong an emotion as ill will or hatred, which is the far enemy of lovingkindness. Arati is milder. It’s more like discontent, or even just a lack of engagement. It’s an inability to take pleasure in something wholesome, a lack of interest in it, or a turning away from it.

This becomes clear in a comment that the Path of Purification makes about arati:

So gladness should be practiced free from fear of [aversion]; for it is not possible to practice gladness [joyful appreciation] and be discontented with remote abodes and things connected with the higher profitableness simultaneously.

What the Path of Purification is getting at here is that we can’t have joyful appreciation if we can’t enjoy simple things (“remote abodes”) and if we don’t value and appreciate the good (“things connected with the higher profitableness”).

But arati can be more subtle than this. It can be any kind of resistance or aversion to beneficial things. When you can’t be bothered meditating, even though you know it’s good for you and makes your life better, that’s arati.

When we’re in a state of arati beneficial things are perceived as dull, or as an annoyance, or as a source of painful boredom. The Path of Purification talks of an inability to enjoy “remote abodes”; our modern-day equivalent might be a day retreat at our local Dharma center, which seems like a great idea when you reserve your place in advance, but as the day approaches your heart sinks. Going on retreat now seems like a dull chore. And yet, if you overcome your resistance and go to the event, you find that a day hanging out with cool, interesting, emotionally positive people is a delight. You find that practicing and talking about the Dharma is engaging and inspiring.

One thing you can do to overcome aversion is simply experience the resistance with mindfulness, letting go of and choosing not to believe all the stories you generate about why you’re tired, and it’s going to be boring, and you really need to catch up on your laundry, and you just do the good thing you know is best for you; feel the aversion and do it anyway!

Arati is a state of suffering, so you can notice this suffering, being aware of where it’s located in the body, and send it thoughts of compassion: “May you be well, may you be happy.” This can help soften and dissolve the closed off tight feeling that comes with arati, and open us up to feeling genuine joy for the other person.

Or you can reconnect with gratitude and appreciation in order to counteract your disengagment. You can consciously call to mind the positive. I’ve talked of various ways we can do this. We can name the positive qualities of other people and wish that those qualities, and the happiness that comes from them, grow and develop. We can count our blessings, saying an inward “Thank you” for all the things we normally take for granted, ignore, or even grumble about. We can bear in mind people with positive qualities and allow ourselves to be inspired by their example. Even just wishing ourselves well, reminding ourselves that we want to be happy and want to avoid suffering can help.

This is all work that we need to do to overcome the mind’s negativity bias. But it’s noble work. And it’s necessary if we’re to live joyfully.

PS. You can see all of our 100 Days of Lovingkindness posts here.

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10 Comments. Leave new

  • Lisa Campbell
    June 10, 2013 9:50 am

    Thank you, Bodhipaksa. So grateful for your wisdom. And as usual, very timely!

    Reply
  • I don’t have a problem with envy. I feel aversion for things like violence, cruelty and pain though. I also feel averse to carrying out work which is pointless or a waste of time. How do I overcome my dislike for these things?

    Reply
    • I’d suggest that if you’re doing work that’s pointless or a waste of time, you would benefit from moving in the direction of finding new work. I know that’s not necessarily easy to do, but it’s better to try that to keep doing a job that drains your life of joy.

      Dislike, by the way, is not the same as aversion. Dislike is simply the feeling that an experience is unpleasant. Aversion is where we’re attempting to push away the experience, which we may do by mentally resisting, or by expressing criticism and ill will in our speech, etc. Aversion is our reaction to dislike. I assume that when you say you have aversion for violence, cruelty and pain, you mean you dislike them.

      Reply
  • Thanks for your reply.

    I am paid to carry out the whims of my boss, a person of little discernment or integrity who changes schemes daily. I begin a new project every few weeks but none has ever reached completion.
    Working in this pointless way does at least allow me to realise transience and unsatisfactoriness directly.

    I have now been offered a lead role with creative freedom elsewhere – something about which I feel cautiously optimistic rather than overjoyed. I know ultimately it will generate its own problems too.

    I feel the pleasures in life are small compared to the pain. For example, the body seems capable of dishing out far more suffering than pleasure, and pain often lasts longer.

    I try to accept pain and unhappiness but I still dislike it.

    Reply
    • Do you practice lovingkindness meditation? Sustained practice enhances our ability to experience joy and pleasure.

      The body doesn’t actually dish out pleasure. If the mind is in the right frame — calm, relaxed, non-grasping, and above all appreciative — then there is abundant pleasure to be found in the body. Even the simplest movement of the body can be a source of pleasure.

      Reply
  • I have practiced loving-kindness in the past but these days I don’t try to visualise or generate any form of intent – my meditation is just observing / analysing phenomena. I’m happy having few needs – if a sensation is pleasant that’s fine, if not, I don’t go chasing after pleasure. My problem is that I am still averse to many things.

    I can take or leave pleasure, but pain, worry and stress still have me dancing to their tune. How can I develop more equanimity?

    Reply
    • I don’t think just observing and analyzing is enough. To develop more equanimity you have to become more appreciative, and that means developing lovingkindness…

      Reply
  • I came across this page while searching for something like “aversion” and “chores” (I can’t quite remember as I saved this to read for later). I find the concept of arati, as described here, extremely helpful. It is something I have struggled with for a long time. I have been listening to Eckhart Tolle and attempting to be present in the now. I feel that I should be able to observe and live with my discomfort as I confront things I habitually resist, but notice an almost extreme aversion to some actions/tasks that I know are very beneficial to my life — for example, yoga practice or cleaning my apartment. It’s amazing how strong this aversion is.
    Unfortunately, I can’t find much about arati on elsewhere the web so far. I will keep looking because I think it might be a door into understanding my quiet, unnamed struggles much better. So, thank you. And if you happen to read this, please let me know if you have any suggestions for reading or practice. Wishing you the best.

    Reply
    • Hi, Michael.

      Thanks for writing. I think of arati/resistance to be largely synonymous with the hindrance of sloth & torpor (thīna-middha). Usually that hindrance is thought of as sleepiness or laziness, but the more time I spend observing the weird ways the mind works, the more I think that it’s exemplified by the horrible sickening/sinking feeling we get when we’re faced with a task we really don’t want to do. It’s laziness, but laziness fueled by dread.

      Oddly, that resistance can suddenly flip for some reason. I’ve found myself resisting yoga (or leaving a place untidy) for ages, and then suddenly I get an urge to do the very thing I’ve been avoiding.

      I can make a few suggestions.

      There’s being mindful of resistance itself.

      There’s changing the way we motivate ourselves.

      There’s practicing self-compassion toward the pain of resistance.

      What’s often caused the “flip” with me has been getting inspired. So if you want to get your room tidy, maybe reading abut Marie Condo’s method, or the benefits of minimalism, or something of the sort will help get you going.

      Starting small is helpful as well. Think about micro-habits: start with one yoga stretch (maybe one you kind of enjoy), and then give yourself a reward (an emotional one, like praise, is probably best). Connecting the first micro-habit with another habit you already have — e.g. you do one stretch after getting out of the shower — is very helpful. What happens with micro-habits is that they break through our resistance because we set such a low bar, and once we’ve done that it’s easy to add to them.

      Reply

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