While meditating recently, I was reminded of another example of the difference between being attached and not attached. An ancient Chinese poem that I often refer to, “Affirming Faith in Mind,” opens with the lines, “The great way is not difficult for those who do not pick and choose. When preferences are cast aside, the way stands clear and undisguised. If you would clearly see the truth discard opinions pro and con. To founder is dislike and like is nothing but the mind’s disease. And not to see the way’s deep truth disturbs the mind’s essential peace.”
From this poem, and the lessons of the Heart Sutra on the emptiness of all five skandhas, which include feelings and perceptions, my understanding had been that all likes and dislikes, all preferences were unskillful and led to samsara. As they were all a product of the mind, I included them in the group of skandhas to which I said, “Not me!”
But even though I viewed all likes and dislikes as a product of the mind, saying “Not me!” to some of them … those that reflect basic aesthetic matters … seemed somehow not right. There wasn’t a push-back, but it seemed like denying something pure within me. Very different from saying, “Not me!” to anger and negativity.
Then the other morning while meditating, I remembered both the Buddha’s teaching on clinging aggregates and Larry Yang’s related teaching on skillful desires. The Buddha taught that samsara does not stem from the five skandhas themselves, but our clinging to them, our attachment to them. There is nothing inherently wrong with having a feeling, a like or a dislike, so long as we approach it with equanimity and are not attached. So now when I say, “Not me!” I negate the attachment, the craving, not the basic feeling, which I have opened up my heart to and embraced.
NOTE, however, that some feelings, like “He’s evil,” or other derogatory feelings toward another or toward oneself, are not consistent with the Five Precepts and inherently lack equanimity, and so are unskillful. Period. To such feelings one does say, “Not me!”
Further, though, I realized that certain likes and dislikes … such as the basic aesthetic matters I mentioned above … are not a product of the mind because they are a reflection of the heart’s desire for beauty, which is a necessary ingredient of harmony, peace and happiness. This is a teaching I received from a Sufi book I have just finished reading, The Art of Being and Becoming. The heart’s need for beauty is like the body’s need for clean air and clean water. These are not matters of fadish style but a necessity for a healthy mind, body, and soul.
But even such a like or dislike needs to be approached with equanimity and non-attachment to be a skillful feeling, a Right feeling. If the mind grabs it for its own and it becomes an attachment, it becomes unskillful.
Beware that as with desires, one must tread very carefully with likes and dislikes. There is a fine line between craving or obsessing about such matters and approaching them with equanimity.
If you are at a point in your practice where you are still frequently consumed by anger and negativity, fear and anxiety, then it is advisable to not try and walk this fine line and instead put all likes and dislikes, all feelings, off-limits because your tendency will be to attach to them. And thus you will be in turmoil and suffer. Only when your have attained substantial peace and happiness and equanimity should you entertain any desires or any likes or dislikes.